04/28/2006 12:00AM

Rib injury will keep First Samurai on sidelines

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - First Samurai, among the leading members of his division at 2 and a top Kentucky Derby prospect until his fifth-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes, will be sidelined indefinitely after two cracked ribs were diagnosed Friday.

Trainer Frank Brothers said First Samurai began showing signs of discomfort Thursday morning and was immediately sent to the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky., where an ultrasound revealed the injury.

"Although we can't exactly be sure when the injury occurred, both Dr. Robert Hunt and Larry Bramlage were of the opinion it happened either in or leaving the starting gate during the Blue Grass," said Brothers, who trains First Samurai for owners Bruce Lunsford and Lansdon Robbins III. "He didn't do anything terrible, but he obviously hit it just right."

Brothers said that First Samurai initially showed no visible signs of discomfort but that he was in obvious pain following a routine gallop Thursday.

"Originally this sort of injury doesn't hurt, and it takes about a week before the area begins to separate or calcify until a horse will feel any significant pain," Brothers said. "It might have bothered him some at first, but not enough where we could tell anything."

First Samurai will remain at Brothers's barn at Churchill Downs while recuperating.

"He'll be re-scanned in a month," said Brothers. "Fortunately we were able to find out what's wrong with him, and this is an injury that will heal. We were planning on freshening him up, anyway, and pointing for Saratoga, and that scenario could still be in the cards."

First Samurai won his first four career starts, including the Grade 1 Champagne and Hopeful stakes, before concluding his 2-year-old campaign by finishing a troubled third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park through the disqualification of Corinthian and then finished a tiring fifth in the Blue Grass.

First Samurai is the second top 3-year-old Brothers has lost to injury. Laity, a two-time stakes winner, suffered a crack on the wing of a coffin bone. Laity was being pointed for the Crown Royal American Turf Stakes here May 5.

"It's an injury similar to a cracked rib in that it also doesn't show up right away," Brothers said. "He seemed fine coming out of his last start and all of a sudden he was walking on his toe."

English Channel leads star-filled Woodford

English Channel, the standout 4-year-old turf horse trained by Todd Pletcher, is part of a stellar cast being pointed to the Grade 1, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Derby undercard.

Last fall in the Breeders' Cup Turf, English Channel ran fifth, trailing only the European horses who swept the top four spots. In his lone start since then, English Channel captured the Canadian Turf Handicap on March 11 at Gulfstream Park. Garrett Gomez will have the mount in the 1 1/8-mile Woodford.

The other probables for the Woodford include Gorella, Silver Whistle, Silver Tree, Perfect Drift, Milk It Mick, Honor in War, Einstein, Cacique, Cool Conductor, Fort Prado, Rebel Rebel, and Good Reward. Better Talk Now, the 2004 BC Turf winner, is a possible starter, according to Churchill officials. The field will be limited to 12.

La Reason moved to Pletcher

As if Todd Pletcher didn't already have enough in the older female division, he has recently taken over the training of Grade 2 stakes winner La Reason from David Vance. Pletcher plans to run La Reason and Oonagh Maccool in Friday's Grade 2, $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup.

WinStar Farm purchased a half interest in La Reason from owners Ronald and Tom Kirby, Pletcher said. La Reason, a 6-year-old daughter of Labeeb, has a record of 9-4-6 from 38 starts, with her biggest win coming in the 2004 Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park. Most recently, La Reason finished third in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom behind the Pletcher-trained Spun Sugar.

Pletcher's other top female horses include Indian Vale, Fleet Indian, Bohemian Lady, and Pool Land.

Castellano appeals five-day suspension

Jockey Javier Castellano has appealed a five-day suspension handed to him Friday by the Keeneland stewards. Castellano was penalized for a riding infraction that occurred in the third race Thursday, when his mount, D'courts Speed, was disqualified to third after finishing first.

By appealing, Castellano gets an automatic reprieve from serving the penalty, pending an administrative hearing before the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. The suspension had been scheduled to run Tuesday through Saturday.

* With Miraculous Miss out and Last Romance in, there still are 16 fillies looking to make the Kentucky Oaks field, which will be limited to 14. Ermine and Red Cherries Spin remain on the outside. Entries will be drawn Tuesday.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee