05/13/2010 11:00PM

Ryan back for second Preakness try

Barbara D. Livingston
Derek Ryan is hoping Schoolyard Dreams (above) has a better trip than Musket Man had in last year's Preakness.

BALTIMORE - Derek Ryan's first appearance in the Preakness Stakes was as frustrating as it was rewarding.

Last year, Ryan trained Musket Man, who finished third in the Preakness, 1 1/2 lengths behind the filly Rachel Alexandra. Ryan believes had Musket Man not been forced to steady approaching the quarter pole, the result could have been different.

"I think I should have won it last year," Ryan said. "He got checked right at the most important part of the race. The same horse [Pioneerof the Nile] that banged into us in the Kentucky Derby came right over on him."

At that point in the race, Ryan wanted Eibar Coa to have Musket Man within four lengths of the lead. He was closer to seven or eight lengths back.

"He gave us a kick, but he's only got a turn of foot for an eighth of a mile and he got within a length of her," Ryan said. "If he was right behind her, I think he would have got her. That's woulda, coulda, shoulda."

Given that Ryan trains a relatively small number of horses, Musket Man - who also finished third in the Kentucky Derby - could have been Ryan's best shot at ever winning a Triple Crown race. But Ryan is back on the Triple Crown trail this year with Schoolyard Dreams, who after missing the Kentucky Derby due lack of earnings enters Saturday's Preakness as an intriguing longshot in the field of 12. Consider that the only time Schoolyard Dreams faced Super Saver - the Kentucky Derby winner - he finished a half-length ahead of him when he was second in the Tampa Bay Derby.

"The only one I couldn't beat was Eskendereya," Ryan said, referring to the Wood Memorial and Fountain of Youth winner who missed the Derby and was retired due to a soft-tissue injury. "I fit in with the rest of them."

Ryan, a 43-year-old native of Tipperary, Ireland, has a confident, bordering on cocky, personality that can be at times engaging and at times abrasive.

He is one eight siblings, one of whom is a professional golfer in Ireland. Ryan, who calls himself "a bit of a traveler," chose a different path, opting to be around horses. In Europe, he galloped for the likes of trainers Criquette Head, Tommy Stack, and Barney Curley.

Ryan got a student visa to come the U.S. in 1989, and after a brief stint working on a farm in upstate New York became a free-lance exercise rider on the East Coast. Among the horsemen he galloped for in New York were Phil Johnson and Richard DeStasio. Ryan exercised the graded stakes winner Academy Award for DeStasio.

In New Jersey, Ryan worked for Joe Orseno, with whom he eventually became partners on a few horses.

"At the time I was training for a guy that wanted me to have the absolute best exercise riders," said Orseno, who also employed Jason Servis, now a trainer. "When he was galloping, we got along great. He had good hands on a horse, he understood what we were trying to accomplish. We won a lot of races together. I knew he'd make a good trainer one day."

In the winter of 1995-96, when Orseno elected to stay in the Northeast, Ryan decided to go out on his own. The first horse he started was Moose the Goose, who won two races in a 10-day period at Gulfstream.

In late 1995, Ryan claimed the horse Java Nagila for $12,500. The following summer, Java Nagila won the Restoration Stakes at Monmouth Park. From 1999 to 2005, Ryan averaged 29 winners a year and won a handful of stakes with the likes of Call Her Magic, Emergency Status, and Call My Bluff.

It was in 2005 that Ryan met Eric Fein, who owns a title insurance business on Long Island and who had horses with a variety of trainers. After having some success with Ryan with some of his cheaper horses on the Jersey circuit, Fein decided to give Ryan the bulk of his stable.

"After going through a few trainers . . . I finally found one that was pretty honest," Fein said. "Great guy, really good trainer. If he had the clientele like some of these other guys, he'd be as good or better."

Ryan, who maintains a 30-horse string between Monmouth and Philadelphia, said he enjoys working with 2-year-olds. He had 10 last year and nine of them won. He has 15 this year.

For a trainer with not a lot of horses, Ryan displays great patience. Neither Musket Man nor Schoolyard Dreams started until late October of their 2-year-old season.

"Waiting on them is the killer, but you got to wait," Ryan said. "If you wait they'll reward you. Schoolyard Dreams wouldn't have broken his maiden for $25,000 in April or May or June - he just wasn't ready. I always end up buying these May foals and they don't end up looking the part when you buy them because they're late, whereas the February and March ones are usually better looking."

Ryan credits Fein for allowing him to be patient with his 2-year-olds.

"He doesn't tell you how train them, he doesn't interfere," Ryan said. "Most guys would be busting your chops."

Schoolyard Dreams finished third in his debut at Philadelphia Park before winning a maiden race in his second start in November. Ryan said the primary goal for the winter was the Tampa Bay Derby in part because Fein had won the race the previous two years, with Musket Man in 2009 and Big Truck in 2008. Also, the seven weeks between the Tampa Bay Derby and the Kentucky Derby would have been ideal.

Ryan wasn't all that upset about missing the Derby because it would have meant running Schoolyard Dreams three times in seven weeks and he didn't think the colt would have been up to it.

"If he had had enough earnings he would have went into the Derby, but he wouldn't have been going into that race the way you wanted," Ryan said.

Ryan believes he has endured his share of bad luck in some big races. Musket Man was beaten a nose in the Grade 1 Carter in April, a couple of weeks after Schoolyard Dreams lost a photo to Odysseus in the Tampa Bay Derby.

"I got to get lucky once in these races," Ryan said. "I have the horse, I just need a little racing luck."