Updated on 09/16/2011 6:40AM

Siphonic has three-prep Derby plan

Email
Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Siphonic, here winning his last race, the Dec. 15 Hollywood Futurity, begins 2002 in Saturday's Santa Catalina.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - It has only been one month since Siphonic last raced, but the change in the calendar is significant. When he last raced, he was 2. Now, with the start of the new year, he is 3, and the attention, like his age, has increased. The colt who is the leader of the West Coast's Kentucky Derby prospects, and whom many consider the best in the country, is about to take his first step on the road to Louisville.

* was shipped on Tuesday afternoon from trainer David Hofmans's barn here at Hollywood Park to Santa Anita, where on Saturday he will start as an overwhelming favorite in the Grade 2, $150,000 Santa Catalina Stakes. It is the first of three races in which he is scheduled to run this season at Santa Anita before the Kentucky Derby. But it is not what Hofmans would have ideally desired.

"Optimally, I would have not run him in January, and run him in February," Hofmans said at his barn. "I want to stay in California, but the schedule at Santa Anita is not good."

The Santa Catalina is the only graded, two-turn race for 3-year-olds in Southern California between the Hollywood Futurity in December and the one-mile San Rafael Stakes on March 2. February is barren. Hofmans - who went down the Derby trail last year with Blue Grass Stakes winner Millennium Wind - believes the ideal preparation for the Derby is three starts at age 3. But if Hofmans passed the Santa Catalina with Siphonic and waited for the San Rafael, he would have had to drop Siphonic back in distance, from the Futurity's 1 1/16 miles to the one mile of the San Rafael, then bring the colt back just 15 days later for the 1 1/16-mile San Felipe Stakes, then run in the Santa Anita Derby three weeks later.

Three races in five weeks? Hofmans would rather face that hurdle during the Triple Crown, not before the Triple Crown.

Siphonic then made the decision moot. "I thought he'd need time after the Futurity, but he's so full of himself, I've got to go on with him," said Hofmans, who will bring jockey Jerry Bailey in from Florida to ride Siphonic. "He hasn't missed a scheduled work. The weather has always cooperated. After this, we'll just wait for the San Felipe." That's an eight-week gap, but Hofmans said there was "no chance" he'd take Siphonic out of town during that time for a race in February. And then after the San Felipe, it's on to the Santa Anita Derby on April 6, and then the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4.

Easy, huh? Right. As easy as walking a tightrope. "It is like walking a tightrope," Hofmans agreed. "You have to have a horse that's fit at that moment, like for the race this weekend, but you have to keep him fresh enough so you can go on to the next one. It's a toughie. That's why any horse that wins the Triple Crown is something else. I mean, if you get lucky and win the Derby, the pressure's really on. There's no way you can skip the Preakness. And that's only two weeks after the Derby."

Hofmans has spent hours in recent weeks poring over the past performances of horses who ran in recent Kentucky Derbies, trying to see what worked, and avoid the pitfalls of those who failed. "I want to see how they got there, the reasons they used," Hofmans said. "That's how I came up with this plan."

Siphonic heads into this campaign in excellent condition. He has won three times in four starts, his lone loss coming when he was third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park. All four of his races have been at a different racetrack, and it will be 5 for 5 when he makes his Santa Anita debut. The itinerant campaign works with Siphonic, however, because he is remarkably mature and calm for a colt with so little experience. He goes to and from the track each morning with exercise Martin De Rubin as if he's been punching the clock for five years, and he does not raise a fuss when being saddled for a race, or when he is led around the walking ring. He's a pro.

"We're going over to Santa Anita early so he can gallop into the race over there, and school in the paddock in the afternoon," Hofmans said. "He's a good shipper. Not too much seems to bother him. He's a very smart horse, very intelligent. He handles pretty much any situation."

*

* Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader.