04/27/2008 11:00PM

A spot opens for Denis of Cork

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - After a flurry of workouts over the weekend, and the arrival on Monday at Churchill Downs of Big Brown, the likely favorite, just about all the heavy work is done for the 134th Kentucky Derby. Now, the waiting is the hardest part.

It is especially stressful for those who want to get into the race, but might not. That's a position trainer David Carroll and owner William Warren found themselves in when they woke up Monday morning, but several hours later, they were elated to learn that their colt, Denis of Cork, had moved up a slot and almost certainly would race in Saturday's Derby because of the defection of Coolmore Lexington Stakes winner Behindatthebar.

Entries for the Derby are to be taken on Wednesday morning, and post positions selected early Wednesday evening. A maximum of 20 horses can run in the race, and more than 20 are expected to be entered. In such cases, the field is determined by earnings in graded stakes races.

The only potential hiccup for Denis of Cork would be the extremely unlikely possibility that the filly Proud Spell would draw a dreadful post on Tuesday for the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, and her connections then reconsider and also enter the Derby on Wednesday.

Halo Najib is now the bubble horse, effectively ranked 21st on graded stakes earnings when Proud Spell is removed. Tomcito, stabled here, would also run if he could get in. El Gato Malo, who worked six furlongs in 1:12.20 on Saturday at Hollywood Park, is booked on a flight Wednesday from Southern California. He will be entered, and will travel if several defections occur from those above him on the earnings list before his flight.

But when the field is finalized on Wednesday, the 20 runners in the Derby are expected to be Adriano (Edgar Prado the rider), Anak Nakal (Rafael Bejarano), Big Brown (Kent Desormeaux), Big Truck (Javier Castellano), Bob Black Jack (Richard Migliore), Colonel John (Corey Nakatani), Cool Coal Man (Julien Leparoux), Court Vision (Garrett Gomez), Cowboy Cal (John Velazquez), Denis of Cork (Calvin Borel), the filly Eight Belles (Gabriel Saez), Gayego (Mike Smith), Monba (Ramon Dominguez), Pyro (Shaun Bridgmohan), Recapturetheglory (E.T. Baird), Smooth Air (Manoel Cruz), Tale of Ekati (Eibar Coa), Visionaire (Jose Lezcano), Z Humor (Rene Douglas), and Z Fortune (Robby Albarado).

Denis of Cork, who won the Southwest Stakes but most recently was fifth in the Arkansas Derby, was one of six Derby contenders to work at Churchill on Monday morning. With Borel up, he covered a half-mile in 47.80 seconds, according to Daily Racing Form.

Carroll at that point was resigned to not getting in the Derby. "Now we'll just have to wait and see," he said. "If he doesn't get in, we'll move on."

An hour later, Satish Sanan, the co-owner of Behindatthebar, phoned Carroll and let him know Behindatthebar would not run.

"I'm over the moon," Carroll said just after receiving Sanan's call. "It's gotten a little crazy around here the last few minutes. We're excited. The horse is here, we feel he belongs in the race with him doing as well as he is. We're looking forward to it. Hopefully, he gets a good post. After that it's out of our hands."

Todd Pletcher, who trains Behindatthebar, said he and Sanan thought coming back just two weeks after a victory in the Lexington on April 19, and thus racing three times in 30 days, was too ambitious a schedule for Behindatthebar. Instead, Behindatthebar will point for the May 17 Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

"When you're thinking about a race the magnitude of the Kentucky Derby, you want to give it time and talk it through because it's the only opportunity they'll get," Pletcher said. "We feel like this is the right thing to do for the horse, and by doing this hopefully it will pay dividends at the end of the season."

Pletcher will still have two horses in the Derby in Cowboy Cal and Monba, though Sanan will not have a Derby runner.

Also working here Monday were Big Truck, Bob Black Jack, Pyro, Visionaire, and Z Fortune.

Bob Black Jack, the Santa Anita Derby runner-up, barely got his four-furlong work in. His jockey, Richard Migliore, flew in on a red-eye flight from California. By the time trainer James Kasparoff picked up Migliore at the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky Airport, and made the 85-mile drive to Churchill Downs, it was nearly 9:30. The track, which opens for training at 6 a.m., closes at 10.

Migliore said his trip around the track was considerably easier than his flight.

"I was stuck in the middle seat," Migliore said. "I usually sleep good on a plane, but not this time. It was worth the trip, though. I feel better for having sat on him over the track. This is the most important race anybody could be involved in. You don't want to leave any stone unturned.

"I'm sorry I couldn't get here any sooner, because by the time we got out there, the track was a little dug up."

Sunday, five other likely Derby starters worked, most notably Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John, who scorched five furlongs in 57.61 seconds with exercise rider Karine Lhuillier aboard. A threat of rain Monday, which did not materialize, caused his trainer, Eoin Harty, to move the work up a day.

"I could have gotten away with the work today," Harty said Monday, "but in light of what happened, I'm glad I have the extra day until the race. He's fine today, which is very satisfying considering the speed of the workout. He ate up, he was on his toes when he grazed, and he was aggressive this morning. If he was dragging around here and hadn't touched his grub, I'd be very concerned. He traveled well over the track. Because of that, I don't think [Lhuillier] fully realized how fast he was going."

According to Weather.com, there is a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms on Oaks Day Friday, and a 30 percent chance on Derby Day Saturday, with high temperatures in the mid- to low 70s both days.

- additional reporting

by David Grening and Byron King