04/20/2009 12:00AM

Square Eddie moves closer to Derby

Photos By Z/Keeneland
Advice (right) pulls away from Square Eddie on his way to victory in Saturday's Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Advice was the winner of the Coolmore Lexington Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland, but it was third-place finisher Square Eddie who was the revelation in his first start since suffering a minor fracture in February. Despite an effort in which he broke poorly and then circled the field on the far turn, Square Eddie came out of the race well, according to trainer Doug O'Neill, and will try to complete his improbable comeback in the 135th Kentucky Derby on May 2 at Churchill Downs.

"He came out of the race in great shape," O'Neill said Monday. "One of our concerns was that if we didn't really have him cranked up enough he'd struggle with his appetite a bit. But he hasn't missed an oat."

What he will miss is his jockey. Although Edgar Prado rode Square Eddie in the Lexington, he has opted to ride the Todd Pletcher-trained Dunkirk, the Florida Derby runner-up, in the Kentucky Derby. O'Neill said he and owner Paul Reddam have about four options for a replacement, but nothing concrete. Reddam is longtime friends with Corey Nakatani, though he is scheduled to ride Mr. Hot Stuff.

Square Eddie was to be sent by van from Keeneland to Churchill Downs on Tuesday, O'Neill said.

Pletcher was the beneficiary of Prado's decision regarding Dunkirk, but only because Pletcher lost out on Garrett Gomez. After two agonizing weeks, Gomez decided to ride Pioneerof the Nile, the Santa Anita Derby winner, in the Kentucky Derby, forgoing a chance to ride Dunkirk. Befitting the transient nature of jockey-trainer relationships, Gomez announced his choice the morning after riding Advice for Pletcher in the Lexington.

Bob Baffert, who trains Pioneerof the Nile, was happy to retain Gomez.

"It was a tough decision for him, because he was dealing with two really good owners and two high-profile trainers," said Baffert, who trains Pioneerof the Nile for Ahmed Zayat. "I never really put any pressure on him. I told Garrett to ride the horse you feel good about.

"I think Garrett's final reasoning was that although Dunkirk figures to get better down the road, the future is now," Baffert said.

Gomez is 4 for 4 on Pioneerof the Nile. He is 1 for 2 on Dunkirk.

"If I had won four stakes, two Grade 1's, on the other horse, I would have been on that one," said Ron Anderson, Gomez's agent.

Advice got a 94 Beyer Speed Figure in the Lexington. Pletcher on Monday said he had not firmed up a replacement jockey for Advice, whom Pletcher listed merely as "possible for the Kentucky Derby."

Two jockeys who have made other Derby commitments are Alan Garcia and Ramon Dominguez. On Monday, Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said Garcia and Dominguez had been retained to ride Regal Ransom and Desert Party, the one-two finishers in the United Arab Emirates Derby. That makes it look increasingly likely that both Godolphin-owned colts will run in the Derby.

Both Desert Party and Regal Ransom worked at Churchill Downs on Saturday morning.

"Both horses are doing really well," Crisford said in an e-mail. "They breezed at the weekend . . . and both got over the track really well. We have Alan Garcia and Ramon Dominguez on standby and we will make a final decision as to who rides what later in the week."

Pletcher said the Derby status of Advice would be determined after consulting with former trainer Elliott Walden, vice president and general manager of WinStar Farm, the owner of Advice.

"We want to wait a few days and see how the horse has taken the race and is acting," Pletcher said.

If Advice does run, he could give WinStar three Derby entrants. WinStar also owns Hold Me Back, runner-up in the Blue Grass Stakes, as well as Mr. Hot Stuff, who finished third in the Santa Anita Derby and is in the top 20, though just barely, in graded stakes earnings.

Should more than 20 horses enter the Derby on April 29, the field will be determined by earnings in graded stakes races. The graded stakes earnings clause figures to come into play again this year, even though there have been several notable defections from the Derby field in the past two weeks.

The latest to bow out of Derby consideration was Giant Oak, who finished second in the Illinois Derby in his last start.

"Physically, he's fine, but we don't think he's seasoned enough for a race like the Derby," Giant Oak's trainer, Chris Block, said Monday from Chicago, where he is based. "We're going to go back to the grass with him."

If entries for the Derby had been taken Monday, Summer Bird, with $100,000 in graded earnings, would have been the final horse in the field.

Pletcher said Take the Points, who is just $15,000 behind Summer Bird, was not likely to be considered for the Derby, but he said the owners of Join in the Dance, who has $90,000 in graded stakes earnings, "want to run."

Although the weather in central Kentucky was spectacular on Friday and Saturday, it turned on Sunday and the rain continued into Monday. Churchill Downs even had to briefly close its track during training hours Monday because of washouts.

Chocolate Candy, Pioneerof the Nile, and I Want Revenge were all scheduled for works at Churchill on Tuesday, weather permitting.

Papa Clem, the Arkansas Derby winner, worked at Churchill on Sunday and traveled five furlongs in 1:04.60 on a track rated good.

At Keeneland on Sunday, Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire went one mile on Polytrack in 1:39.47, according to Daily Racing Form.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch