04/17/2009 11:00PM

Square Eddie tries to come full circle

Photos By Z/Keeneland
Square Eddie's 4 3/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity (above) last October at Keeneland stamped him as a big talent.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Square Eddie not only can thrill his connections by winning the $300,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes on Saturday at Keeneland - he might be doing some of the bubble horses for the 135th Kentucky Derby a favor, too.

As usual, with two weeks remaining until the May 2 Derby, the outlook is rather incomplete. Depending on whom and when you ask, the field could range anywhere from 16 or 17 to the 20-horse maximum - and if the entries overflow, the graded-earnings criteria that determines eligibility could become a source of controversy.

A $186,000 winner's share essentially makes the Grade 2 Lexington a win-and-you're-in event, and since Square Eddie has already secured a starting berth by virtue of his $774,981 in graded earnings, he could prevent a would-be newcomer from leapfrogging into the field.

Doug O'Neill wouldn't mind keeping it so simple.

"Put an offer like that in front of me and I'll sign it right now," he said with a laugh.

As the trainer of Square Eddie, the likely favorite in a field of 12 entered in the Lexington, O'Neill is optimistic that the colt will show no ill effects from the well-documented cannon-bone stress fracture that temporarily halted his march to Churchill Downs in Louisville this winter.

"He's training great," said O'Neill. "A few months ago, obviously we didn't know where we'd be with him right now. But he's fit, he's healthy, and we're really looking forward to watching him Saturday."

Square Eddie, with Edgar Prado to ride for O'Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam, will break from post 8 in the Lexington, which is run at the short-stretch distance of 1 1/16 miles over the main Polytrack surface at Keeneland. Over the same patch of ground here last fall, the colt stamped himself as a major player in the division when he romped to a 4 3/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity.

The balance of the field for the 28th Lexington, the traditional last-ditch stop on the Derby trail, looks like a real grab bag. Most have flashed potential but have yet to make that next leap. All are eligible for a second-level allowance, while two of them are stakes winners: El Crespo, winner of the Palm Beach at Gulfstream, and Parade Clown, who took the $50,000 WEBN at Turfway.

El Crespo earned $90,000 in winning the Grade 3 Palm Beach on turf and theoretically could become Derby-eligible by finishing second Saturday, but trainer Rusty Arnold said Thursday: "I really don't think he'll ever race on the dirt again."

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won two of the last four runnings of the Lexington with Coin Silver (2005) and Behindatthebar (2008), has a decent-looking uncoupled duo Saturday in Masala and Advice. Pletcher already has Dunkirk as his top Derby hope.

ESPN2 will provide live coverage of the Lexington on a one-hour broadcast that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern.

In other Derby developments:

* The connections of Mafaaz will not accept the automatic berth the colt earned in winning the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes in England in March. Neal McLaughlin, brother of and assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, said late Thursday at Keeneland that Shadwell Farm owner Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum had consulted with Shadwell's vice president, Rick Nichols, and "they've decided to seek an alternate spot" for Mafaaz.

Mafaaz was transferred into the McLaughlin stable Wednesday after finishing eighth last weekend in the Blue Grass Stakes for his previous trainer, John Gosden.

Meanwhile, another McLaughlin-trained colt, Charitable Man, remains under consideration for the Derby.

* Hold Me Back, the Blue Grass Stakes runner-up, will be vanned from Keeneland to Churchill "maybe Monday or Tuesday," according to Elliott Walden, racing manager for the colt's owner, WinStar Farm. Trained by Bill Mott, Hold Me Back then would have one serious workout over the Churchill strip, Walden added.

* Trainer Bennie Woolley said Thursday from Sunland Park in New Mexico that a decision on the Derby status of Mine That Bird probably would be made no later than Friday afternoon. Mine That Bird, winner of three stakes last year at Woodbine and most recently fourth in the Sunland Derby, is owned by Double Eagle Ranch and Bueno Suerte Equine.

* A planeload of horses from Southern California arrived Thursday afternoon in Louisville. The shipment included Pioneerof the Nile and Chocolate Candy, the respective one-two finishers in the Santa Anita Derby.

* With the Derby just two weeks away as of Saturday, there can be little doubt who the media darling will be this year: Tom McCarthy. Ever since his one-horse stable, General Quarters, captured the Blue Grass last weekend, there has been a seemingly endless flow of cameras and reporters visiting the 75-year-old McCarthy at Barn 37 on the Churchill backstretch.

* West Side Bernie, the Wood Memorial runner-up, had a touch of colic after shipping to Churchill early in the week, but "we treated him and he's fine now," said trainer Kelly Breen on Thursday. "He galloped this morning. I'm thinking of working him Sunday, although I might just have him go in a two-minute lick. I'm being pretty cautious with him for now."

* Assuming he makes the field, Flying Private, fifth in the Arkansas Derby, will have two workouts leading into the Derby, said trainer D. Wayne Lukas. "Probably either Tuesday-Monday, or Tuesday-Tuesday," said Lukas, whose 42 Derby starters are easily the most in race history.

* A decision on whether Giant Oak will run in the Derby "will be made by Monday," said trainer Chris Block.

* Trainer Scooter Dickey has informed Churchill officials that Flat Out, sixth in the Arkansas Derby, now is under consideration for the Kentucky Derby.

* Patena, 10th in the Blue Grass, will be out of training for about 60 days after undergoing successful surgery to have an ankle chip removed Wednesday at the Rood and Riddle equine clinic in Lexington.

- additional reporting by David Grening

:: (DRF Plus)