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Stevens shooting for Derby win No. 4
INGLEWOOD, Calif. - After a three-month sabbatical, Gary Stevens had been riding for only a few days in February when he took the mount on the longshot Buddy Gil in the Baldwin Stakes, a turf sprint at Santa Anita.
Stevens could not have known it at the time, but Buddy Gil would turn out to be the Hall of Fame jockey's mount for Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
Following wins in the Baldwin, the San Felipe Stakes in March, and the Santa Anita Derby on April 5, Buddy Gil has secured a place in the Kentucky Derby as a top contender.
Stevens is seeking his fourth Kentucky Derby victory, which would put him in a tie with Bill Shoemaker for third place on the list of jockeys with the most Derby wins. Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack share the record with five wins each.
Stevens's attempt for a fourth winner comes in the year in which he has turned 40 and has begun working as an actor - through his portrayal of jockey George Woolf in the upcoming movie "Seabiscuit." More film work could be in Stevens's future, he said.
Meanwhile, Buddy Gil reminds Stevens of Silver Charm, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1997. Stevens won his first Derby aboard Winning Colors in 1988 and pulled an upset win with 24-1 Thunder Gulch in 1995.
"I think he's more athletic than Silver Charm," Stevens said of Buddy Gil. "He's got the same kind of heart. They've got a lot of similarities."
On Monday, Stevens rode Buddy Gil in a five-furlong workout in 59.60 seconds.
"He's on tilt and ready to go," Stevens said. "I like where I'm sitting right now."
Thoroughbred Corp. tries for repeat
A victory by Kafwain in Saturday's Kentucky Derby would give The Thoroughbred Corp. the distinction of being the first owner to win back-to-back Derbies since Meadow Stable won two in a row with Riva Ridge and Secretariat in 1972 and '73.
A year after War Emblem scored an upset at 20-1 in 2002, The Thoroughbred Corp. is hoping that Kafwain can pull a similar surprise. Kafwain has won three stakes and was the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last October, but has lost his last two starts.
Last year, the late Prince Ahmed bin Salman, the principal of the Thoroughbred Corp., accepted War Emblem's trophy. Since his death last July, the stable has continued at a smaller level under the direction of his older brother, Prince Faisal bin Salman.
Richard Mulhall, the stable's racing manager, is taking a cautious approach to the Derby, realizing that Empire Maker, trained by Bobby Frankel, will be a clear favorite.
"I think Frankel's is the horse to beat," Mulhall said.
Kafwain is coming off a third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. In the days after that race, he was found to be ill and was given a week off. "I have to think he wasn't as his best," Mulhall said. "We did lose a week or so. It's not good, but he's doing well now."
The Thoroughbred Corp. is also selling some of its racing holdings.
Mulhall said eight horses were recently sold in a package to California owners Stephen Taub and Neil Papiano. The group includes Californian, who starts in Friday's Crown Royal American Turf, and Tough Game, a contender in Saturday's Churchill Downs Handicap.
Meanwhile, two of The Thoroughbred Corp.'s top broodmares had foals last week. Spain, the all-time leading female money-earner, gave birth to a Storm Cat colt at Three Chimneys Farm, and Sharp Cat, a multiple stakes winner in the late 1990's, dropped a Point Given filly at Mill Ridge Farm.
Day excited about Ten Most Wanted
Having been involved in two spills in five days, jockey Pat Day is happy to be standing in one piece. On Monday, he had another reason to smile, as he guided Illinois Derby winner Ten Most Wanted through a five-furlong workout timed by Daily Racing Form in 59.54 seconds.
Ten Most Wanted was scheduled to work Tuesday but trainer Wally Dollase moved the work up a day because of a threat of rain on Monday night and the prospect of an off track Tuesday morning.
Though Ten Most Wanted broke aggressively from the pole, he remained strong throughout the move, and galloped out well. It was his second strong work over the track, both under Day.
"He couldn't be coming into this race any better," said Day, Churchill's leading rider, who has won only one Kentucky Derby in 20 attempts. "Fifty-nine [seconds] and change is a great work, and then he galloped out strong. When I stood up on him after the wire, he accelerated for three or four jumps then went into a lope. I got him pulled up at the half-mile pole, turned around, [and] he took a deep breath and didn't blow after that.''
Dollase watched the work from his pony and was pleased with what he saw.
"I told Pat I wanted him to go nice and easy but get something out of it," Dollase said. "He galloped out strong. He's got such a beautiful stride."
Day escaped a spill uninjured in Sunday's feature race at Churchill when his mount, Quick Draw, broke down on the far turn. Day, who was also involved in a spill last Wednesday at Keeneland, said he was not sore from the fall, but heartbroken that Quick Draw had to be euthanized.
Valenzuela must pass drug test to ride
Jockey Pat Valenzuela will be required to submit to drug screenings Friday and Saturday before he will be permitted to ride at Churchill Downs, it was announced Monday by Bernie Hettel, chief steward and executive director of the Kentucky Racing Commission.
Valenzuela has been riding under a provisional jockey's license in California since returning to action in December 2001 after a lengthy absence sparked by a history of substance abuse. The provisional license demands that Valenzuela submit to random drug testing.
This weekend will mark the first time Valenzuela has applied to ride in Kentucky since his latest absence. Hettel said he believed "Kentucky had a moral obligation to follow up" on what is required of Valenzuela in other jurisdictions.
"If he were to come here to ride on a regular basis, I would have to enroll him in our program" for racing participants with substance-abuse violations, Hettel said.
Valenzuela, 39, has raced periodically outside of California since his return and has encountered no reported trouble. He is scheduled to ride Island Fashion in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday and Kafwain in the Kentucky Derby.
Valenzuela won the 1989 Derby aboard Sunday Silence.
Eye of the Tiger remains on the fence
After speaking with owner John Gunther on Monday afternoon, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said a decision still had not been made to run Eye of the Tiger in the Derby. Earlier Monday, the colt ran his final Derby workout, going five furlongs in 1:01.20, as timed by Daily Racing Form.
"We decided to sleep on it one more night," said Hollendorfer. "If we decide we can do some good Saturday, then we'll run. If not, then we'll stick with our original plan and wait for the Preakness."
Jockey Eibar Coa, who will have the mount if the colt is entered, was aboard Eye of the Tiger in the workout. "I thought he finished very strong," said Coa.
Eye of the Tiger, by American Chance, most recently finished second behind Scrimshaw in the April 19 Lexington Stakes, a race that marked Eye of the Tiger's first race beyond 6 1/2 furlongs.
This will be the first Derby for Hollendorfer, assuming Eye of the Tiger is entered and then doesn't suffer the bad luck that forced Hollendorfer's two previous Derby hopefuls out of contention during Derby week. In 1998, Hollendorfer's Event of the Year was sidelined several days before the race and in 2000 his horse Globalize was scratched the day before the race. Both horses suffered leg injuries.
Hollendorfer, the longtime training kingpin of northern California, has saddled two winners of the Kentucky Oaks: Lite Light (1991) and Pike Place Dancer (1996).
Weaver nixes Derby shot for Christine's Outlaw
Trainer George Weaver, who worked for trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Todd Pletcher before going out on his own last fall, shot down rumors that he was going to enter Arkansas Derby third-place finisher Christine's Outlaw in the Kentucky Derby.
"I definitely did think about it," Weaver said Monday from Keeneland. "But there are five, six, or seven horses that are further ahead than we are at this point. But there are plenty of horses in there that I wouldn't trade places with."
Weaver said he would point Christine's Outlaw, a winner of two of four starts, to the $200,000 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont May 24.
- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee