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For Tagg, no dreams of repeat
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Amid the flood of dreams and excitement leading to the 130th Kentucky Derby on May 1, trainer Barclay Tagg has arrived at Keeneland with a few ounces of realism. Although Tagg will run Bride's Best Boy on Saturday in the final major race of the Derby prep season, the Coolmore Lexington Stakes, he is resisting the impulses that have helped make this the largest and most inscrutable pack of Derby candidates in many years.
"I'm not thinking about the Derby," said Tagg, who experienced Derby delirium last year, winning the race with Funny Cide, his first Derby starter. "You need a certain amount of judiciousness with these horses."
Like so very many 3-year-olds in this wildly unpredictable year, Bride's Best Boy appears to be only one big race away from crashing the upper echelon of his class. But as far as Tagg is concerned, the colt's relative lack of seasoning precludes a run at the Derby - and yet Bride's Best Boy still could carry an unintended influence on the Derby.
Because so many horses are tightly bunched near the cutoff point to get into the Derby - graded earnings determine which 20 horses can run - the Grade 2 Lexington could have a substantial impact. The Lexington purse is $325,000, and with earnings margins being so slim this year, that money could go a long way toward determining who's in and who's out of the Derby.
Enter Bride's Best Boy and his fellow runners in the Lexington. Whether Bride's Best Boy is good enough to defeat Saratoga County or Fire Slam or several other plausible contenders in the 1 1/16-mile race, Tagg is uncertain. But he knows that the trainer who sends out the winner in the Lexington will, he said, "need to have a lot of luck and a darned good horse" to win the Derby two weeks later.
Tagg believes he is in a far different situation than last year, when luck smiled on a good horse named Funny Cide. Bride's Best Boy, by the Danzig sire Outflanker, was unraced at 2 before winning two of three starts to begin his racing career this winter at Gulfstream. In his latest race, a seven-furlong allowance on March 22, Bride's Best Boy rallied for a 3 3/4-length win in a field that included a well-regarded prospect named Wild Wadi.
"We don't know exactly where we are with this horse," said Tagg. "It's unfortunate he didn't run as a 2-year-old, although the way he won his last race, it looks like he's caught on real quick. But I don't think it'd be fair to the colt to throw him to the wolves this early."
Bride's Best Boy, bred and owned by John Sullivan, is one of at least nine 3-year-olds expected to run in the Lexington, although perhaps as many as 13 could start. The prospective field, with jockeys, is: Boomzeeboom, Corey Nakatani; Bride's Best Boy, Edgar Prado; Fire Slam, Pat Day; Gamblin, Robby Albarado; Pomeroy, Mike Smith; Quintons Gold Rush, Jerry Bailey; Saratoga County, Javier Castellano; Song of the Sword, no rider; and Suave, Cornelio Velasquez.
Four more horses are considered possible starters: Capac, Dashboard Drummer, Race for Glory, and Tiger Heart. Trainer Bob Baffert has ruled Totally Platinum out of the race.
In other Derby doings:
* Smarty Jones will spend the next two weeks or so at Keeneland instead of Churchill Downs, a somewhat unorthodox move that trainer John Servis said he gave a lot of thought to.
"There's all that construction going on at Churchill, and I just thought Keeneland would be the better spot. Obviously it will be more quiet," he said.
After getting on a horse van early Tuesday at Oaklawn Park, where the colt remained unbeaten by winning the Arkansas Derby last weekend, Smarty Jones was scheduled to take up residence in Barn 21 at Keeneland by mid-afternoon. Servis, speaking Tuesday from Philadelphia Park, said he would join the colt at Keeneland on Wednesday.
Throughout Derby history, most trainers have sent their horses to Churchill early, primarily to have the horses get acclimated to the track surface and the surroundings. This year, however, Churchill is in the midst of a massive reconstruction project, and there is an increased number of sights and sounds that a trainer might interpret to be distractions.
Occasionally in recent years, a Derby prospect has stabled at Keeneland, including 1995 Derby runner-up Tejano Run and some foreign-based horses, including those owned by Godophin Racing.
Asked whether he intended to have Smarty Jones vanned to Churchill for a workout or two before the Derby, Servis said he would "play it by ear." He also said he had yet to determine what day Smarty Jones would be vanned to Churchill to run in the Derby.
In additional Derby developments:
* Rock Hard Ten had his first work over the Churchill surface, going five furlongs Tuesday over a sloppy track in 1:01.80. Rock Hard Ten, one of a handful of horses on the graded-earnings bubble, was one of the first Derby hopefuls to ship to Churchill, having arrived late last week.
* Baffert said he is lining up new jockeys for Wimbledon and his other Derby hopeful, Preachinatthebar. Javier Santiago rode both colts in their last starts, both resounding losses.
* Two other stakes for 3-year-olds will be run Saturday, although neither will have an impact on the Derby. Those races are the $100,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico and the $100,000 California Derby at Bay Meadows. The Tesio occasionally produces a starter for the Preakness four weeks later.
* The Lexington will be televised on ESPN2 on tape delay Saturday. The one-hour show starts at 6 p.m. Eastern and also includes a replay of the Tesio.
* Although the weather in Lexington. has been unseasonably cold and rainy in recent days, a break is imminent. Sunny skies and a high temperature of 73 are in the forecast for Saturday.
Several horses arrived at Churchill this week, with others expected soon:
* Borrego arrived Monday at Churchill via a charter flight from Arkansas.
* Master David arrived late Tuesday morning at Churchill, from New York.
* Nine of Nick Zito's horses, including The Cliff's Edge and Birdstone, shipped Tuesday from Keeneland to Churchill.
* Wimbledon and Boomzeeboom were scheduled to arrive Wednesday on a charter flight from Southern California. Another flight from California, bringing Castledale and possibly St Averil, is scheduled for April 26.
* Charter flights from New York are scheduled on Sunday and early during Derby week. Those flights will bring Tapit, Eddington, Value Plus, and other contenders.
* Friends Lake and Read the Footnotes, both training in south Florida, are booked on an April 23 charter flight.
- additional reporting by Brad Free