03/02/2009 12:00AM

Twists in the Derby road

Benoit & Associates
The Pamplemousse, under Alex Solis, pulls away to win by six lengths in Saturday's Grade 3, $200,000 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The road to the 135th Kentucky Derby veered into several lanes over the weekend, an autobahn for stakes winners Quality Road and The Pamplemousse, potholes for Capt. Candyman Can and This Ones For Phil, and a stop sign for Midshipman and Notonthesamepage.

Here at Santa Anita, The Pamplemousse turned in the best race of his career, romping to a six-length victory in the Grade 3, $200,000 Sham Stakes, in which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 103. His trainer, Julio Canani, arrived at the winner's circle fighting back tears, which he did successfully, but it was a window into how much this Derby chase means to him.

"Everybody wants to knock him," Canani said, referring to The Pamplemousse, when asked why he was so emotional.

"It's fun, but more pressure," Canani said a few minutes later. "I don't know how to take pressure."

The Pamplemousse, the odds-on favorite at 1-2, was flawless Saturday, leading from start to finish in the 1 1/8-mile race. It was his third straight win, all since he was stretched out around two turns. But as easily as The Pamplemousse won the race, he was noticeably winded in the winner's circle afterward, unlike the effortless appearance he gave in his brilliant, recent works.

Canani said The Pamplemousse would make his next start in the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4. That would give The Pamplemousse five weeks until that race and another four until the Derby at Churchill Downs on May 2.

"This colt improves every time," Canani said. "He's still growing."

Canani left little to chance. Deeply superstitious, he wore the exact same pants and shirt that he had on when The Pamplemousse won his previous start, the San Rafael Stakes. He also had the computer bag of Jackie Licht - the teenage daughter of Roger Licht, who is a friend of Canani's and a former California Horse Racing Board chairman - locked in a bear hug. Seems Canani was left holding that bag when his horse Spring House won the San Luis Obispo Handicap six days earlier, so it has become a rather oversized, and heavy, good-luck charm.

Take the Points, who finished second, and Mr. Hot Stuff, who was third, both have the Santa Anita Derby as their next likely spot, though Take the Points could ship elsewhere.

"The Santa Anita Derby is certainly a possibility, as are a number of other races that weekend or the Blue Grass the following weekend," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Take the Points. "We'll sit back and see what happens in the San Felipe" - to be run here March 14, featuring Pioneerof the Nile - "and what the complexion of the Santa Anita Derby looks like."

Eoin Harty, who trains Mr. Hot Stuff, was impressed with the way his colt finished and galloped out.

"He's just a doofus," Harty said. "With three-sixteenths of a mile to go, he decides, I better get to running. The outrider had to pull him up afterwards."

At Gulfstream Park, Quality Road took advantage of his outside post to roll to victory in the Grade 2, $250,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes, his second win in three starts, all around one turn. He got a 113 Beyer. His trainer, Jimmy Jerkens, on Monday said Quality Road would either come back in the Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream on March 28 or await the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 4.

"There are pros and cons to each race," said Jerkens, who likes training at the Palm Meadows facility in South Florida.

Quality Road was not an early nominee to the Triple Crown for $600 in January. Jerkens said that was an unfortunate oversight that would be corrected by the end of this month, when a second nomination deadline falls, this time for $6,000.

Theregoesjojo, second in the Fountain of Youth, will come back in either the Florida Derby or await the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 11, trainer Ken McPeek said.

Beethoven, third in the Fountain of Youth, will run next in the Florida Derby, trainer John T. Ward Jr. said.

Capt. Candyman Can (fourth) and This Ones For Phil (fifth) both disappointed in the race and may not continue down the Derby trail, said their respective trainers, Ian Wilkes and Richard Dutrow Jr.

Midshipman and Notonthesamepage are out of consideration for the Derby. Notonthesamepage bled in his trachea in the Fountain of Youth, trainer Wesley Ward said.

Midshipman, last year's champion 2-year-old male when trained by Bob Baffert in California, suffered a soft-tissue injury in his left front leg last week in Dubai and will miss the entire Triple Crown, according to a statement posted on the website of his owner, Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing.

The specific injury was not disclosed, but soft-tissue injuries could range from something as minor as a muscle pull to something as major as a bowed tendon.

Midshipman was purchased last year by Sheikh Mohammed and was sent to Dubai, to be trained by Saeed bin Suroor, following his victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He was scheduled to make his first start as a 3-year-old this Thursday night at Nad Al Sheba.

"It is a huge shame as he had been pleasing us enormously and was ready to make his reappearance next Thursday," Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said in the statement. "He is scheduled to return to America in early April, and hopefully he will be back on the track later in the season."

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch