04/15/2009 12:00AM

Unlikely road to Louisville

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Barbara D. Livingston
Square Eddie will make his first start since suffering a minor leg fracture in Saturday's Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes.

Midshipman, the division's champion, is out. So too Vineyard Haven. This past week, Old Fashioned left the trail to the Kentucky Derby. Many of the prominent 2-year-olds from last year will not be in the Derby on May 2 at Churchill Downs.

A couple of months ago, it looked like that list also would include Square Eddie, who finished second to Midshipman in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. But the audacious plan of trainer Doug O'Neill and owner Paul Reddam - to bring Square Eddie back from a minor leg fracture and make the Derby, all in the space of just three months - is but a race away from happening.

Square Eddie was flown Tuesday to Lexington, Ky., where he was entered in the Grade 2, $300,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes, to be run Saturday at Keeneland. He drew posto8 in a field of 12 going 1 1/16 miles. Plenty of attention will be focused on him. Because of his graded stakes earnings, Square Eddie already is assured of a spot in the Derby. But he will be making his first start in three months, and off an abbreviated workout pattern that followed time off for a fracture.

The field for the Lexington came up so soft that Square Eddie - who won the Breeders' Futurity last fall at Keeneland - likely will be favored, even with his unorthodox preparation. Both O'Neill and Reddam insist that Square Eddie can pull this off.

"If I was on the outside looking in, I'd be skeptical, too," Reddam said. "When people take a horse and say he can't win the Derby for this or that reason, well, in a 20-horse field, you're going to be right 19 out of 20 times.

"This all falls to Doug O'Neill. I always thought Michael Dickinson bringing back Da Hoss and winning the Breeders' Cup Mile for the second time was the greatest training job I've seen. This would be more amazing than that. If he runs the way I think he's going to run Saturday, it will be interesting to see how people react."

Square Eddie ran once this year at age 3, finishing second in the San Rafael Stakes Jan. 17 at Santa Anita. He then had a workout Feb. 2 at Hollywood Park, speeding five furlongs in 58.80 seconds, but he came out of the work with "a stress fracture of the cannon bone" in his left front leg, Reddam said.

"There was a clear, defined line on the X-ray," Reddam said.

But the injury did not need surgery.

"Anything invasive like that would have knocked him out until the summer or fall," O'Neill said.

According to O'Neill, Square Eddie walked around his Hollywood Park barn shed row, then began exercising on an aquatread at a farm in Bradbury, Calif., near Santa Anita.

"That helped him maintain his fitness," O'Neill said. "It's a good cardiovascular workout."

Square Eddie also spent time in a hyperbaric chamber, which increases oxygen and is believed to help bone injuries repair quicker. Reddam said the colt also had shockwave therapy.

"We X-rayed him every week," Reddam said. "You could see the changes happening."

According to California Horse Racing Board data, Square Eddie was placed on the veterinarian's list following his last shockwave treatment on April 7. A horse is not allowed to run for 10 days following that treatment, meaning Square Eddie becomes eligible to run Friday, a day before the Lexington.

Within a month of the initial injury, according to O'Neill, Square Eddie's shin had "quieted down." On March 22, Square Eddie worked three furlongs in 37.40 seconds at Hollywood Park.

"The time was slow, but he galloped out strong and wasn't tired," O'Neill said. "I chalk that up to the superior athlete he is."

Square Eddie worked a half-mile March 30, then six furlongs April 5, and another six furlongs Saturday, all at Hollywood Park.

"Before he first started breezing, we thought we could make the Derby off breezes," O'Neill said. "But once he started breezing, he was so unbelievably fit, we started looking on the calendar for a prep race. I had Paul come out and see his last couple of works, so he could see we weren't kidding ourselves, that he was ready.

"He's got a good foundation, mentally and physically," O'Neill said. "I hate to get too high or too low before Saturday night. But everything's gone perfect."

In other Derby developments:

* The graded earnings clause, which determines the starting field if more than the maximum 20 horses enter the Derby, is quite controversial, but there's a worst-case scenario lurking that Churchill Downs officials are probably hoping to avoid. Charitable Man and Dunkirk are tied in graded stakes earnings with $150,000. If they end up tied for the final spot in the field, the published conditions of the Derby state that the next tie-breaker would be earnings in non-restricted stakes races. That would still leave them tied. After that, the final tie-breaker says starting berths "shall be determined by lot." In other words, a shake or pill pull.

If El Crespo finishes second in the Lexington, he also would have $150,000 in graded earnings. Like Charitable Man and Dunkirk, he has no earnings from any other non-restricted stakes races.

* Charitable Man, despite his poor effort in the Blue Grass last Saturday in his first start since September and his first start on a synthetic surface, is pressing ahead for the Derby for owner William Warren, whose Denis of Cork finished third last year. He is scheduled to work at Churchill on April 25.

"He's a sound horse who is doing well," his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, said Wednesday. "He wasn't a short horse, he just didn't like the Poly. He cooled out in five minutes."

* Mine That Bird, who has $138,705 in graded earnings, is a possibility for the Derby, trainer Bennie Woolley said Wednesday.

"At the moment, we're weighing our options," Woolley said. "Maybe the Kentucky Derby. Maybe the Lone Star Derby. We'll decide tomorrow or the next day. The best thing for me would be to run in the Derby. The best thing for the horse would be to find a race he could win, and the Derby might not be that."

Mine That Bird is currently at Sunland Park, where he most recently finished fourth in the Sunland Derby.

* Godolphin's pair of Regal Ransom and Desert Party, the one-two finishers in the United Arab Emirates Derby, are both scheduled to work Saturday at Churchill Downs. Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, said in an e-mail that jockey Alan Garcia will ride one of them, "and if we run two then we will decide on the other jockey in the near future," an indication that only one Godolphin runner might end up competing. Garcia was aboard Regal Ransom in the UAE Derby, while Frankie Dettori rode Desert Party. Dettori is expected to be in Britain on May 2 for the English 2000 Guineas, in which Godolphin is expected to have two runners.

* Eibar Coa rode General Quarters to victory in the Blue Grass, but he has chosen to stick with Musket Man for the Derby. Julien Leparoux has picked up the mount on General Quarters, according to Leparoux's agent, Steve Bass.

* Pioneerof the Nile, the Santa Anita Derby winner, worked a half-mile in 46.20 seconds Wednesday at Santa Anita. Both he and Chocolate Candy, the Santa Anita Derby runner-up, were scheduled to fly to Kentucky on Thursday.

* Mafaaz, who was eighth in the Blue Grass, was transferred Wednesday to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin by owner Sheikh Hamdan al -Maktoum of Shadwell Farms. Mafaaz had been trained by John Gosden in Britain, where he won the Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton. Mafaaz's status for the Kentucky Derby has yet to be decided, according to Rick Nichols, vice president and general manager for Shadwell Farms.

"Sheikh Hamdan is traveling today," Nichols said late Wednesday. "We should have a decision tomorrow."

* Papa Clem's winning Beyer Speed Figure in the Arkansas Derby has been upgraded from 99 to 101.

- additional reporting by David Grening, Marty McGee, and Alan Shuback

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WHO'S HOT

General Quarters, who won the Blue Grass Stakes last Saturday at Keeneland, has re-claimed a spot on the top 20 of Derby Watch. He is 30-1 on the Kentucky Derby future line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper. There are two other additions to the top 20 this week - Jeranimo and Mr. Hot Stuff. Jeranimo, 50-1 on Watchmaker's line, is scheduled to race Saturday in the Grade 2, $300,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Mr. Hot Stuff, third in the Santa Anita Derby and 30-1 on Watchmaker's line, is done with his Derby preps but is in a precarious position regarding graded stakes earnings. Papa Clem, the Arkansas Derby winner, is now 20-1 after being 40-1 a week ago.

WHO'S NOT

Three horses were dropped from the top 20, all because they left the Derby trail, either through retirement (Old Fashioned), minor injury (Theregoesjojo), or, in the case of Terrain, refreshing common sense.

ON THE BUBBLE

Flying Private is right on the bubble in terms of graded stakes earnings. His connections will run if he can get in. The Lexington's first-prize money guarantees a Derby spot if anyone other than Square Eddie wins, making it a crucial race for a horse like Parade Clown, who would fall short on graded stakes earnings if he runs second.

- Jay Privman