03/16/2010 11:00PM

Walden figures timing suits Rule

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Barbara D. Livingston
D' Funnybone, winner of the Hutcheson, will start in the Swale Stakes.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The connections of Rule said they were pretty much set on running their multiple stakes-winning 3-year-old in Saturday's $750,000 Florida Derby and would have done so even if Eskendereya was in the race.

But a meeting with Eskendereya will not come until the May 1 Kentucky Derby after it was announced Tuesday afternoon by owner Ahmed Zayat that Eskendereya, the 8 1/2-length winner of the Fountain of Youth, would bypass the Florida Derby and instead run in the $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3.

Elliott Walden, the racing manager for WinStar Farm, owner of Rule, said his team had gone as far as lining up an alternate jockey for the Florida Derby had Eskendereya run and had John Velazquez - the regular rider of both horses - chosen to ride him over Rule.

That became a nonissue when Todd Pletcher - who trains both Rule and Eskendereya - informed Walden that Eskendereya would run in the Wood. Walden said even before trainer Todd Pletcher informed him Eskendereya wasn't going to run in the Florida Derby, "we were leaning towards running."

Rule, who won the Delta Jackpot at 2 and the Sam F. Davis at 3, figures to be favorite in a field of 11 entered in the Florida Derby Wednesday morning. Post positions for the Florida Derby were to be drawn Wednesday evening. The Florida Derby is one of five stakes on a 12-race card that begins at 1:15 p.m. Eastern. Post time for the Florida Derby is 6:20 p.m.

Walden said that the Florida Derby had been the primary objective for Rule since the Sam F. Davis, even though it is six weeks out from the Kentucky Derby.

"I like the timing. I like the fact that he ran five weeks ago and the spacing into the Derby is nice," Walden said. "I'm not really worried about the six weeks. I don't know why that would be a real issue. If you've got the right horse and you've got the right trainer . . . . Todd's record off 30-plus-day layoffs is phenomenal."

Walden said the only apprehension about running in the Florida Derby came after Eskendereya won the Fountain of Youth by 8 1/2 lengths on Feb. 20.

"When Eskendereya ran so well in the Fountain of Youth it was obviously a consideration: 'Well, do you want to run potentially against that horse or not?' " Walden said.

While Velazquez will ride Rule in the Florida Derby, there is no guarantee that he will ride him back in the Kentucky Derby. Velazquez will ride Eskendereya in the Wood and then potentially have a decision to make. Walden said he is happy to have Velazquez for the Florida Derby and will worry about the next race later.

"The immediate goal is a Grade 1 and a very prestigious race in and of itself," Walden said. "Johnny's ridden the horse - we feel like we would take this bridge first then deal with the situation as it comes for the next race."

D' Funnybone stays in Swale

Though trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. had said that if Eskendereya came out of the Florida Derby he would consider running Hutcheson Stakes winner D' Funnybone in the race, he and owner Paul Pompa Jr. ultimately decided to keep the horse in the Grade 2, $150,000 Swale Stakes on the undercard.

"Paul wants to run him in the Swale, and that's fine with me," said Dutrow, who will run Radiohead in the Florida Derby. "He ran good off the bench and he's set up to run another good one."

Tempted to Tapit to Sunland

The defection of Eskendereya from the Florida Derby gave the connections of Tempted to Tapit some reason to consider staying home and running in that race. In the end, however, the decision was made to stick with the original plan of running next weekend, and now Tempted to Tapit will run in the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Park Derby.

Though Tempted to Tapit finished second to Discreetly Mine in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds, a race where they ran one-two the entire trip, trainer Steve Klesaris feels Sunland may favor Tempted to Tapit more than Fair Grounds.

"Fair Grounds is a longer stretch - kind of favors closers," said Klesaris, who trains Tempted to Tapit for Antony Beck's Gainesway Stable. "Sunland may be a track that favors a horse with a little more tactical speed. Everything considered it made more sense to go to Sunland Park."

Tempted to Tapit will breeze at Gulfstream Park over the weekend before shipping to New Mexico on Tuesday.