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Watch out for Schoolyard Dreams
OCEANPORT, N.J. - What a difference a nose makes.
When Schoolyard Dreams lost the Tampa Bay Derby to Odysseus by the slimmest of margins on March 13, it changed the entire spring plan for the slightly made 3-year-old colt. It may have changed the complexion of the Triple Crown as well.
Had Schoolyard Dreams won the Tampa Bay Derby, he would have had enough earnings to make it into the Kentucky Derby field and that would have been his next start. But the loss forced the connections of Schoolyard Dreams to run him in the Wood Memorial, where a fourth-place finish to Eskendereya eliminated him from Derby contention.
That was fine with part-owner Eric Fein and trainer Derek Ryan, who believe the horse benefits from more time between races. Immediately after the Wood, Fein and Ryan targeted the May 15 Preakness Stakes for Schoolyard Dreams, and after watching the colt work a fast five furlongs in 59.15 seconds Thursday morning at Monmouth Park, they believe they have a shot to upend Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver's Triple Crown bid.
"He's sitting on go," said Fein, whose partner is Tony Mitola, who races under the name Triple Diamond Stables. "Anybody who doesn't think so is crazy."
Thursday's breeze was the last workout Schoolyard Dreams will have before the Preakness, a race in which he will be ridden by Eibar Coa, the seventh rider the horse has had in as many starts. Coa made the 90-mile drive from Long Island to Monmouth on Thursday to get acquainted with Schoolyard Dreams.
Working in company with Ponzi Scheme, a three-time-winning 3-year-old, Schoolyard Dreams started about a length behind his workmate, and picked up some additional company leaving the five-furlong pole. Coa had Schoolyard Dreams three wide during the work and went his first eighth in 12.29 seconds and the quarter in 23.33. After getting to the quarter pole in 34.78 seconds, Coa was mildly urging his horse and he went past the two other workers inside the eighth pole. Though he lugged in somewhat, Schoolyard Dreams finished a neck in front of the other two at the wire. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.88.
"He moved good," Coa said. "The only thing I noticed with him is that he lugged in a little. It was right when he put himself in front, so he's got that kind of habit, I guess. It's about just timing him right in a race, but at least he felt good and I liked the way he worked today."
Coa rode Musket Man to a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness last year for these same connections.
"He actually looks like one of those horses that's going to be a better horse in the race than in the mornings,'' Coa said of Schoolyard Dreams. "He's more focused when he's got more horses around him. I would say he could be better than Musket Man if he puts everything together."
Ryan said that Schoolyard Dreams is not as hearty an individual as Musket Man. That's why he prefers, when possible, to space out the horse's races. Ryan said his goal with Schoolyard Dreams all winter was the Tampa Bay Derby. After winning a first-level allowance race at Tampa in January, Schoolyard Dreams finished second to Rule in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis.
In the Tampa Derby, Schoolyard Dreams made an early move under Jeremy Rose and though it looked like he was going to win, Odysseus came back in the final jump to nail him at the finish. Still, Schoolyard Dreams finished ahead of Super Saver.
In a workout before the Wood, Schoolyard Dreams had a touch of mucus in his throat. Ryan said it was "a 1 1/2 on a scale of 1 to 5" so the horse may have been less than 100 percent in that race. Schoolyard Dreams, ridden by Ramon Dominguez, was beaten 11 1/4 lengths by Eskendereya, although he was beaten less than two lengths by Jackson Bend for second.
"He went to go through a hole, Ramon said he hesitated a little bit," Ryan said. "He didn't go through it and then it closed up on him pretty quick."
With Schoolyard Dreams having already finished ahead of Super Saver, Ryan goes into the Preakness feeling confident about his chances.
"I couldn't beat Eskendereya - he was a monster," Ryan said. "He fits in right there with the rest of them."
In other Preakness developments:
* While trainer John Sadler won't have Calvin Borel to ride Derby Trial winner Hurricane Ike in the Preakness, he hopes Borel's assessment on whether the colt can handle the 1 3/16 miles of the Preakness is accurate.
"That's kind of the question with him: Will he run that far?" Sadler said. "Calvin says he will. Calvin's been right a lot lately so I'm going with Calvin on that one."
Borel rode Hurricane Ike to a 2 3/4-length victory in the one-mile Derby Trial on April 24. Borel is otherwise committed to Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. Robby Albarado will ride Hurricane Ike in the Preakness and will be aboard for a seven-furlong workout on Monday.
* Trainer Dale Romans said First Dude popped a piece of gravel out of a hind foot last weekend, which forced him to miss a Monday workout, or else he would have run in Saturday's Grade 2 Dwyer at Belmont. Now, First Dude is going to work on Saturday at Churchill Downs for the Preakness. Ramon Dominguez is confirmed to ride.
* Lookin At Lucky galloped 1 1/2 miles after the break at Churchill Downs with exercise rider Peter Hutton up. Trainer Bob Baffert said he wants to watch the horse train another day or two before making a decision on the Preakness.
* When Ice Box was withdrawn Wednesday from consideration for the Preakness, trainer Nick Zito unknowingly extended what has become a remarkable Preakness drought for Derby runners-up.
Since 1960, when Bally Ache returned from a second-place Derby finish to capture the Preakness, only two Derby runners-up have wheeled back to win the Preakness: Summer Squall (1990) and Prairie Bayou (1993). Ice Box would become the 13th Derby runner-up to pass the Preakness in the last 50 years, and of the 37 who have run back at Pimlico, 10 have been favored, with only Prairie Bayou prevailing among that group.
- additional reporting by Marty McGee