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Zito jumps at chance for 20th spot
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Nowhere to Hide has won just once in eight starts, and was taken out of consideration for the Kentucky Derby after finishing fourth in the Illinois Derby on April 4. But after he learned on Wednesday morning that Win Willy was out of the race and a spot was available in the Derby field, trainer Nick Zito phoned owner Leonard Riggio from Churchill Downs and said, "You've got to enter."
"Whether you want to call it spiritual or not, someone told us to be number 20," Zito said, referring to Nowhere to Hide's position Wednesday on the graded stakes earnings list. "When a situation like this falls on you, you've got to go. If you're a sportsman - and Mr. Riggio is a sportsman - and you become number 20, you're almost compelled to run."
Nowhere to Hide has $55,000 in graded stakes earnings. Zito said that if Just a Coincidence, who has more graded earnings, had not run in the Withers Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct, he would have been put in the Derby.
In effect, given the opportunity, Zito was going to seize it, even though he realizes he is running what looks like an overmatched longshot.
"I'm Wayne Lukas for a day. Kill me," Zito said. "I don't know why things happen, but it's the Kentucky Derby."
Jones lets horse take charge
Larry Jones does not have a goat in his Churchill Downs shed row, but he does have a parrot in the tack room. Here is a man not bound by racetrack convention. How many other Derby trainers referred to their horse's Wednesday morning exercise as "a goof-off day?"
Jones, who rode Friesan Fire himself Wednesday, said on Tuesday that he was going to let Friesan Fire guide Wednesday's training, which would include all sorts of activities. Jones took Friesan Fire to the gate, and the colt stood there for a couple of minutes. The two went down the horse tunnel through the grandstand and into the Churchill paddock, and got a look at that scene. Back out on the track, Friesan Fire had a jog, and Jones let him gallop between four and five furlongs. Friesan Fire clearly was enjoying himself - perhaps a little too much. The colt picked up the pace considerably in the stretch, accelerating as he straightened for the finish, Jones said.
"I think he really started having a better time than I was," said Jones. "I let him gallop out to the turn. I wasn't going to pull him up before the wire."
This all was strongly positive stuff for a horse who had turned in a lightning-fast work just two days earlier. But Friesan Fire did fail in one area. "I tried to get him to choose a post position, but he wouldn't decide," said Jones.
Smith plots out big weekend
Mike Smith paused outside Barn 45 at Churchill Downs on Wednesday morning to watch a horse get a bath. Not just any horse, but the big horse in his arsenal, the champion mare Zenyatta.
"She's so special, I just like to stand around and watch her," said Smith.
Smith could have himself a memorable weekend. On Friday, he will ride the undefeated Zenyatta in the Grade 2 Louisville, then come back the following afternoon aboard Chocolate Candy in the Kentucky Derby.
Zenyatta will begin the defense of her 2008 Eclipse award in the 1 1/16-mile Louisville. It will be her first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic six months earlier.
"It's her first race back, so we're not going to do anything crazy," said Smith. "I'm just glad to see her come back and get started again."
Although there is little speed other than the undefeated One Caroline in the Louisville, Smith is not about to alter tactics with the stretch-running Zenyatta at this stage of the game.
|Barbara D. Livingston|
|The California invader Chocolate Candy takes a brief break from his Derby preparation this week at Churchill.|
"It's her style to come from behind, and you can't change the way she runs," said Smith. "Actually, I've found it's sometimes better when there is not much pace because that means she'll be closer and nobody can match her stride. She just outstrides you down the stretch."
Smith has already made two trips east from his Southern California base to work Chocolate Candy over the Churchill Downs surface. Smith will ride Chocolate Candy for the first time in the Derby.
"Some people felt he got too tired in his first work, but remember the track was wet and laboring that day," said Smith. "Pioneerof the Nile had the bullet work that morning in 1:01, and Chocolate Candy went the first five furlongs of his work in 1:01 and change. Then he came back on Monday with a faster work with me never really asking him. The one thing I like about this horse is that he's jockey-friendly. He's got a great head on his shoulders. He's going to come running at the end in the Derby. It's just a question of whether he's good enough to catch those horses."
Harty vouched for
You can get into a restricted parking lot in the morning at Churchill Downs with a friendly wave, even without proper identification, but don't try to get to the Derby draw without a press credential or a ticket.
That's what Eoin Harty, who trains Mr. Hot Stuff, found out on Wednesday morning. En route to the draw in Churchill's Marquee Village adjacent to the clubhouse turn, several journalists Harty was walking with breezed in, but Harty was stopped. He had to wait anew even after producing identification with his name on it.
Finally, Joe Tessitore, the host of ESPN's racing telecasts, showed the admissions clerk a list of Derby trainers. "See this name?" Tessitore said, pointing to a sheet with Harty listed as the trainer of Mr. Hot Stuff. "It's the same as on his ID."
With that, Harty was allowed in.
I Want Revenge seeks triple
Though he will be favored to win Saturday's 135th Kentucky Derby, I Want Revenge will have a little bit of history going against him. No horse who has won both the Gotham and Wood Memorial has come back to win the Kentucky Derby.
Twelve horses have won the Gotham and Wood - both run at Aqueduct - and 10 have run in the Derby. Among those who failed to win the Derby as the favorite were Native Dancer, beaten a head in 1953; Air Forbes Won, seventh in 1982; Private Terms, ninth at 3-1 in 1988; and Easy Goer, second at 4-5 in 1989. Others who lost the Derby after winning the Wood and Gotham were Flag Raiser (eighth), Dike (third), Eternal Prince (last), Thirty Six Red (ninth), Devil His Due (12th), and Talkin Man (12th).
Hull points to Woody Stephens
Hull, who remained undefeated with his impressive four-length victory in last Saturday's Grade 3 Derby Trial, will most likely skip the Preakness Stakes and be pointed to the Grade 2, $250,000 Woody Stephens, a seven-furlong race at Belmont Park on June 6.
"The Woody Stephens would probably be the most logical spot," trainer Dale Romans said Wednesday. "He's never had a race around two turns. Coming back in three weeks against the best horses in the country, I just don't know that we want to push him that much."
Romans said the major goal for Hull is the Grade 1 King's Bishop at Saratoga on Aug. 29. Hull is owned by a partnership that includes Team Valor International, Gary Barber, and Heiligbrodt Racing.
Hull, a son of Holy Bull, improved to 3 for 3 with his victory in the Derby Trial, in which he covered 7 1/2 furlongs in 1:30.21. His three wins have come by a combined 16 lengths. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 92 for the Derby Trial.
Dr. Rap on the mend
Dr. Rap, the unraced 3-year-old colt injured in a gruesome two-horse accident on Monday morning, is continuing to recuperate at the equine clinic Hagyard-Davidson McGee in Lexington, Ky., trainer David Carroll said Wednesday.
"He has radial nerve paralysis in his right shoulder," Carroll said. "It's a stinger. The next two or three days are pretty crucial. We're keeping our fingers crossed. He's getting acupuncture to try to regenerate the nerves."
New betting options offered
Churchill be offering more than the usual wagering fare on its Friday and Saturday programs.
The 12-race Friday card will include three pick four wagers (50-cent minimum), beginning on races 2, 4, and 8. Also, the Oaks-Derby double ($1 minimum), standard fare since 1996, is being joined for the first time this year by the Oaks-Woodford-Derby pick three (minimum $1).
The 13-race Saturday card will include four pick fours, beginning on races 2, 4, 8, and 10.
The pick six ($2 minimum) runs from races 6-11 both days, with the Oaks and Derby serving as the final pick six races.
Rolling daily doubles and pick threes will be available whenever possible both days. Also, the super high five ($1 minimum) will be offered on the Oaks, Woodford Reserve, and Derby, along with other selected races.
There are no minimum pool guarantees in effect for multi-race wagers either day. And although Churchill normally offers 10-cent superfectas, the minimum reverts to $1 for both the Oaks and Derby cards because of crowd considerations.
First post both days is 10:30 a.m.
- additional reporting by David Grening, Marcus Hersh, Marty McGee, and Mike Welsch