Kentucky Derby News and Notes

Kentucky Derby News and Notes

Filly Eight Belles set to start against boys in Ky Derby
By ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -The Kentucky Derby is loaded with tradition, part of which dictates that usually only colts run in America's greatest race.

The fillies have their own showcase on Derby eve, the Kentucky Oaks.

But Larry Jones, Kentucky born and bred, doesn't give a hoot about that particular ritual.

So expect to see filly Eight Belles in the starting gate for Saturday's 134th Derby, surrounded by 19 boys.

''The best way to get me to do something is usually to tell me I can't do it,'' Jones said Sunday. ''My wife does that all the time.''

The 51-year-old trainer plans to enter the gray filly in the Oaks as a backup, but said, ''We intend to run Eight Belles in the Derby.''

And why not?

The filly with the four-race winning streak turned in Sunday's second-fastest workout, running 5 furlongs in 58.20 on the dirt at Churchill Downs. Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John was timed in 57.80, fastest of 62 workouts at the same distance.

''She's run as fast as they have,'' Jones said. ''I feel better with her at a mile-and-a-quarter than I did with Hard Spun. You have to pull on her in the morning to get her to stop. With Hard Spun, you'd tell him to stop and he'd say, 'OK.'''

Hard Spun finished second behind Street Sense in last year's Derby. A filly hasn't won the garland of roses since Winning Colors in 1988, and none has started since 1999.

''If a guy wants to take a shot, it's his right,'' Colonel John's trainer Eoin Harty said about pitting a girl against the boys.

Eight Belles is half of the girl power in Jones' barn.

His other filly, Proud Spell, will run only in the Oaks.

''The owners are trying to help me by keeping these fillies apart,'' he said. ''We feel good about both spots.''

If more than 20 horses are entered in the 1 1/4-mile Derby, then the list of graded stakes earnings decides the 20 starters.

Proud Spell could easily get in the Derby field; her $880,000 total is second to Pyro. Eight Belles ranks 16th with $210,000.

Proud Spell is owned and bred by former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, no relation to his trainer.

''If the other filly were not involved, we'd be more inclined to consider the Derby,'' the former governor said. ''Either one of these fillies would have a good shot at winning the Derby. You can't win them both (Oaks and Derby) until the two fillies are spread out.''

The former governor said he would consider Proud Spell for the Preakness if she does well in Friday's Oaks.

Colonel John's sizzling workout Sunday was his last major one before the Derby, when the California colt will race on dirt for the first time.

''It wasn't my intention to go that fast, but it wasn't my intention the track was going to be this fast,'' trainer Eoin Harty said. ''I think it's more the track conditions than my horse doing a little too much.''

The big question at the start of Derby week was how Colonel John would handle a dirt surface because he has raced and trained almost exclusively on the newer synthetic surfaces in California since beginning his career at Del Mar last summer.

''I thought he handled it very well. It looks like he hasn't changed his style or his motion,'' Harty said, pointing out that Colonel John trained on dirt as a 2-year-old before coming to his stable.

Harty originally scheduled Colonel John's workout for Monday, but the forecast calls for rain so he moved it up.

Also going ahead of schedule were trainer Bill Mott's duo of Court Vision and Z Humor. Both went 5 furlongs, with Court Vision timed in 1:00.80 and Z Humor in 1:01.20.

Colonel John likely will be the second favorite behind Big Brown when post positions are drawn Wednesday. Colonel John has won 4 of 6 career starts and wasn't worse than second in his two losses.

He's a son of Tiznow, the two-time Breeders' Cup Classic champion who won those races on dirt, including once at Churchill Downs.

''I look for every positive sign,'' Harty said. ''It certainly can't hurt.''

Big Brown galloped once around the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida and was scheduled to arrive in Louisville on Monday evening. He will work out Thursday.

Trainer Todd Pletcher's trio of Behindatthebar, Cowboy Cal and Monba went out on Keeneland's synthetic surface in Lexington. Behindatthebar galloped 1 1/2 miles, while the other two walked after working out Saturday. The trio will arrive in Louisville on Wednesday.

Bennie Stutts Jr. was feeling relieved Sunday after checking in on his colt Smooth Air, who has had a low-grade fever. The colt jogged just more than a mile in his first workout since last Thursday.

''I didn't sleep well last night, but I will tonight,'' the 70-year-old trainer said. ''I came in this morning and saw that empty feed tub and knew he was all right.''

On Smooth Air's way to and from the barn, a black cat crossed his path.

''If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have believed it,'' owner Brian Burns said. ''Maybe two black cats mean good luck. I think it was a setup for us that they had the cats in a cage and just let them out when we went by.''

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Big Brown - Likely Kentucky Derby Favorite
by T.O. Whenham

This year's Kentucky Derby presents a favorite who could be truly special, but who is very difficult to understand. His name is Big Brown. If you haven't heard of him yet then you will soon, and you could hear about him a lot. His name isn't the most romantic, but it comes from where you might guess - the owner who named him owned a trucking company that worked with UPS. We'll get into why he's so hard to figure out, but he has a heck of a story, so let's take a look at it.

He was bought in April of last year for $190,000. Many two year olds hit the track in the spring, but he was held back until early September. His debut was on the turf in Saratoga and it was spectacular. He won by 11 3/4 lengths, and it was clear that he was the real deal. That performance set off a bidding frenzy, and the owner, Paul Pompa Jr., cashed in big. He sold 75 percent of the horse for $3 million. Soon after the new owners, I.E.A.H. Stables, spent the money they probably wished that they hadn't. First, Bog Brown got an abscess in his left front hoof. That kept him out of training for nearly two months. Just as he was getting ready to go again another abscess attacked his right foot. Those injuries kept him out of training until February, and when he returned he had to use special glue-on plastic shoes that reduced the impact of the track on his feet.

Those injuries were obviously a setback, but it didn't seem to bother Big Brown at all. He returned on March 5 on the dirt at Gulfstream and looked even better than before the setbacks. He settled off the pace and then just exploded on the last turn and rolled to a win by almost 13 lengths. Needless to say, people started paying attention to him again. His next race was his stakes debut, and that took place in the Florida Derby, the same race that Barbaro won en route to the Kentucky Derby. It was a major step up in class, but the horse didn't notice. He got stuck in the outside post position in the 12 horse field, but he moved up nicely, had the lead at the first call, and pulled away at the end to win by five. A legend was born.

That's the impressive part. Now the problems. That Florida Derby was his last race. Before Barbaro did the Florida-Kentucky double it was thought that the layoff from the end of March to the beginning of May was too long for a horse to be at his best. Barbaro proved that it's possible, but that doesn't mean that it's all of a sudden a good idea. That's a hurdle he has to overcome.

The next problem is that he has only run three times in his career. No horse has won with that little experience since Regret in 1915. In case you don't have a calendar nearby, that was a long time ago. Curlin tried to pull it off last year - he had also only run three times, and had also never lost - but he didn't quite have enough in the tank and ended up third. He went on to win the Preakness and the Breeders' Cup Classic en route to being Horse of the Year so it all turned out alright, but you could argue that the Derby was another needed prep race on the way to later success. Big Brown would have to be further ahead in his development than Curlin was to win in Kentucky.

The next problem is that he has only run twice as a three year old. All of Curlin's races had been when he was three. Only two horses have ever won the Derby off of just two three year old races. One was Sunny's Halo in 1983, and the other was Street Sense last year. Fans of this horse will say that last year's race proves that things have changed and horses can be prepared without needing as many races. That seems to be a commonly held belief - there will be at least seven horses in the race this year with just two preps, including the winners of most of the major preps - the Blue Grass and Wood Memorial, and the Florida, Illinois, and Santa Anita Derbies. Most of those horses, and Street Sense, had more than one stakes race under their belt, and had run more than once as a two year old.

As you can see, logic alone makes it hard to like this horse. If you have seen him race, though, you see just how impressive he is. It comes down to this, then - is this horse a freak? Lot's of horse people think so, and there is a belief that he has a heart that is larger than normal and therefore has more capacity. His breeding is very sound (though he has more sprinting tendencies than some would like), and he has shown incredible maturity for a horse that is so raw. Really, this horse is just like so many things in the Derby - you can't really figure it out for sure, so you just have to decide whether you want to believe or not and bet accordingly. I still haven't decided if I will be with him or against him on the first Saturday in May.

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Kentucky Derby Pace Scenario
by T.O. Whenham

If you were to try to generalize about the pace scenario in the Kentucky Derby you would say that the huge field and the excitement of the massive crowd will force horses to go out faster than they should, and that will lead to front-runners burning out and the race being set up for a horse to win from somewhere off the pace. There are exceptions, of course - War Emblem took the lead and ran away with it in 2002. For the most part, though, a couple of horses take the lead and kill each other trying to keep it, leaving the field to pick up the pieces. Here's a look at how the Derby pace could set up this year based on some of the horses that are being aimed at the race and have a high likelihood of getting in:

Quick out of the gate

Unlike the last few years, the likely favorite is going to be looking for the lead out of the gate. Big Brown only has three races under his belt, but each time he has found the lead early, set the pace, and then pulled away at the end in an awesome display. Unlike past years, though, he isn't likely to get the lead alone or unaccompanied because too many other horses will want a piece of him, too. One horse that will be right there with him is Recapturetheglory, the winner of the Illinois Derby. He'll capture the imagination of many because that's the same race that War Emblem won before the Derby, and both horses wired the field. People will be a bit more skeptical about this horse, though - he wasn't that highly regarded before the Illinois Derby, and there was a rail bias that he benefited from in that race. In many of his past races he found the lead but couldn't hold on down the stretch.

West coast invader Bob Black Jack will also be right at the front. He set a blazing pace in the Santa Anita Derby and stubbornly held on for second. There are a couple of concerns here, though - he has never run on dirt, and his only win this year came over six furlongs. The distance is a concern, but his ability and desire to stay near the front early isn't. Another California horse. Gayego, will be looking for a piece of the lead, too. He won the Arkansas Derby, and he did it on dirt, too, so he can probably handle the Churchill surface. In that race he hooked up with a longshot early on the lead, stayed up front the whole way, and held off a charge in the stretch. A couple of things are interesting about that race. First, Z Fortune put up serious charge down the stretch, and was actually in the lead for a few strides, but Gayego fought back and pulled away - a good sign after leading that far. He also won the same race that Curlin and Smarty Jones did before him, and he did it in a faster time than Curlin.

Todd Pletcher will have a runner taking a shot at the lead, but Cowboy Cal might not be as desperate for it as others. He set the pace in the Blue Grass and was only barely caught at the end. Unlike some of the others above, though, he can also be patient if needed. In the Tropical Park Derby he set back off a ridiculous pace from a longshot, let the leader burn himself out, and then took control and won impressively.

Just off the pace

There is going to be a crowd up front, and another crowd right behind them. The class of the group that is likely to settle off the pace is Colonel John. He was dominant in the Santa Anita Derby, powerfully moving past Bob Black Jack and pulling away. There is a chance he could be the favorite in the race, and he will have a big share of the support. Right with him will be Tale of Ekati, the winner of the Wood Memorial. He chased down a solid pace set by War Pass to catch him in the stretch. That race wasn't particularly fast, though, so it is unclear what it means going forward. That same day, Monba, another Todd Pletcher runner, won the Blue Grass. He dueled with Cowboy Cal down the stretch and won a close one. As with so many horses this year the switch to dirt for the Derby is a big question.

That's far from the end of the horses that will ideally be just off the pace. Adriano is Edgar Prado's Derby mount, and he is coming off a win in the Lane's End against a solid field. He had an eye-opening allowance at Gulfstream earlier this year, but he was a disastrous ninth in the Fountain of Youth, so there are questions about his ability on dirt and his real talent. Cool Coal Man won the Fountain of Youth, and he was third in the Blue Grass when so many other horses had a lousy day. He will be looking to find an opening late, but I remain unconvinced that he can take advantage of an opening if he can find one.

But wait, there are more. Smooth Air was second in the Florida Derby to Big Brown, but the winner was so clearly in a different class that you could argue that he won one race and Big Brown won his own. He made a powerful move heading into the top of the stretch, and was more than seven lengths ahead of the field at the finish line. He's training well in Florida and could be an interesting horse to watch. One of the fillies that could enter, Eight Belles, also has a habit of sitting off the pace before unleashing a huge move and taking control.

Deep closers

Pyro would probably have been the Derby favorite if it weren't for a truly lousy Blue Grass. He stumbled on the start, but settled into a fairly comfortable position for him - 10th. The problem was that he never fired, and he was still 10th when he crossed the line. In his best races he has settled somewhere off the pace and then overwhelmed his opposition when the time came. There is certainly enough pace in this race to set him up for success if he is in form and if the Blue Grass was just a blip and not and indicator of failing form.

Also at the back biding their time will be a couple of horses with enticing potential but some problems. Big Truck made a huge closing move to almost catch the winner in the Tampa Bay Derby, and he came from well off the pace to win the Tampa Bay Derby easily. Like Pyro, though, he had a disastrous Blue Grass. He never showed anything and limped home just behind Pyro in 11th. Visionaire looked like he was in trouble early in the Gotham, but he moved up nicely and steadily and took the lead right at the wire. He was also last early on in the Blue Grass. He only ended up fifth there, but he was gaining well at the end when so other, better horses were able to do that, so he deserves a look.

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Pletcher looking for breakthrough in Kentucky Derby
ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -Last to show up, first to finish.

Trainer Barclay Tagg used the strategy five years ago and won the Kentucky Derby with a New York-bred gelding named Funny Cide.

Perhaps Todd Pletcher is thinking along the same lines. He will be the last of the Derby trainers to arrive at Churchill Downs, scheduled to touch down Wednesday before the post position draw.

And when an expected full field of 20 3-year-olds are entered, Pletcher will be sending out Monba and Cowboy Cal - the 1-2 finishers in the Blue Grass Stakes - to try to end his 0-for-19 Derby record.

Lexington Stakes winner Behindatthebar would have given him a third chance, but the colt is skipping the Derby and running next in the Preakness.

No matter when Pletcher and his colts settle in at barn 34 at Churchill Downs, the trainer will be peppered with questions about his Derby drought, now in its eighth year.

''We've shown up and had some horses run very well,'' Pletcher said recently. ''We've also probably brought horses that just simply weren't good enough. We've done a good job of preparing them. We just haven't been fortunate enough to win one yet.''

Twice his horses finished second - Invisible Ink in 2001 and Bluegrass Cat in 2006. There's a third with Impeachment in 2000 and fourths with More Than Ready in 2000 and Limehouse in 2004. But there's also last year, when the best his record-tying five horses could do was a sixth-place finish by Circular Quay.

Pletcher isn't dismayed. He truly believes he'll one day make that coveted trip to the winner's circle under the famed Twins Spires.

''I would love to win the Kentucky Derby,'' he said. ''But as I've said many, many times before, I don't base our stable success just on the Kentucky Derby.''

Pletcher, the nation's top trainer the past four years, broke through with his first win in a Triple Crown race in 2007. And it came with a sensational finish in the Belmont Stakes, when his filly Rags to Riches edged Preakness winner Curlin by a neck.

''It was our first Classic win and in some ways got that monkey off our back,'' Pletcher said. ''To do it with a filly in the dramatic fashion that it was done and to beat a horse of the quality of Curlin, it couldn't have been any more exciting. I thought it was a huge win.''

Nothing could be larger than winning the Derby, but Pletcher's operation is based on winning 365 days a year, not just on one day.

Winning the Belmont was great, he said, but ''the way our business works is ... that was on a Saturday, the next day you got to try to win something else.''

''We're not resting on those laurels,'' he said. ''We're hoping to add some more to it. And we're thankful for that opportunity.''

In Monba, Pletcher has a 3-year-old colt he thought was among his best earlier this season. But Monba was injured while struggling home 12th and last in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream in Hallandale Beach, Fla., on Feb. 24. Healthy again he won the Blue Grass at Keeneland on April 12 in a driving finish with Edgar Prado aboard, edging Cowboy Cal by a neck.

Prado is riding Lane's End Stakes winner Adriano in the Derby, so Ramon Dominguez gets the call on Monba. Cowboy Cal, whose three wins in six starts have been on the turf, will be ridden by John Velazquez.

Pletcher said both colts have been training well over Keeneland's Polytrack, and will be vanned the 70 miles from Lexington on Wednesday.

Monba and Cowboy Cal were late Derby qualifiers, needing to finish exactly where they did in the Blue Grass to earn enough money to make the field if more than 20 horses are entered.

If that didn't happen, Pletcher wasn't too concerned about missing a chance to end his streak.

''I thought life would go on whether something showed up or not,'' he said. ''Obviously, we're pleased with the developments the last couple of weeks and we're grateful we have a couple of opportunities here.''

With Behindatthebar out of Derby consideration, Denis of Cork moves into the field at No. 20 on the graded stakes earnings list.

Big Brown, the undefeated Florida Derby winner, arrived at Churchill Down late Monday, accompanied by trainer Rick Dutrow Jr.

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Kentucky Derby - Part I
By Anthony Stabile

Part I

With Derby Week upon us, what better time than to take a look at how the twenty or so horses still pointing towards Saturday’s 134th running of the Kentucky Derby got here. Only twenty can run in the Derby, so this first installment will almost certainly contain horses that won’t be in the starting gate come Saturday.

I can’t think of a better place to start than the individual who have caused somewhat of a controversy on this years’ Derby Trail, the filly Eight Belles. While it appears that Eight Belles will run in the Derby as opposed to the previous days Kentucky Oaks, she’ll be entered in both and I guarantee that if she gets stuck with a bad post in the Derby, she’ll run in the Oaks.

Controversy aside, this daughter of 1996 Derby favorite Unbridled’s Song is undefeated in four starts this year after starting her career with just one win from five starts for trainer Larry Jones. After winning an allowance contest at the Fair Grounds, she shipped to Oaklawn and started a three race stakes winning streak at the Arkansas oval, taking the Martha Washington by 13 ½ lengths

Next up was her graded stakes debut in the G3 Honeybee where she came from off the pace to hand Pure Clan the first defeat of her career, winning by a measured 1 ¼ lengths. Last out, despite trailing early in a field of a four behind tepid early fractions, Eight Belles got her act together in the stretch en route to a ¾ length win in the G2 Fantasy. Gabriel Saez will ride her.

While many will argue that Eight Belles, or any other filly for that matter, belongs in the Derby, there are some that feel Salute the Sarge has even less of a right to be there despite having secured more than enough earnings to start.

Last year, Salute the Sarge won the G3 Hollywood Juvenile and G2 Best pal before finishing second in the G1 Del Mar Futurity and G1 Norfolk, all over synthetic surfaces in southern California. In his lone dirt try, he ended the season with an abysmal ninth place finish in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. This year, he won the San Miguel at Santa Anita in his first start off a five month layoff before trudging home seventh in the G2 Lexington, two weeks prior to the Derby. While it’s doubtful he’ll run, his connections, including trainer Eric Guillot, still remain on the fence. Michael Baze would ride.

The owners of Lexington winner Behindatthebar should be commended for not automatically catching a case of Derby Fever after the victory. Another who has done his best work over synthetic surfaces (he’s won 3 of 4 starts), they’re leaving the decision up to his trainer, Todd Pletcher as to whether he’ll run in the Derby or not. Pletcher has said he’ll wait until Tuesday or maybe even Wednesday right before entry to make a decision.

In his lone try on dirt, Behindatthebar finished fifth in the G3 El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows and will be trying to buck one of the biggest Derby trends as he did not make a single start as a two-year-old. David Flores would ride.

Once considered a shoo-in for the Run for the Roses and a regular at the top of Derby lists across the country, Denis of Cork and trainer David Carroll may find themselves on the outside looking in come Saturday and will need some help to get into the Derby.

After breaking his maiden going seven furlongs at Churchill Downs last November, Denis of Cork won an allowance contest in the slop at the Fair Grounds before closing from well off the pace to win the G3 Southwest at Oaklawn in his stakes debut. His owners, who rely heavily on speed figures and “the sheets” when deciding when to run their horses, toyed with the idea of running twice more before the Derby but decided it was best to run just once more and settled on the G2 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Park.

Despite finding a touch of trouble going down the backside, Denis of Cork never fired as the even money favorite and stumbled home fifth, thus costing him dearly in the graded stakes earnings department. If all goes according to plan however, he should find himself in the starting gate on Saturday and will have last years’ Derby winning rider Calvin Borel in the saddle.

Smooth Air is a great example of how heartbreaking this game could be. In seven career starts, he’s never finished worse than third and this year alone won the G2 Hutcheson and finished second in the G1 Florida Derby last out, giving him more than enough earning for the Derby while providing his 70 year old conditioner Bennie Stutts Jr. his first Derby runner. Unfortunately for his connections, Smooth Air spiked a fever early last week and is now questionable for his Derby run. Manoel Cruz is scheduled to ride.

Finally, Halo Najib would need for everything to fall apart for many in order for him to get into the Derby starting gate. In eight starts, he’s won just twice, with both wins coming over synthetic surfaces including a score in the OBS Championships against Florida breds at the Ocala Training Center. Two starts back he finished second in the G2 Lane’s End at Turfway for trainer Dale Romans before an off the board try in the G1 Blue Grass at Keeneland last out. No possible rider has been named.

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Kentucky Derby - Part II
By Anthony Stabile

Part I - Part II

In this installment of our Derby countdown, we’ll take a look at some of the more impressive Derby prep winners from this years trail along with a few runners who’ll be trying to make the transition from the synthetic, or Polytrack, surfaces to dirt. Let’s start with a colt that falls under both categories, Colonel John.

In six career starts, Colonel John has never finished worse than second. Last year, he won two of four including a win in the Real Quiet out at Hollywood Park and finished out the season with a hard charging runner-up finish in the G1 CashCall Futurity.

In his first start this year, Colonel John defeated and out gamed the previously unbeaten El Gato Malo in the G3 Sham at Santa Anita before uncorking a furious rally under in the stretch to win the G1 Santa Anita Derby when he appeared to be hopelessly beaten on the far turn for trainer Eoin Harty.

Bred to love the distance, the biggest question Colonel John needs to answer is whether he can handle dirt or not after racing and training exclusively over synthetic surfaces throughout his career. He’s trained well at Churchill since arriving late last week, including a sharp five furlong work in :57 2/5 on 4/26 that capped off his serious preparations for the Derby. Corey Nakatani will ride.

One would have to believe that Colonel John’s connections had to be thrilled with the results of the years G2 Arkansas Derby as fellow Californian Gayego, another who had only been over the SoCal Polytracks, sat just off the pace to capture the signature event of the Oaklawn Park meet.

Before the Arkansas Derby, Gayego’s calling card, if you could even call it that, was a win in the 6 ½ furlong San Pedro in his first start this year out at Santa Anita. Two starts back, Gayego was forwardly placed throughout in the G2 San Felipe and grabbed the lead in mid-stretch only to fall ¾ of a length short to the now-injured Georgie Boy.

Trained by Paulo Lobo, conditioner of 2002 Kentucky Oaks upset winner Farda Amiga, Gayego answered both the surface and distances questions that some pondered before his win last out and should be up close to what figures to be a quick pace in the Derby. On 4/26, Gayego worked five furlongs over a muddy Churchill Downs strip in 1:01. Mike Smith, pilot of 2005 winner Giacomo, has the call.

Like Colonel John, Bob Black Jack is another Californian who’ll need to make the synthetic-to-dirt- transition this Saturday in the Derby as he looks to turn the tables on his West Coast rivals.

After winning two of four starts as a two-year-old, Bob Black Jack wired the Sunshine Millions Dash at Santa Anita to start the year before setting the pace when tiring to be third in the San Felipe, a length behind Gayego. In the Santa Anita Derby, Bob Black Jack lost a heartbreaker to Colonel John as he appeared home free at the 1/8 pole before getting run down in the final yards to miss by just ½ length. Trainer James Kasparoff sent his charge out for his final major move before the Derby, a half mile in :48 3/5 on 4/28 at Churchill and will have the services of jockey David Flores on Saturday.

While he may not be a Californian, I’d bet Adriano and his connections wish the Derby was being run over Polytrack as opposed to the dirt considering his fondness for synthetic surfaces and the turf.

In seven career starts, Adriano has three wins and second place finish on his resume. On the lawn, he’s two for four with a second. On synthetic tracks, he won the G2 Lane’s End at Turfway Park last out and finished fourth last year in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in two starts. That leaves us with one start on dirt that is filled with more excuses than promise or ability.

Two starts back, Adriano made his lone dirt start the G2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. He drew the far outside post 12 which was like Death Valley at Gulfstream this season, found trouble on the first turn and became completely unglued in the paddock before the race according to his connections. While the first two excuses are understandable, the third is alarming as they’ll be at least five times as many people at the Derby than there were at Gulfstream and that could prove to be lethal for this colt.

By the great A.P. Indy, Adriano is bred to love the distances and will be ridden by Edgar Prado, who won the 2006 renewal aboard the ill-fated Barbaro. Prado actually chose Adriano over both G1 Blue Grass winner Monba and G1 Wood Memorial winner Tale of Ekati. Trainer Graham Motion sent him out in company with another runner for his final serious work on 4/27, a five furlong move in 1:00 2/5 at Churchill.

Speaking of Barbaro, his trainer Michael Matz will look to run his Derby record to a perfect two for two when he sends out Visionaire on Saturday. After breaking his maiden at Laurel in his second start last year and winning an entry level allowance contest at Gulfstream to start his three-year-old campaign, Visionaire finished third to Pyro in the G3 Risen Star at the Fair Grounds and was one of only a few runners to have a clean trip.

Then, in the G3 Gotham, Visionaire’ wet-track breeding was aided by a sloppy, soupy Aqueduct inner track and he got a dream set-up as the early pace was strong to get up in the final strides before finishing fifth while racing very wide in the stretch in the Blue Grass last out in his Polytrack debut.

On 4/28, Visionaire worked a half mile at Churchill in :48 2/5 and will be ridden by the up and coming Jose Lezcano. While he hasn’t beaten much and there is plenty to worry about, as there usually is with many Derby runners annually, as to whether he’ll get the distance or not, the fact that he’s making up ground at the end of most of his races is viewed as a positive sign by many.

Perhaps the most overlooked of this years’ major preps winners will be Recapturetheglory, who went from obscurity to graded stakes winner when he wired six others in the G2 Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Park in his last start.

After winning just once in four tries last season, trainer Louie Roussel, best known as the conditioner of 1988 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Risen Star, took over the colts training and ran him in an entry level allowance contest on the grass at the Fair Grounds where he finished third after dueling on the lead for most of the way. The Illinois Derby win was just the second start for Recapturetheglory under the tutelage of Roussel and the improvement was remarkable as he led throughout to win by an expanding four lengths.

The flip side to his Illinois Derby upset is twofold. Not only was he able to get away with dawdling opening fractions before sprinting home, but it came at the site of his only other win, perhaps hinting that he could be a horse for the course at the Chicago area oval.

Recapturetheglory finished second in an allowance contest at Churchill behind fellow Derby runner Cool Coal Man and is one of only seven probable entrants to have a race over the course. On 4/25, he went five panels in 1:00 4/5 at Churchill and will be ridden by Eddie Baird.

From the overlooked to the over hyped, the last colt we’ll talk about today is the probable Derby favorite Big Brown. After breaking his maiden by 11 ¼ lengths on the turf at Saratoga last season, ¾ of the colt was sold for over $3 million dollars and transferred from Pat Reynolds barn into the capable hands of Rick Dutrow Jr.

Out of sight for over six months, Big Brown crushed four others in an off the turf allowance contest at Gulfstream by over a dozen lengths. Brimming with confidence off that victory, Big Brown made his stakes debut in the G1 Florida Derby a little over three weeks later. The result surprised many, but not the colts’ trainer.

Rick Dutrow won two races on the Dubai World Cup undercard the day of the Florida Derby but he stayed at Gulfstream with Big Brown and he was rewarded with a wire to wire thrashing of eleven others, stopping the clock just two ticks of a second off the track record, propelling Big Brown to the role of Derby favorite.

Nestled away down in Florida since that win, Big Brown worked a sensational five eighths at Palm Meadows training facility in :58 3/5 on 4/24 and will work later this week over the Churchill Downs course. Kent Desormeaux will ride him in the Derby.

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Lookin' for a Triple Crown winner
By Anthony Stabile

Some say it’s the toughest accomplishment in sports yet those who speak of it can personally achieve it as it is left to the athlete of the four-legged variety. It is Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown.

Three different distances run at three different racetracks in just five weeks. They’ve been running the three legs of the Triple Crown- the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes - for well over 130 years now and only eleven horses have been able to grab the ultimate brass ring in the sport. Each year, over 35,000 Thoroughbreds are born, with each of their owners dreaming the impossible dream of winning the Triple Crown.

Even in this new era of Thoroughbred racing, with revenue from casinos and slot machines sending the purses for your everyday races soaring into the stratosphere and multi-million dollar nights of racing scattered across the globe in places such as Dubai and Hong Kong, not to mention the Breeders’ Cup held annually in North America, all the average Joe cares about when it comes to horse racing is the Triple Crown.

Since 1978 when Affirmed capped off a six year span in which both Secretariat and Seattle Slew captured the Triple Crown as well, ten horses, six in the last 11 years alone, have won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before strolling into the Big Apple with a chance to join the pantheon of equine immortals. All ten have failed.

In 1979, Spectacular Bid stepped on a safety pin that became lodged a half inch into his hoof the day before the Belmont while Pleasant Colony couldn’t handle the rigors of the trail and lost a ton of weight before the final jewel two years later. Both finished third.

Trainer Bob Baffert had back to back chances when Silver Charm didn’t see Touch Gold flying at him on the outside in 1997 before Real Quiet was the victim of a premature move by his jockey Kent Desormeaux and squandered a five length lead in the stretch the following year. And who can forget the images of the late, great jockey Chris Antley holding Charismatics’ injured leg up just yards after the finish of the 1999 Belmont that saw his Cinderella-like run come to an all too painful and hasty halt.

In 2002, War Emblem rose from relative obscurity to even money favorite on Belmont Day only to lose all chance at the start when he was bothered by several rivals leaving out of the gate. The very next season, Funny Cide went too fast early on and ultimately couldn’t handle the 1 ½ miles of the “Test of the Champion.”

Perhaps the greatest upset of them all occurred in 2004, when the undefeated Smarty Jones opened up a three-length lead turning for home. With 120,000 screaming fans serving as the backdrop, it appeared a glorious and raucous winners’ circle coronation was at hand. But Birdstone had other ideas and ran Smarty Jones down in the shadow of the wire, causing the record-setting crowd to boo him and jockey Edgar Prado afterwards.

What makes winning the Triple Crown so tough? If you ask 100 people, you’ll get 20 different answers but all of them will share a yearning to see it happen again, or for some, the first time. There are some that feel it’ll never happen again. Here are some of the more popular answers you’ll receive as to why it’s such a daunting task.

The answer you’ll get more often than not is that the breed has been weakened. When Secretariat was born in 1970, about half the number of horses that were foaled were foaled in 2008. The biggest reason was the fact that there were far fewer sires than there are today and they were much better qualified. Nowadays, almost every stakes winner becomes a sire and there are plenty of “backyard sires,” stallions that are bred for the sake of making money and not because of there accomplishments.

Another reason is the lack of sportsmanship and the enormous amount of greed that has encompassed the sport. With races like the $2 million Breeders Cup Juvenile and $1 million Delta Jackpot, there is so much money to be made as a two-year-old that plenty of owners and trainers are gearing their horses towards those races as opposed to the classics.

When they do get to the Triple Crown events it seems that the only people who care about the Preakness are the connections of the Derby winner. You’ll see many horses skip the second jewel to await the Belmont. The purses are the same and you get to rest your horse a bit more. This poses a big problem to any horse that won the first two legs because those awaiting the Belmont have had five weeks to recharge their batteries while the winner is coming in with two tough races under his belt. Both Funny Cide and Smarty Jones fell victim to this as Empire Maker and Birdstone ran in the Derby but not the Preakness and were laying in the weeds for the Belmont.

With that said, even the neighsayers this time of year contract a case of Derby Fever which in some instances, depending on how impressive the Derby winner is, can lead to the Triple Crown Flu. In recent years, horses like Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000 and of course the ill-fated Barbaro in 2006 had horseplayers envisioning the second coming of Hindoo just minutes after the Derby, only to have their hopes crushed just two weeks later at the Preakness. Still, if you’re a fan of the Sport of Kings, it’s what you do so let’s take a look at a few colts that have a chance at making it and even dozen Triple Crown champs.

The talk of the town right now is Big Brown, an undefeated son of Boundary who burst onto the Derby scene with an eye-popping win in the Florida Derby on March 29th. After breaking his maiden on the turf at historic Saratoga last labor Day and winning his first start of the season some six months later at Gulfstream this past winter, Big Brown led from start to finish in the Florida Derby in near track record time, anointing him the favorite for this year’s Run for the Roses.

His lackluster effort over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland in the Blue Grass on April 12th aside, Pyro is another who merits consideration for this year’s Triple Crown events. Pyro has hit the board in all six of his starts on conventional dirt, including wins in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby, both held at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans this year.

While he’s raced solely over synthetic surfaces thus far, Colonel John could be an imposing sort should he be able to duplicate his efforts on the dirt. Perhaps the best Californian to try the Triple Crown since Point Given, Colonel John has the preferred middle of the pack running style for the Derby and is bred to run all day.

Tomcito could provide some international flair considering the fact that the first five starts of his career came down in Peru and he’s already won at the 1 ¼ miles distance of the Derby and the 1 ½ miles distance of the Belmont. He finished third in the Florida Derby behind Big Brown in his U.S. debut.

Whether there will be a Triple Crown winner or not this year remains to be seen but if history has taught us anything about the series it’s one thing – you’re about to experience an exciting five weeks. So get tied on and enjoy the ride!!!

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Sizing up the Kentucky Derby Field - The Key Contenders

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Most of the buzz this spring has been about Big Brown and his unbelievable performance in the Florida Derby. Add to that the recent comments made by his trainer, Rick Dutrow, and the 134th renewal of the "Run for the Roses" could be a very special two minutes.

If you happened to miss it, here's what Dutrow said. "Until somebody shows me the beast, this is not a tough horse race. I know there's no one going into this race as good as [Big Brown] is right now. If he breaks clean, it's a mismatch to me on paper."

Most trainers usually hold their own horses in high esteem, but rarely does one go public about his feelings towards the quality of the other colts in the race.

It's true Big Brown has been unstoppable in his young career, but another horse three years ago was even faster. Bellamy Road came to Kentucky with four wins in five races, including two straight wins in 2005 by a combined 33 1/4- lengths. His final prep prior to the Derby was a 17 1/2-length score in the Wood Memorial, a race in which he earned a Beyer number of 120. For comparison purposes, the highest figure Big Brown has secured is 106.

Bellamy Road was a front-runner that had to learn how to rate in the Derby after Spanish Chestnut blazed out the first half in 45 1/5 and three quarters in 1:09 2/5. The George Steinbrenner-owned colt was fifth at both points, a position he certainly was not accustomed to, and ended up tiring through the stretch, hitting the wire in seventh place.

The jury is still out on Big Brown if he can rate slightly off the pace. He didn't need the lead in his second start, but also was never more than one length off the top spot at any point in the race either. In his two appearances this year, he ran his first quarter under 23 seconds each time, reached the half below 46 twice, and sped six furlongs no slower than 1:10.

One can only imagine how fast they'll go in the Derby, and based on how loud Big Brown's connections have been about his supposed greatness, you just have to wonder if Kent Desormeaux won't just move him a little too early just to prove his explosiveness. Big Brown will also have to fend off a major challenge from Gayego approaching the far turn, which could soften him up in the stretch drive.

All this may be for naught if he is indeed a "freak of nature," but he will have to prove it against the best of the best this coming Saturday. Remember, the only very good horse he's beaten has been Smooth Air, and even he'll be 30-1 or higher in the Derby.

So why is everyone so much in love with Big Brown? The majority of racing fans feel this crop of three-year-olds is not only much weaker than last year's, but on the slow end when compared to almost every year this decade. Big Brown has been the only horse that has posted a pair of triple-digit Beyers on dirt in 2008, and it's those speed figures that have lifted him onto this high pedestal.

However, the reason his numbers tower over the rest of the field is that "Team Beyer" has not adjusted the figs for synthetic surfaces, giving the false impression that he's much faster than everyone else. Since the Blue Grass and all the races in Southern California have been run over synthetics, the numbers on Monba and Colonel John should be much higher than they appear in the racing form. Something to remember when placing bets next weekend.

THE TOP CHOICES (Prior to the Post Position draw)

It should be noted that Behindatthebar has withdrawn from the race, giving Denis of Cork the opportunity to jump into the field. With the Todd Pletcher- trained horse off the board, Tale of Ekati falls out of my top 10, in a spot now held by Visionaire. Z Fortune drops from eight to nine, so part three of this trilogy begins with the horse with the eighth-best chance of smelling the roses - Pyro.

The Risen Star and Louisiana Derby winner went off as the even money favorite in the Blue Grass (on Polytrack) and came up empty with a 10th place finish. It's very easy to dismiss the race by saying he didn't like the surface, but as mentioned in part one of this series, not one horse since 1957 has come back to win the Derby after finishing worse than 4th in his prior start.

It's true there was no such thing as Poly 50 years ago, but there are concerns about his ability to win at 10 furlongs. His dam side is loaded with speed and his sire Pulpit, who finished a tiring fourth in the '97 Derby, has not produced many horses able to win past 1 1/8-miles.

In addition, Pyro has had only one race longer than 1 1/16, if you can call his effort in the Blue Grass a race. Don't forget, his huge last-to-first burst in the Risen Star came all the way back on February 9. He does have talent, but he also could pull a Circular Quay (last year's LA Derby winner from off the pace) and run a non-threatening sixth.

Gayego, the number seven horse on the list, impressed more than a few experts in winning the Arkansas Derby, and with three wins and two seconds in five lifetime starts, he could end up going off the third choice behind Big Brown and Colonel John.

However, one has to wonder if he would have won the Ark Derby if better horses were entered. The race was weak on paper after the first two finishers, and it ended that way with 37-1 shot Tres Borrachos finishing almost five lengths back in third.

It might have been an easy task to sit a length or two off of "The Three Drunks" and be able to withstand the likes of Z Fortune through the stretch, but it will be a completely different story having to chase Big Brown, Recapturetheglory and Bob Black Jack in the early going, and still be able to withstand the presence of Colonel John, Monba and the rest of the closers through the lane.

In addition, if he runs his final three furlongs anywhere close to the 38 3/5 it took him to finish the Arkansas Derby, say goodbye to any realistic chance of winning the Kentucky Derby. He does have tons of talent, already out- running his pedigree, and even if he doesn't hit the board on Saturday, he could be a threat in the Preakness.

Court Vision, the next horse on the list, failed to improve on his two-year- old form with third-place finishes in both the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial.

At first glance, it appears he is entirely too slow to win this race, as his Beyer numbers have never topped the 90 mark, even on true dirt. Nevertheless, he does have a stakes win over the track and he's been training fabulously at Churchill the past couple of weeks.

On the negative side, he could be too far back to corral the entire field and win the race. Some might argue that it's been done before, as Giacomo and Street Sense both came from 18th and 17th respectively, after six furlongs to gain the victory, but there's a major difference between how those two performed prior to Kentucky and how Court Vision runs.

Giacomo was never more than four lengths behind the leader after three- quarters in any race leading up to the Derby (excluding his first career race) and the farthest Street Sense had to come from off the pace after six furlongs was 4 1/2-lengths back, not counting his Breeders Cup Juvenile victory. Court Vision, on the other hand, has had to make up 10 lengths at the three-quarter mark in both his three-year-old starts.

That's why Bill Mott sharpened him up with a 46 1/5 bullet work on April 17, hoping to improve his colt's mid-race positioning. If that works, Court Vision could be motoring home through the stretch at Churchill Downs.

THREE THROUGH FIVE (IN REVERSE ORDER)

Denis of Cork has somewhat of a similar running style to Court Vision, but the main difference between the two is that the David Carroll-trained colt has more natural ability. It didn't show in the Illinois Derby, and his fifth- place finish almost kept him out of the most important Derby of them all.

Nevertheless, he had no chance that day based on three factors: the track bias did not favor his come-from-behind style, he stumbled slightly approaching the clubhouse turn, and, most importantly, he might not have been revved up for the race based on the misguided handling that took place by his owner.

Previously, he was undefeated in three starts, including a monster performance in wining the Southwest at Oaklawn Park, and no one, with the possible exception of Colonel John, has looked better at Churchill Downs the past week. Additionally, he is one of six horses with a win over the track.

On the downside, he'll be entering the Derby with only four races under his belt and just one since February 18. Even Big Brown has raced twice since then. In addition, the last time a horse won with four lifetime starts was all the way back in 1918.

One other interesting nugget to chew on. Since Calvin Borel has picked up the mount, it raises a key question: when was the last time a jockey had back-to- back Kentucky Derby victories? You have to go back to 1982-83, when Eddie Delahoussaye won with Gato Del Sol and Sunny's Halo.

Before I announce the name of the horse that's fourth on the list, let me tell you a bit about him. He's a multiple stakes winner and one of only two colts in the field to have won a pair of stakes races around two turns with at least one coming at nine furlongs. The other? Colonel John.

He's recorded three wins and two seconds in his last five starts, including a bang-up second in his lone grade one event, beaten just a neck. In his two races at 1 1/8 miles, his fractional times (from the half to the mile) were 47 3/5 and 48 1/5, numbers faster than almost every horse in the race except for Colonel John. That quickness will help since he'll most likely sit about five to seven lengths off the early pace. He also ran his final three furlongs in 36 1/5 and 36 3/5, with his final eighth coming in 12 1/5 and 12 2/5 in those two events, signaling an outstanding turn of foot as the field moves around the far turn. And, it's at that point of the race where the Derby is usually won.

He is also magnificently bred for the 1 1/4 miles, as his sire was a multiple group one winner in Europe at three, and even came to the states to finish second in the Breeders' Cup Classic on the dirt at Churchill Downs. His dam's mother is a half-sister to Behrens, who won the Suburban Handicap, as well as running second in many other 10-furlong events, such as the Dubai World Cup, Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Travers.

This particular horse will not be one of the favorites. He won't even be 20-1. His expected final odds will range anywhere from 30 to 40-1, giving him the title of the biggest overlay in the race. His only knock (and almost every participant has one) is the fact he's run only once on dirt and finished seventh. But that was his first race and it came all the way back in the summer of 2007. What's not to say he won't like it now after running five more times, including a non-turf, second-place finish last time out?

His name is Cowboy Cal, and he's not getting any respect because he's a turf horse. Well my friends, take a quick look at how some other so-called "turf horses" have done of late.

Last year, Sedgefield, who ran second to Hard Spun on Polytrack in the Lane's End, finished fifth in Kentucky at 58-1 and he wasn't anywhere near as good on turf as Cowboy Cal. In addition, one could argue that last year's Derby field was much tougher than this year's edition.

Two years ago, there was a special turf horse that had won the same two stakes that Cowboy Cal galloped in: the Tropical Park Derby and the Laurel Futurity. His name was Barbaro. There certainly cannot be any comparison between the two horses since Barbaro reeled off a pair of dirt victories prior to the Derby, but don't underestimate Cowboy Cal's second in the Blue Grass. Sure he got away with a slow pace, but it was his first race in almost two months and he still held off 10 dirt and Polytrack horses.

If you're looking for a long shot with a great chance to win, look no further than the "Cowboy."

At the opposite end of the betting spectrum comes Big Brown. Even with all the negatives mentioned above, and I haven't even touched on previous quarter cracks in both front feet, he still must be feared since there is a chance he is that much better than everyone else. It's true that horses with three career starts do not usually win the Derby (hasn't been done since 1915), but we live in an age where three-year-olds aren't placed on the track 10 to 12 times anymore. In fact, only four of the 20 horses in this year's race have run more than seven times. If you don't care to bet Big Brown, do so because you think he won't be able to sustain constant harassment from the other pacesetters, more than for his lack of experience.

THE TOP TWO

Monba ranks second on the top 10 Derby list after his bounce-back performance in the Blue Grass. The son of Maria's Mon (sire of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos) finished last in his only other prep this year, the Fountain of Youth, due to a cut on his right hind leg suffered during the running of the race. He then lost valuable training time, not to mention undergoing throat surgery. But through it all, trainer Todd Pletcher never lost sight of his goal, and Monba returned with an outstanding race at Keeneland.

This horse hasn't all of a sudden jumped onto the scene with his win in the Blue Grass. He toppled 11 other opponents in two different races as a two- year-old, including a victory over recent Derby Trial winner Macho Again at Churchill Downs last November.

However, his most impressive race (up until a few weeks ago) came with an off- the-board finish in the Cash Call Futurity at Hollywood Park. Not many two- year-olds in their third career start (and first around two turns) are able to come home as strongly as he did, running his final 4 1/2 furlongs in under 53 seconds.

That race, incidentally, is turning into the most important prep as both Monba (fourth) and Colonel John (second) have recorded grade one wins in 2008. Even Sierra Sunset (sixth) took home the grade two, Rebel Stakes, and Tres Borrachos (12th), and Indian Sun (fifth) finished third and fourth respectively in the grade one, Arkansas Derby. Not to mention Eaton's Gift (seventh) won the grade two, Swale Stakes, and Into Mischief (winner) ran second to Georgie Boy in the grade two, San Vicente.

There are many horses in this race with impeccable breeding for 10 furlongs, and Monba is certainly one of them. As previously mentioned, his sire, Maria's Mon, has already produced a Kentucky Derby champion (Monarchos) and his broodmare sire, Easy Goer won the 1 1/2 miles Belmont Stakes.

Another reason Monba might be on the way up is the surgery performed on his throat after the Fountain of Youth. Many horses have returned to win back-to- back races after such a procedure, including Alysheba, who won the Blue Grass (although disqualified from the top spot) and then the Derby, and the 2007 champion sprinter Midnight Lute garnered victories in the Forego and Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Monba has shown an ability to run well close to the pace (the Blue Grass) and from out-of-the-clouds (the Cash Call) and that versatility will come in handy in Louisville. However, there are two major negatives he must overcome. First, he worked poorly at Keeneland last Saturday going five furlongs in 1:02 3/5. He has never been a great horse in the mornings, but he did blow out four furlongs right before the Blue Grass in 47 1/5. Secondly, since he acquired nothing from his last-place finish in the Fountain of Youth, he technically is coming into the Derby off only one prep race this year. It helps a little that his last race of 2007 came in late December, but is he going to be 100% fit with just the Blue Grass as his sole "real" race in '08?

Colonel John is by far and away the top choice to win the 2008 Kentucky Derby. He is the most accomplished horse in the field (the only one without any flaws) and in most years would be the favorite. His only negative - never having run on dirt - has been answered with an effortless 57 4/5 work at Churchill Downs on April 27. His win in the Santa Anita Derby (final furlong in 12 flat) was eye-catching, and if the race had been run on dirt, his Beyer figure would have definitely topped the magical 100 mark.

His sire Tiznow won back-to-back Breeders' Cup Classics and his dam, Sweet Damsel, is by Turkoman, who won the Marlboro Cup and Widener Handicaps at 10 panels, along with finishing second in the 1986 BC Classic and the 1985 Travers. Two other daughters of Turkoman, Turkos Turn and Turkish Tryst, respectively, produced Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Point Given, and Kentucky Derby and BC Classic runner-up, Hard Spun.

More importantly, almost every horse that has shipped from synthetic surfaces in Southern California has improved dramatically when switched to dirt at other tracks around the country. Gayego went from Santa Anita to Oaklawn, a similar surface to Churchill Downs, and won the Arkansas Derby improving seven Beyer points in the process from 96 to 103. Even the two other California horses in the race, Tres Borrachos and Indian Sun, ran third and fourth.

Sierra Sunset was an average horse in California until he hit Oaklawn to run second to Denis of Cork in the Southwest and win the Rebel. Even four-year-old Monterey Jazz, who posted only one triple-digit Beyer number in 12 career starts (the last two coming at Santa Anita), came to Lone Star Park this past weekend and rolled in the Texas Mile with a 118 Beyer.

Colonel John is bred to run all day, is the class of the race and has a chance to win this race by five lengths.

Of course a lot can change between Tuesday and Saturday, so the selection order is certainly not set in stone. Wednesday's post-position draw will go a long way in determining the outcome of the race, and the weather could play havoc as well, as the early forecast calls for a 60% chance of thunderstorms for Friday night.

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Re: Kentucky Derby News and Notes

Unbeaten Big Brown the 3-1 Derby favorite in 20-horse field
ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -Big Brown's all in and so is the filly Eight Belles, a perfect combination for an intriguing 134th Kentucky Derby.

Unbeaten in three career starts, Florida Derby winner Big Brown was stamped the 3-1 favorite for Saturday's 1 1/4-mile Derby after drawing the far outside No. 20 post position. Eight Belles, taking on the boys for the first time, drew the No. 5 post and was 20-1 on the morning line set by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.

''I feel that if we run our race, and he breaks clean, I don't see a horse as of yet that can beat Big Brown,'' trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. said Wednesday. ''I just don't see it. I don't want to see it, either.''

The only Derby winner to leave from the No. 20 post was Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.

''We prefer just to break on the outside,'' Dutrow said. ''We get assured of a clean trip. If he breaks good, we figure it's to our advantage. We had a few choices and felt we took the best shot.''

Colonel John, the best 3-year-old in the West, was the second betting choice at 4-1. Pyro, a one-time Derby favorite, was next at 6-1 in the full 20-horse field. Every other horse was 15-1 or higher.

Pyro leaves from the No. 9 post and Colonel John from No. 10.

Michael Matz, the trainer of 2006 Derby winner Barbaro, is back in the Derby with Visionaire, a 20-1 long shot. The colt drew the No. 8 post - the same post Barbaro left from.

Big Brown and Eight Belles each have their own history to overcome if they are to win America's greatest race.

For the lightly raced Big Brown, it's inexperience: The last Derby winner with just three previous career starts was the filly Regret in 1915; and only two winners in the past 60 years have overcome just two 3-year-old preps, Sunny's Halo in 1983 and Street Sense last year.

For Eight Belles, it's the competition: A filly hasn't run in the Derby since 1999, and only three have won, with Winning Colors the last to do so in 1988.

''We're going to give it a whirl,'' said Eight Belles trainer Larry Jones, who finished second in last year's Derby with Hard Spun. ''If she runs her race against the colts and doesn't get intimidated we feel like she can be right there.''

Big Brown will be ridden by two-time Derby winner Kent Desormeaux; Derby rookie Gabriel Saez has the call on Eight Belles, who brings a four-race winning streak into the Run for the Roses.

Big Brown burst onto the Derby scene with a 12 3/4-length romp in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on March 5. A five-length win in the Florida Derby made it 3-for-3. Last year, Curlin arrived for the Derby with a 3-0 record and finished third.

''I do think the people are going to bet on Big Brown, even though he is from the 20 post,'' Battaglia said. ''He's undefeated. He looked awfully good in Florida. There are plenty of knocks on Big Brown, like the fact he has only raced three times.''

Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John is an interesting second choice since the colt will be making his first start on the dirt. Trained by Eoin Harty, Colonel John is 4-for-6 with two runner-up finishes. He had an exceptionally fast workout at Churchill Downs earlier in the week.

''The synthetic tracks make it very tough,'' Battaglia said. ''Look at Colonel John. He's never raced on the dirt. That's just a big X factor.''

Pyro is coming off the worst race of his career, a 10th-place finish in the Blue Grass in his only start over a synthetic surface. The colt trained by Steve Asmussen won the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby in his two previous starts.

''What do I do with the Blue Grass? Do you completely throw it out?'' Battaglia asked. ''Do you think he might be on the decline? You just don't know.''

Asmussen, who also trains Z Fortune, says he expects Pyro to ''run his lifetime best when it matters most.''

Three other trainers have two horses in the Derby, including Todd Pletcher. The nation's top trainer sends out Monba and Cowboy Cal, the 1-2 finishers in the Blue Grass, in his quest to end an 0-for-19 Derby record.

Barclay Tagg sends out Tampa Bay Derby winner Big Truck and Wood Memorial winner Tale of Ekati, and two-time Derby winner Nick Zito has Anak Nakal and Fountain of Youth winner Cool Coal Man.

The field, from the rail out: Cool Coal Man (20-1), Tale of Ekati (15-1), Anak Nakal (30-1), Court Vision (20-1), Eight Belles (20-1), Z Fortune (15-1), Big Truck (50-1), Visionaire (20-1), Pyro (6-1), Colonel John (4-1), Z Humor (30-1), Smooth Air (20-1), Bob Black Jack (20-1), Monba (15-1), Adriano (30-1), Denis of Cork (20-1), Cowboy Cal (20-1), Recapturetheglory (20-1), Gayego (15-1) and Big Brown (3-1).

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Re: Kentucky Derby News and Notes

Breakdown of Six Kentucky Derby Favorites
by Robert Ferringo

"Total chaos, no way to see the race, not even the track...nobody cares. Big lines at the outdoor betting windows, then stand back to watch winning numbers flash on the big board, like a giant bingo game."

- H.S.T, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved"

Bingo.

We are just four short days away from the Fastest Two Minutes In Sports and one thing is clear: Churchill Downs is in total chaos. And it's going to get worse before it gets better.

The Kentucky Derby field has had its dosage upped this year, as roughly 30 horses jockeyed for a spot in the 20-horse lottery. Every trainer, jockey, and owner with a horse worth half a shoe has tried to weasel its way into the field. But in the end the Top 20 are to be determined the American Way: by how much money they've earned. The field was set Wednesday morning, the post positions Wednesday night, so the situation is beginning to work itself out. But we're still not even close.

We are still left with an inflated field. Too great is the number of horses, yet too small are the odds on the potential winners. We are involved in a high-stakes game of bingo right now. Only there are roughly 7,000 possible permutations and combinations that can present themselves over the next 96 hours and four corners just won't cut it.

And that's precisely why all of these owners are doing everything they can to squeeze their horse into the race. Besides the obvious ego-screw that these Republican sympathizers get from having Their Horse in the Derby, they realize that by muddling the field and crowding the board they are actually increasing the chance of some fluke win and reducing the odds for some Honest Joe to make a buck on the Run for the Roses. We have a field of 20 when there are really only about nine horses with any sporting chance of Fame and Glory. But with a set of 20 spots available these cretins have their eyes set on stacking the deck and enveloping every possible option.

Of course, my concerns are mere trifles in the face of the Derby crowd. These are the folks who invented book clubs and tax evasion. These are the folks who aren't feeling the crunch of our national gas crisis. No, this crowd is the walking dead. These folks are the polished and presentable. These are the ones that they warned us about. And trying to navigate their maze is a trial for those with true grit and a gambling spirit.

So with that in mind, here is a quick breakdown of the top six favorites headed into Wednesday's Kentucky Derby post position draw:

Big Brown - 3-to-1
I can't help but get flashbacks to Curlin, last year's consensus favorite heading into the Derby. Big Brown is a clean 3-for-3 in his only three lifetime starts and has posted an outstanding 106 Beyer Speed Rating at the Florida Derby, which he won in a rout. In fact, Big Brown has won all three of his races via a runaway. However, Regret back in 1915 was the last horse to win the Kentucky Derby with just three lifetime starts prior to the Run for the Roses. These odds are real short considering that enormous historical mountain. Also, I've heard several people talk about whether or not the track at Churchill Downs will be too firm for BB's fragile feet. That just doesn't sound good to me.

Colonel John - 9-to-2
The Colonel is a closer. He's won four of the six races that he's been in over the past year and finished in second place in both other races. That shows me that this horse just smells the money and finds its way into paydirt. Colonel John won a nail-biter at Santa Anita in early April, edging out Bob Black Jack to win by a half-length in 1:48.52. However, The Colonel's highest Beyer Rating is just 95, and that's about 10 points lower than we would like heading into The Race. However, Colonel John has pulled the best workouts of anyone this week, putting up a 57.80 time in five furlong's.

Pyro - 7-to-1
This is really the Mystery Horse of the group. Pyro has three wins and six top-three finishes in its seven career races. But then there was its huge Red Flag performance, a 10th place finish at the Toyota Blue Grass in its last time out. That has really cooled a lot of people on this slick horse. However, that race was Pyro's first on an artificial surface, and the horse's trainer insists that's the reason for the poor performance. Pyro has a sweet 105 Beyer to its name, posted at the Breeders' Cub Juvenile. This horse is another finisher. However, he is notorious for slow starts. In a packed Derby field there may not be enough margin for error to set up Pyro for a solid stretch run.

Z Fortune - 12-to-1
My gut tells me that this horse is benefiting from the Recency Effect. Z Fortune had a "career night" at the Arkansas Derby, finishing second at Oaklawn Park while posting a 102 Beyer. That race was just over two weeks ago, and I think that performance is a little too fresh in the minds of oddsmakers. In fact, the horse that actually won that race, Gayego, is just a 20-to-1 play at the moment. Z Fortune won its first three races but then went second, fifth, and second to close out its pre-Derby slate. That's still a solid resume, but Fortune was caught and beaten at the Risen Star by Pyro in early February. Z Fortune is more of a pace setter, as opposed to the favored closers.

Denis of Cork - 12-to-1
Apparently Corky is the "wiseguy" choice for this year's race. However, Denis of Cork was almost headed for the glue factory before the race even began. Because of poor graded earnings, Denis was 21st on the list of contenders for the 20-horse Derby field. It wasn't until another horse dropped out that Denis was inserted. But that makes perfect sense, considering this horse is all about big comebacks and defying the odds. Denis of Cork won its first three races before a ho-hum fifth-place finish at the Illinois Derby. But it closed from 18 lengths back at Oaklawn in February to win the Southwest and closed from last place in the Maiden Special Weight at Churchill Downs last November for its first ever win. Cork's best Beyer Rating is just a 96 but it has been a workout warrior in the week leading up to Wednesday's post draw.

Adriano - 16-to-1
Despite being posted in the top six favorites, all indications are that this horse is a sucker bet. Adriano hasn't run in six weeks and, historically, that's been bad news for Derby starters. Also, a career best Beyer of 92 just won't get it done in a field that has several triple-digit horses. Adriano does have three career wins to its credit, but there is also a pair of No. 4 finishes and a No. 9 finish in seven career starts. That said, plenty of eyebrows were raised last month when jockey Edgar Prado chose to stay on Adriano instead of taking Tale of Ekati to Churchill Downs.

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Re: Kentucky Derby News and Notes

Kentucky Derby Trends
by T.O. Whenham

Now that the Kentucky Derby is just a few days away and the field is set, the serious business of trying to figure out who is going to win is now in full swing. Every year there are several major trends that we have to contend with as we make our choices. For example, last year we had to decide if we liked Street Sense even though a Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner had never won the Derby. We don't have to worry about that one this year because War Pass is out with an injury. More than in most years, though, there are a huge number of other trends and tendencies that need to be considered. This year's Kentucky Derby field is deep and competitive, but not as strong or impressive as in recent years. That means that picking a winner requires you to decide which of the many intriguing but flawed horses you are going to jump on.

Traditionally, handicappers have looked for a horse in the Derby that fits into a general template - he raced as a two year old, he has a solid base of experience in the Derby year including a start within a month of the big race, he is comfortable on the surface, he's proven to be comfortable with a crowded race, and he's bred for the distance. Unfortunately, most of that is out the window this year. Just take a look:

Long layoff - There used to be a cardinal rule - a horse couldn't win the Derby if he hadn't raced in more than a month going into the Derby. Needles did it in 1956, but then there was a 50-year drought for well-rested runners. That all changed in 2006, though, when Barbaro won off of a five-week break. Now we have to decide whether that was a fluke, or if racing has changed enough that breaks don't matter like they used to. This year, favorite Big Brown is copying Barbaro by not running since the Florida Derby at the end of March. Joining him in the well-rested club are Smooth Air from the same race, and Adriano, the winner of the Lane's End on March 22.

Base of experience - This is where it gets really crazy. Since 1933 only three horses have won the Derby with less than six career starts, and each of those horses had five starts. This year, Big Brown, Denis of Cork, Gayego, and Monba all fall short of the six-race threshold, and Big Brown has only been in the starting gate three times. That's crazy. On top of that, only seven horses since 1937 have won while racing less than three times as a three year old before the Derby. This year there are six horses - Big Brown, Colonel John, Court Vision, Monba, Recapturetheglory, and Tale of Ekati - that have only run twice. That's not an irrelevant group, either - it includes the winners of most of the major prep races including the Wood Memorial, Blue Grass Stakes, and Florida, Illinois and Santa Anita Derbies.

Comfortable on dirt - This used to be a given because very few young horses would try turf if they were heading to the Derby. Now that synthetic surfaces are on several tracks, though, this has all changed. If horses haven't run on dirt, or if they haven't run well if they have, then we have no idea how they are going to do on the Derby dirt. This year there are four horses, including the likely heavily backed Colonel John, who have never run on dirt, and others who have limited experience or have struggled on the real stuff. Gayego had never run on dirt before heading to the Arkansas Derby and he won it handily, so some people are suggesting that the transition will go well for horses out of California. On the other hand you have a horse like Monba. He looked decent on the synthetic in California, terrible on the dirt in Florida, and then won on the synthetic in the Blue Grass. To complicate things further, Monba has a win as a two year old in an allowance race at Churchill Downs. That means that either his dislike of dirt is new, or that the race at Gulfstream was just a disaster and he is fine on the surface despite no recent proof.

Comfortable in a crowd - For more than 40-straight years the Derby winner has faced a field of 10 or more runners before the Derby. Eight Belles hasn't (I'm not even going to touch on the fact that she is a filly and all the handicapping problems that creates). Twelve of the last 20 winners have shown a proven ability to handle traffic - they have been bumped hard or cut off and recovered well. This is especially important in such a big and crazy race as the Derby can be. Fully half of this year's field hasn't been tested in this way in their careers. Most notably, favorite Big Brown has had nothing but smooth sailing in his three races.

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Re: Kentucky Derby News and Notes

A look at the 20-horse field.

1. COOL COAL MAN (20-1)

Owner: Robert LaPenta. Trainer: Nick Zito. Jockey: Julien Leparoux.

Sire: Mineshaft. Dam: Cool Sez. Record: 8 races, 4 wins, 1 second, 0 thirds. Earnings: $307,531.

Comment: With War Pass sidelined for an indefinite period, this is the Derby hope of the owner. . . . Like several others, floundered in the Blue Grass after winning the Fountain of Youth with a gorgeous trip. . . . Has experience over the track. Won an allowance race by a bit more than two lengths in his penultimate start as a 2-year-old last Nov. 3.

2. TALE OF EKATI (15-1)

Owner: Charles Fipke. Trainer: Barclay Tagg. Jockey: Eibar Coa.

Sire: Tale Of The Cat. Dam: Silence Beauty: Record: 6-3-1-0. Earnings: $769,200.

Comment: Earned his first win as a 3-year-old in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, but the victory was not a thing of beauty. The final eighth of a mile in the Grade I took more than 14 seconds to complete and it took him seemingly forever to get by an exhausted War Pass. . . . Tagg won the 2002 Derby and Preakness with Funny Cide.

3. ANAK NAKAL (30-1)

Owner: Four Roses Thoroughbreds. Trainer: Nick Zito. Jockey: Rafael Bejarano.

Sire: Victory Gallop. Dam: Misk. Record: 6-2-1-0. Earnings: $243,416.

Comment: Maybe a return to Louisville will perk him up. Only stakes win came at Churchill Downs in the Kentucky Jockey Club last Nov. 24. . . . Hasn't threatened in three 2008 starts. His best finish was a fifth in the Wood Memorial. . . . Bejarano will be the fifth rider he's had, succeeding Coa, Leparoux, Joe Bravo and Alan Garcia.

4. COURT VISION (20-1)

Owner: IEAH Stables and WinStar Farm LLC. Trainer: Bill Mott. Jockey: Garrett Gomez.

Sire: Gulch. Dam: Weekend Storm. Record: 6-3-1-2. Earnings: $367,542.

Comment: Some view him as a threat from behind, but couldn't take advantage of a dream setup in the Wood Memorial and had to settle for third. He wasn't able to get up even though the last three-eighths of a mile were run in a slow 40 4/5 seconds. . . . Undefeated at Churchill Downs. Rallied at nearly 9-1 to win the Iroquois there last Oct. 28.

5. EIGHT BELLES (20-1)

Owner: Rick Porter. Trainer: Larry Jones. Jockey: Gabriel Saez.

Sire: Unbridled's Song. Dam: Away. Record: 9-5-2-1. Earnings: $308,650.

Comment: Owner decided to pass on the Kentucky Oaks and run his filly in the Derby. . . . Has won four in a row against her own sex versus suspect opposition at the Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Park. . . . Will try to win the Derby 20 years after Winning Colors became the third filly to do so, joining Regret and Genuine Risk. Don't count on her joining that exclusive club.

6. Z FORTUNE (15-1)

Owner: Zayat Stables LLC. Trainer: Steve Asmussen. Jockey: Robby Albarado.

Sire: Siphon. Dam: Fortunate Faith. Record: 6-3-2-0. Earnings: $386,600.

Comment: Ran well to be second in the Arkansas Derby despite being wide most of the way. Some believe he would have defeated Gayego if the two would have switched trips. . . . Trying to make like another New York-bred: Funny Cide. . . . Has lost three in a row since winning the Lecomte at the Fair Grounds on Jan. 12.

7. BIG TRUCK (50-1)

Owner: Eric Fein. Trainer: Barclay Tagg. Jockey: Javier Castellano.

Sire: Hook And Ladder. Dam: Just A Ginny. Record: 8-3-1-1. Earnings: $336,880.

Comment: Turned in worst race of his life in the Blue Grass, finishing 11th of 12. . . . Two of his three victories have come against fellow New York-breds. . . . His victory against open company was a 7-1 surprise in the Tampa Bay Derby. . . . Distance is probably not in his favor.

8. VISIONAIRE (20-1)

Owner: Vision Racing and Team Valor International. Trainer: Michael Matz. Jockey: Jose Lezcano.

Sire: Grand Slam. Dam: Scarlet Tango. Record: 6-3-1-1. Earnings: $250,760.

Comment: Made up some ground in a Blue Grass that was dominated by the front-runners. The way he finished suggests he will handle more ground, something that was a concern to his trainer before his race at Keeneland. . . . Matz looking for his second win in three years, but, trust us, Visionaire is no Barbaro.

9. PYRO (6-1)

Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds. Trainer: Steve Asmussen. Jockey: Shaun Bridgmohan.

Sire: Pulpit. Dam: Wild Vision. Record: 7-3-2-1. Earnings: $1,056,718.

Comment: Disappointed as the favorite in the Blue Grass after beginning 2008 with visually impressive victories in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Many expect him to rebound on a real dirt track. . . . Had not finished worse than third in any of his six races before the Blue Grass. . . . Broke his maiden by a nose at Churchill in his career debut at six furlongs last July 7.

10. COLONEL JOHN (4-1)

Owner: WinStar Farm LLC. Trainer: Eoin Harty. Jockey: Corey Nakatani.

Sire: Tiznow. Dam: Sweet Damsel. Record: 6-4-2-0. Earnings: $825,300.

Comment: Overcame adversity to win the Santa Anita Derby and looks to be California's best hope for success. . . . Nakatani has yet to win the world's most famous race. . . . Harty was an assistant to Bob Baffert when that stable won the Derby with Silver Charm in 1997 and the following year with Real Quiet. . . . This will be Colonel John's first start on conventional dirt.

11. Z HUMOR (30-1)

Owner: Zayat Stables. Trainer: Bill Mott. Jockey: Rene Douglas.

Sire: Distorted Humor. Dam: Offtheoldblock. Record: 8-2-0-3. Earnings: $621,450.

Comment: Earned the bulk of his bankroll with a win -- in a dead heat with Turf War -- in the Delta Jackpot, a Grade III with an inflated $1-million purse at Delta Downs in Louisiana late last fall. . . . Third and fifth in two previous appearances in Grade I races. . . . Douglas rode him for the first time when third in the Illinois Derby.

12. SMOOTH AIR (20-1)

Owner: Mount Joy Stables, Inc. Trainer: Bennie Stutts. Jockey: Manoel Cruz.

Sire: Smooth Jazz. Dam: Air France. Record: 7-3-2-2. Earnings: $395,500.

Comment: Florida-bred is, if nothing else, consistent. Never worse than third, but has yet to race outside his home state. . . . Picked up the pieces to be second in the Florida Derby, but did not threaten Big Brown and wouldn't have if they had circled the track again. . . . Only graded stakes win came in the Hutcheson, a Grade II, over a sloppy surface on Jan. 5 at Gulfstream.

13. BOB BLACK JACK (20-1)


Owner: Jeff Harmon and Tim Kasparoff. Trainer: Jim Kasparoff. Jockey: Richard Migliore.

Sire: Stormy Jack. Dam: Matty's Prospector. Record: 7-3-2-1. Earnings: $442,925.

Comment: California-bred has been an overachiever considering he was purchased for only $4,500 as a yearling. . . . Looked home free in the Santa Anita Derby before being outfinished by Colonel John. . . . Figures to be part of the pace, but is a big question mark at the distance.

14. MONBA (15-1)

Owner: Starlight Stable LLC and Paul Saylor. Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Jockey: Ramon Dominguez.

Sire: Maria's Mon. Dam: Hamba. Record: 5-3-0-0. Earnings: $577,534.

Comment: Earned his ticket with a hard-fought victory in the Blue Grass. . . . With Edgar Prado opting for Adriano, the mount opened for Dominguez, who was the dominant rider during the winter in New York. . . . Although a much-troubled last in the Fountain of Youth in his last start on conventional dirt, the gray did win here last fall, defeating, among others, Macho Again, who won the Derby Trial.

15. ADRIANO (30-1)

Owner: Courtlandt Farms: Trainer: Graham Motion. Jockey: Edgar Prado.

Sire: A. P. Indy. Dam: Gold Canyon. Record: 7-3-1-0. Earnings: $387,700.

Comment: A new member of racing's Hall of Fame, Prado had other Derby options, but stuck with this well-bred chestnut. . . . His pedigree says he will relish 10 furlongs, but what about conventional dirt? His victories have come on either turf or a synthetic surface. In his lone race on dirt, finished a troubled ninth, 17 lengths behind the winner, in the Fountain of Youth.

16. DENIS OF CORK (20-1)

Owner: Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren, Jr. Trainer: David Carroll. Jockey: Calvin Borel.

Sire: Harlan's Holiday. Dam: Unbridled Girl. Record: 4-3-0-0. Earnings: $213,552.

Comment: Suffered first loss in Illinois Derby at Hawthorne, a suspect Derby prep that was dominated by front-running longshot Recapturetheglory. . . . Borel, who won the race a year ago with Street Sense, is looking to become the first jockey to repeat in the Derby since Eddie Delahoussaye won with Gato Del Sol in 1982 and Sunny's Halo 12 months later. . . . Three wins have come at three tracks.

17. COWBOY CAL (20-1)

Owner: Stonerside Stable. Trainer: Todd Pletcher. Jockey: John Velazquez.

Sire: Giant's Causeway. Dam: Texas Tammy. Record: 6-3-2-0. Earnings: $314,708.

Comment: Lost the Blue Grass by a neck to Monba after being in front almost every step of the way. . . . All three of his wins have come on turf. Only start on conventional dirt was in his debut last Aug. 25 at Saratoga. Finished seventh of 10, more than 11 lengths behind the winner in the six-furlong race.

18. RECAPTURETHEGLORY (20-1)

Owner: Ron Lamarque and Louie Roussel III. Trainer: Roussel. Jockey: E.T. Baird.

Sire: Cherokee Run. Dam: Cold Awakening. Record: 6-2-1-2. Earnings: $333,080.

Comment: Controlled the pace and easily won the Illinois Derby on April 5 at Hawthorne. No such luxury will be granted him in the Derby. . . . Owner and trainer are best known for Risen Star, who was the champion 3-year-old of 1988 thanks primarily to victories in the Preakness and Belmont. . . . Second in his only previous race at Churchill.

19. GAYEGO (15-1)

Owner: Cubanacan Stables. Trainer: Paulo Lobo. Jockey: Mike Smith.

Sire: Gilded Time. Dam: Devils Lake. Record: 5-3-2-0. Earnings: $723,400.

Comment: Improving colt showed he could handle real dirt when winning the Arkansas Derby three weeks ago at Oaklawn Park. . . . His pedigree suggests he will have trouble with 1 1/4 miles, but Smith is confident Gayego will stay 10 furlongs. . . . Lobo knows what it is like to win a big race at Churchill Downs. The Brazilian-born trainer won the Kentucky Oaks with 20-1 shot Farda Amiga in 2002.

20. BIG BROWN (3-1)

Owner: IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa, Jr. Trainer: Rick Dutrow Jr. Jockey: Kent Desormeaux.

Sire: Boundary. Dam: Mien. Record: 3-3-0-0. Earnings: $662,700.

Comment: A deserving favorite on the strength of three blowout victories. . . . Lack of experience has many doubting whether he is ready to win the Derby. . . . Desormeaux has won the race twice, scoring in 1998 with Real Quiet and with Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. . . . Foot problems have been an issue with colt, but Dutrow insists all is well now.

latimes.com

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Re: Kentucky Derby News and Notes

Kentucky Derby gives bettors lots of options

Big Brown is listed as the favorite at 4-1, but plenty of other horses have been given strong odds for Saturday's race. A good deal of the action may be connected with proposition wagers.

The 134th Kentucky Derby will take place this weekend, with Big Brown listed as the favorite at 3-1. But there are plenty of other horses that have been given strong odds for this year's race, starting with Colonel John at 4-1 and Pyro at 6-1.

But a good deal of the Kentucky Derby betting action may be connected with proposition wagers.

Here are a few listed by sportsbetting.com: Will there be a Triple Crown winner in 2008? Yes (+500); no (-900). Will the Kentucky Derby winner also win the Preakness Stakes? Yes (+180); no (-240). Will the Kentucky Derby winner also win the Belmont Stakes? Yes (+400); no (-600). What will be the Kentucky Derby saddlecloth number? Odd (+145); even (-185).

At Bodoglife.com, the bets include: Who will finish in the best position? Big Brown (-140); Colonel John (even). And will the winner of the Kentucky Derby have raced on a synthetic track surface? Yes (-150); no (+110)?

But it's the off-the-wall type of bets that makes things interesting at Bodoglife.com. They include wagers such as: What will the Kentucky Derby mutuel win pay? Over $18.50 (-140); under $18.50 (even). Will the attendance exceed that of the 156,635 of 2007? Yes (-180); no (+140).

From what post will the Kentucky Derby winner start the race? Gates 1-5 (19-4); gates 6-10 (1-1); gates 11-15 (19-4); gates 16-20 (7-4).

And will the winner of the Kentucky Derby be bred in Kentucky? Yes (-1000); no (+550).

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Re: Kentucky Derby News and Notes

A Muddled Field
Andrew Beyer

"This is not a tough horse race," trainer Rick Dutrow says of the 134th Kentucky Derby, and he is correct in the sense that there is not much formidable competition for his colt Big Brown. The favorite has won all three of his starts with ease, earning superior speed figures, and none of his rivals has a record remotely comparable. In an ordinary race, a horse with such credentials might look unbeatable.

But the Derby is no ordinary race, and it always is a tough one, requiring horses to run 1 1/4 miles amid the chaos of a 20-horse field -- something they will not do again in their lives. History indicates that horses must have sufficient seasoning to handle the unique stress of the race.

A horse ought to have raced at least five times in his career to be ready for the Derby. No horse with fewer than five starts has earned a blanket of Derby roses since Exterminator in 1918. Thirty have tried and failed.

Debunkers of the experience factor can argue (correctly) that most of these statistics are based on results from a bygone era. Modern horses race less often than their ancestors, and modern trainers know how to get their horses fit with light regimens. Yet even outstanding horses fail in the Derby if they don't have sufficient preparation. Curlin came into last year's race with an undefeated record in three starts -- just like Big Brown. By the end of the year, he had proved that he not only was the best colt of his generation but the best horse in the world. Still, he lost the Derby, probably because he didn't have the seasoning to cope with the rough-and-tumble circumstances he encountered at Churchill Downs.

So even though Big Brown owns the best Beyer Speed Figure in the Derby field, I am throwing him out tomorrow. I would not take 2 to 1 on a horse trying to overcome such strong historical precedents. (Nor would I take a short price on a horse breaking from post position No. 20.)

But even eliminating the favorite doesn't clarify this Derby. The race is filled with unknowns, because of one almost indecipherable factor: synthetic surfaces.

Of the 20 Derby entrants, nine made their last starts on synthetic tracks. Two have not raced on anything but synthetics. What should handicappers make of horses such as Monba and Adriano, who won important stakes on Polytrack after poor performances on dirt? What do we do with Pyro, who ran terribly on Keeneland's Polytrack after looking like a potential star on dirt? What do we do with Colonel John, regarded as the West's top 3-year-old, who has not run on anything but the synthetic surfaces in California?

Because of the newness of synthetics, there isn't much historical evidence to make definitive judgments. But it is clear that racing on dirt and racing on synthetics are distinctly different games, and most horses will prefer one to another. So it is reasonable to disregard any horse who has made his reputation on a synthetic track without showing that he can win a stakes on dirt. Put an X over Monba, Adriano, Cowboy Cal, Bob Black Jack and Colonel John. It may take some courage to eliminate the last one -- particularly after his lightning-fast workout fast over the Churchill Downs surface this week -- but he is the probable second choice in the wagering, and I would not take a short price on a horse who never has competed on dirt.

By disregarding the two favorites, a horseplayer should be able to find some lucrative exotic-betting opportunities in the Derby. Yet it is hard for me to muster much enthusiasm or conviction on behalf of the others. This is a weak crop of 3-year-olds. In a typical year, the eventual Derby winner will come into the race showing that he can run a Beyer Speed Figure in the 105 to 110 range. In this year's lineup, Big Brown's 106 is the best, and only six horses ever have earned a triple-digit figure.

Two of these six are Gayego and Z Fortune, who finished 1-2 in the Arkansas Derby. Both earned their numbers honestly; Gayego dueled hard for the early lead, and Z Fortune rallied after being parked wide on both turns. For both of them, it was a career-best race, and some handicappers will reject a horse who has peaked in his most recent start. But long-priced horses such as Funny Cide (2003), War Emblem (2002) and Charismatic (1999) all won the Derby after coming to life in their final prep race.

Pyro, by contrast, comes into the Derby after the worst race of his life -- his dismal showing on Polytrack. There's not much history to support the chances of a horse who finished 10th in his final prep race. Yet Pyro is one of only two colts in the field -- the other being Big Brown -- who have demonstrated exceptional talent. He was dazzling when he rallied from far behind to win his racing debut at Churchill Downs last summer. He earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 105 running second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall. His rally to win the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in February was so phenomenal that he evoked comparisons to the legendary Silky Sullivan.

This is a colt whose running style always seemed made to order for the Derby, and he had been the favorite in future betting until his Polytrack debacle. Now he is discredited, but he remains the lone horse in the field with both the raw talent and the racing experience that usually are necessary to win the Derby. My selections: 1. Pyro. 2. Z Fortune. 3. Gayego.

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