There was a feeling apprehension throughout the backstretch Friday morning, as all eyes focused on Todd Pletcher and Eskendereya. Would the Derby favorite work or would the rumors surrounding the colt’s soundness issues persist another day?
As the rumors grew stronger, it prompted several Derby trainers to predict Eskendereya would not make it to the starting gate.
Sunday was the third straight morning the track was either sloppy or muddy, and Eskendereya had already had his final Derby work postponed from Saturday. Pletcher checked the condition of the track at around 6 a.m. and said it looked to be very hard. A few hours later, he announced neither Eskendereya nor Interactifwould breeze. That sent up the proverbial flare, and it became more and more evident that all was not right with the Derby favorite.
That opinion was solidified when Eskendereya failed to come to the track during the frenzied 15-minutes set aside for the Derby and Oaks horses to train.
Word from the Pletcher barn was that an announcement would be made at 9:30. It was then that Pletcher said Eskendereya had a filling, the cause of which was unknown, and that he was out of the Derby.
Although the withdrawal of a horse for whom many were predicting greatness enhanced the chances of everyone else, opposing trainers felt a sense of loss to have a horse with such a bright future and so much raw talent withdrawn from the Derby. Every trainer was well aware it could happen to them at any time. Bob Baffert, who now has the likely favorite in Lookin at Lucky , didn’t even want to talk about how well his horse was doing and how brilliant he’s been working, knowing he could suffer the same fate without the slightest warning.
So, Eskendereya joins the list of favorites or second favorites to be withdrawn from the Derby—I Want Revenge, A. P. Indy, Sir Gaylord, Graustark, and Gen. Duke among others.
But like last year, the race goes on, and Pletcher still has five or six other horses to concentrate on. The defection of Eskendereya makes it more likely that the filly, Devil May Care, will run in the Derby instead of the Oaks, especially after her impressive work on Saturday.
The only worker Sunday was Dublin , who went out at 5:45, breezing five furlongs in 1:02 4/5 over a sealed, sticky track, on which many horses were moving tentatively. Dublin is coming off a sharp work last week and didn’t need to do much this morning. The son of Afleet Alex is a huge, heavy horse who hits the ground hard and one wouldn’t expect him to glide over a track like this.
Several horses caught the eye this morning, especially American Lion , a big long-striding colt, whose coat was dappled out with a healthy shine to it. This is a free-running horse, and although you don’t want to grab him and take a strong hold of him, he still should be laying several lengths off the pace because of the amount of speed in the race. The key is to get him in a good position going into the first turn. The Tiznows have a tendency to get good later on and this colt could be coming into own at the right time. With Eskendereya out of the race, he is now the only horse in the field to have run a negative Thoro-Graph number this year; that coming in the Illinois Derby (gr. II).
Lookin at Lucky couldn’t be looking any better. His muscle lines are well defined and he appears to be doing great physically.
Awesome Act was out for a gallop accompanied by a stablemate, who always gave him something to run at. He would stay just in front him while the rider on Awesome Act kept his horse directly behind him, simulating cover. Down the backstretch the second time around he dropped Awesome Act to the inside of his workmate. It’s rare to see a Derby horse getting so much schooling in his gallops.
Ice Box is another who looks great, his chestnut coat glistening. Also catching the eye this morning were Super Saver , who appears to have bounced out of yesterday’s work in great shape, and Line of David , who had a very smooth, purposeful gallop, with his neck slightly arched.
There were some raised eyebrows when Endorsement walked the shed and didn’t go out to the track, but WinStar co-owner Bill Casner said trainer Shannon Ritter believes in giving them a day off now and then, and that the Sunland Park Derby (gr. III) winner is still scheduled to work Monday.
Nick Zito is still intent on getting Jackson Bend in the Derby, feeling any horse who finishes second in the Wood Memorial (gr. I), Fountain of Youth (gr. II), and Holy Bull (gr. III) deserves to be in the race. Zito realizes that with Devil May Care likely to be entered, he needs Interactif to come out to secure a place in the field.
Seven works are scheduled for Monday, but, despite the near-cloudless morning on Friday, more rain is expected this afternoon, so it’s anyone’s guess how the track will be. With the wind and sun this morning, the track dried quickly and seemed to be in good shape after being harrowed at 8:15.