Full Field of 20 Expected for Derby

Full Field of 20 Expected for Derby
Photo: File Photo
(From Churchill Downs)
In spite of the shocking news of the Triple Crown trail-ending injury to 2007 juvenile champion male War Pass and the apparent decision to forego the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) for a run in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) by the connections of Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II) winner Behindatthebar, a 20-horse field is still being predicted for the 134th Run for the Roses May 3 at Churchill Downs.

War Pass, owned by Robert LaPenta and trained by two-time Derby winner Nick Zito, suffered a fractured sesamoid in his left foreleg, apparently in the Wood Memorial (gr. I), but wasn’t discovered officially until April 19.

Zito and LaPenta still have a Derby prospect in Cool Coal Man, winner of Gulfstream Park’s Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) before ringing up a very un-cool ninth in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland. That race was his first encounter with a synthetic surface, and he never looked as if he was comfortable, inspiring both trainer and owner to draw a line through that effort.

Zito has yet another potential Derby starter in Four Roses Thoroughbreds’ Anak Nakal.

The victory by Behindatthebar in the Lexington Stakes, combined with poor performances by three other hopefuls, made the Keeneland race a bad day for a trio of entrants hoping to run their graded stakes earnings to a spot where they could nail down a position in the expected Derby field. Race-time betting favorite Tomcito, Atoned, and Racecar Rhapsody were considered likely prospects to enhance their Derby possibilities with additional purse money, but they floundered and came up with little or no money.

The race went to Behindatthebar, at odds of nearly 6-1, with outsiders Samba Rooster, a non-nominee to the Triple Crown, and Riley Tucker coming in second and third, respectively. Racecar Rhapsody was fourth, but the $16,250 he earned won’t get him near the starting gate on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs for the $2-million Kentucky Derby.

Tomcito and Atoned came up empty of race earnings by finishing sixth and eighth, respectively, in the Lexington. Sandwiched between those two was the well-regarded Salute the Sarge, who had plenty of money to make the Derby starting gate, but needed a solid performance to show his connections he was Derby-worthy. Seventh in the field of 11 did not register very high on the hope meter.

While the news was good for Behindatthebar, it doesn’t appear the connections of the Lexington winner will try the big Derby field, opting instead to start in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course May 17. Behindatthebar seems to be attuned to synthetic surfaces—what with his three wins and a second over those ovals, and an off-the-board finish in his only try on the dirt. That fact has not been lost on trainer Todd Pletcher, who indicated trying the Churchill Downs conventional surface in two weeks might not be prudent.

In another Triple Crown trail but not graded race, Icabad Crane probably put himself in line for a run in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico with his victory in Pimlico’s Federico Tesio Stakes April 19. The win was his first in a stakes event in only his fourth career start. Prior to the Tesio, the son of Jump Start was third in Turfway Park’s Rushaway Stakes.

Following the weekend’s actions, here is the rundown of the top 20 horses—all Triple Crown nominees—with enough graded stakes earnings to get them into the field: Pyro, Proud Spell (filly), Tale of Ekati, Colonel John, Gayego, Big Brown, Z Humor, Monba, Court Vision, Z Fortune, Adriano, Recapturetheglory, Smooth Air, Cool Coal Man, Anak Nakal, Eight Belles (filly), Cowboy Cal, Visionaire, Big Truck, and Bob Black Jack.

Sitting in the wings and needing defections to make the field are Denis of Cork, Halo Najib, Tomcito, and El Gato Malo.

The two fillies, both trained by Larry Jones, were late nominees to the Triple Crown and appear to be prime prospects now to be entered April 30. Jones had an eventful run through the Triple Crown races with Hard Spun last year, finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Preakness Stakes, and fourth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).

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