Crowned Dancer, among the leaders of Southern California's Triple Crown hopefuls last year, will attempt to show he belongs with the best of this year's 3-year-old crop in Saturday's $500,000 Lone Star Derby (gr. III).Winner of the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (gr. III) last summer, Crowned Dancer had the Kentucky Derby in his sights. But an injury at Del Mar sidelined him for six months and the colt has played catch up all spring. The 1 1/8-mile Lone Star Derby will be headlined by Dynever, impressive winner of the $250,000 Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream. His trainer, Christophe Clement, hopes to use the Lone Star Derby as a springboard to the third jewel of racing's Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). "I think Dynever will have to step up here," said Chris Paasch, trainer of Crowned Dancer. "I'm not knocking the horse, but there are some other very good, very fast horses with more experience." Paasch's entrant is one who has certainly paid his dues. His first race was a year ago Thursday in a 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Santa Anita. A few weeks later he got his first stakes win, breaking his maiden at Hollywood Park in the $75,000 Willard L. Proctor Memorial Stakes at five furlongs on May 26, well before most of his Lone Star Derby foes ever saw a starting gate. By late summer, Crowned Dancer was among the elite 2-year-olds on the West Coast. He won the Hollywood Juvenile in July by two lengths over the likes of Kafwain, Outta Here and Chief Planner. But just as the road to the Breeders' Cup and the Triple Crown was starting to heat up, Crowned Dancer was out of the picture. An accident in his stall at Del Mar left Crowned Dancer inactive for the rest of the year. "His right-front kind of blew up in August after he won the Hollywood Juvenile," Paasch said. "There was a filly stabled behind him and I think he was trying to dig to her." Crowned Dancer finally made it back to the races in March, but not the way Paasch would have liked. After seven months without a start, the Tactical Advantage colt made his 3-year-old debut in his toughest race to that point, the Grade II San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita. "At the beginning of the year, we kept entering him in allowance races all over California and couldn't get any of them to go," Paasch said. "I really think we entered him nine times but just couldn't get a race to go. Finally, he was ready to race so we put him in the [March 7] San Rafael. That was a tough spot for a 2-year-old turning three. I got beat up pretty bad in the press for picking such a tough spot, but what else could we do? He ran a good race. Alex [Solis] had him perfectly-placed, he just tired at the end." Crowned Dancer finished third in that one-mile race behind a pair of Bob Baffert trainees, Rojo Toro and Spensive. There was time for one last start before the Kentucky Derby, the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland, but Paasch said Crowned Dancer never got a chance to run his race. "He got annihilated going into the first turn," he said. "If you watch the head-on (replay), you can see him get slammed and I think that was his whole race. I claimed foul, (jockey Kent) Desormeaux claimed foul and two other jocks claimed foul, but the stewards didn't think it was sufficient to change the outcome. Somebody took a picture that was on the front of the Lexington newspaper the next day of that horse (Brancusi) coming over and bothering everyone. (Crowned Dancer) had some bumps and bruises, and a cut on his leg." Paasch is hoping that Saturday's race will finally be Crowned Dancer's time to show how good he is. "I'm really expecting an excellent performance," Paasch said. "He's been doing really well. Hopefully, we'll get to leave the gate without any problems. We just want a good, clean trip and if we get beat by a better horse then that's fine. He hasn't had a chance to prove himself in a big race yet. I'm expecting a big one out of him." Crowned Dancer has been preparing at the Victory Haven Training Center, formerly 505 Farms, in Lexington, Ky. His last workout was on April 3 when he went seven furlongs in 1:26 4/5. The colt galloped on Tuesday and arrived at Lone Star Park on Wednesday. Following four starts with Solis and one with Desormeaux, a new rider, E.J. Perrodin, takes over this time. "E.J.'s a good guy and I feel very comfortable with him on my horse," Paasch said. "I talked to Alex about coming, but once I found out E.J. was available I thought I'd use the local guy." Here's the list of probables for the Lone Star Derby, in alphabetical order (with trainer): Commander's Affair (Bret Calhoun); Crowned Dancer (Christopher Paasch); Crowned King (Billy McKeever Jr.); Defrere's Vixen (Steve Asmussen); Desert Spirit (Bob Hess Jr.); Dynever (Christophe Clement); Gentlemen J J (Andy Leggio Jr.); G.W.'s Skippie (Leggio); Grendel (Al Stall Jr.); Leo's Last Hurrahy (Bob Young); Mauk Four (Jerry Cart); Most Feared (Ronny Werner); Mr. Technique (Jeff Bonde); and On The Border (Asmussen). Midway Road and Giant Bellyache are no longer under consideration for the Lone Star Derby.
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