(Edited Churchill Downs report)
Trainer Michael Matz was enthused with a strong gallop by Centennial Farm’s Chelokee on Friday at Keeneland, but said a bid for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) had been ruled out for the third-place finisher in the Florida Derby (gr. I).
Matz, who saddled Lael Stable’s Barbaro to win last year’s Derby, said the son of Cherokee Runwould work over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface on Saturday or Sunday, then he will board a van on Sunday for trip home to Maryland’s Fair Hill training center. Chelokee had been in danger of failing to qualify for the anticipated 20-horse Kentucky Derby field because of insufficient earnings in graded stakes races, but Matz was also concerned about some minor setbacks that had affected Chelokee’s training in recent days.
“I think we’ve basically kind of giving up running in the Derby,” said Matz. “As much as I’d like to go, I don’t think he’s going to be the way I came into the Derby [with Barbaro] last year.”
Matz said he would feel more comfortable about Chelokee with a little more time, so he and Centennial Farm have decided to head home and look at a possible bid for the May 19 Preakness (gr. I), the second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown.
“If it was two more weeks or three more weeks, I would say I could probably give it a shot,” said Matz. “He went awfully good today and I think I have everything solved, but I think I’m just kind of like a week away. A lot of those horses – Barclay’s horse (Barclay Tagg’s Nobiz Like Shobiz), Carl’s horse (Carl Nafzger’s Street Sense), and Curlin, they’re just doing so well right now. That’s the way you want to go into a race.”
The hitches in Chelokee’s schedule include the breaking of an abscess on the colt’s foot and an incident last week in which a rein broke during a gallop at Keeneland, which prevented assistant trainer Peter Brette from controlling the colt until Matz was able to catch the free running colt on his pony and pick him up.
"If he goes in there and he’s not absolutely the way we want him, we’re going to end up playing catch-up all summer. I’d love to be there more than anybody, but it just wasn’t in the stars this year," Matz said. "I think he’s an improving horse and each race he’s gotten better. There’s a lot of things [about the Derby] which I think would suit him, like the distance and I think his temperament is just unbelievable. But a couple of little things happened with his foot abscess and the rein breaking and missing the work because of changing the shoes on him. I have him right now, but I think I missed too many situations.”