The 2002 Experimental Free Handicap has been more an experiment in futility, as none of the Top 10 weighted horses even made it to the Kentucky Derby. But several of the heavy hitters are back in training, with the No. 9 ranked Zavata leading the comeback assault on Thursday.
The son of Phone Trick, who finished fifth and last in his only 2002 start in the slop at Belmont on May 24, returns at Monmouth Park in a 6-furlong optional claiming allowance race. It is hoped that will unleash the flood gates, and the cream of last year's crop will get a chance to rise back to the top.
Right behind Zavata are co-third-ranked Sky Mesa, who is pointing for a July 6 return in the 1 1/16-mile Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park; second-ranked Toccet, who is scheduled to return to the work tab around the first of July at Colonial Downs, and is being pointed for the Pennsylvania Derby at Philly Park on Labor Day; and top-ranked Vindication, the undefeated 2-year-old champ who is back galloping at Padua owner Satish Sanan's farm in Ocala, and could be ready to return by late summer or early fall. Farther down the list is the No. 15-ranked Soto, winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, who has rattled off four works in the month of June at trainer Michael Dickinson's Tapeta Farm in Maryland. The undefeated son of Dehere is already up to six furlongs and may make his return in the West Virginia Derby on Aug. 9.
But after the aforementioned horses, we have several talented 3-year-olds ranked in the Top 15 – Kafwain, Bull Market, Added Edge, and Pretty Wild -- who are sidelined by injury. Bull Market has "something funky in his shoulder and has been turned out for 60 days," said trainer Bob Baffert. Kafwain, who suffered a strained ligament several days before Kentucky Derby, is at The Thoroughbred Corp's farm in California. Several offers to buy the colt as a stallion prospect have been turned down.
Listen Indy, ranked ninth along with Zavata off his runner-up performance in the Norfolk Stakes, is back in training at San Luis Rey Downs after battling shin problems. The son of A.P. Indy is just starting to breeze and should be ready to run at Del Mar, according to trainer Dick Mandella.
One of those who has been in training all year is Hold That Tiger, the Irish-trained colt who ran a super race to finish third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The son of Storm Cat surprisingly was kept in Ireland to point for the English Derby instead of returning to America, where he had proven his ability on dirt against the best 2-year-olds in the country. The result was a 17th-place finish at Epsom and a fourth-place finish in the St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Also on the comeback trail is Whywhywhy (ranked fifth with Hold That Tiger). The Futurity and Sanford winner has recovered from a severe bout with colic, which sent him to the hospital for several days, and should be ready to return at Saratoga. His stablemate, Zavata, winner of the Saratoga Special and Tremont, will be kept at six furlongs by trainer Patrick Biancone, who will point the colt for Calder's Summit of Speed on July 12 if he runs big on Thursday. Biancone also reported that Blue Grass runner-up Brancusi, who suffered a severe quarter crack in the Kentucky Derby, "lost part of his hoof," but it has grown back fine, and he is back in training.
Sadly, of the 15 top-ranked 2-year-olds on the Experimental Handicap, only two made it to the Kentucky Derby, and they were the No. 12 and 14 ranked horses, Domestic Dispute and Lone Star Sky, who went off at 44-1 and 52-1, respectively, in the Derby, finishing 10th and 15th, respectively.