Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Ernie, Smarty, Nicky, and Jerry
by Steve Haskin
Date Posted: 4/25/2004 8:37:35 AM
Last Updated: 7/19/2004 10:59:44 AM

Haskin: "...blistering five-furlong works by Smarty Jones (pictured) and Birdstone dominated the morning activities Saturday."
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Although the blistering five-furlong works by Smarty Jones and Birdstone dominated the morning activities Saturday, it was the well-conceived plan by Song of the Sword's owner Ernie Paragallo that set several major events in motion.

Paragallo knew that his colt was in the precarious No. 20 position in graded earnings, and could be knocked out of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) field at any time. With the outside possibility of the filly Ashado coming in, Paragallo felt he needed to be at No. 19 to be sure Rock Hard Ten would not be able to bump him. Rock Hard Ten was the overwhelming favorite in today's Derby Trial Stakes (gr. III), and Paragallo couldn't take the chance of the colt winning big (which would give him more graded earnings than Song of the Sword) and being wheeled back in the Derby.

So, when a Daily Racing Form reporter called Paragallo on Friday asking about Song of the Sword, who was lurking nearby at Keeneland following his troubled third-place finish in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II), Paragallo said he didn't think he was going to run. He said the colt's chances of running were less than 30%, and he likely would be vanning to Delaware with several other Paragallo horses. With that seed planted, and Paragallo not ordering any Derby tickets, it gave the connections of Rock Hard Ten a major incentive to scratch out of the Derby Trial and take their chances that they'd get in the Derby.

On Saturday morning, with Sinister G officially withdrawn from the Derby and rumors spreading through the backstretch that Song of the Sword was all but out of the race, the decision was made to scratch Rock Hard Ten from the Derby Trial.

"I couldn't take the chance he'd win and come back in the Derby and leap frog past me in earnings," Paragallo said. "I said that (to the DRF) to get them to scratch (Rock Hard Ten) and keep him behind me in earnings. It worked this week. Let's just hope it works next week.

"Not only have I always intended to run in the Derby, I expect to win. I know I've said this before with Unbridled's Song, but I'm more confident with this horse than I was with Unbridled's Song. This horse has so much talent, and everyone who's been on him has raved about him. And he's just now beginning to put it all together.

Paragallo didn't even tell trainer Jennifer Pedersen about his plan. All she knew was that she was still training Song of the Sword with the Derby in mind, even though she had read in the Racing Form he was unlikely to run.

"Jen got mad at me, and said, 'Why didn't you tell me?" Paragallo said.

According to Paragallo, Song of the Sword will ship to Churchill Downs as soon as he can get a van, which may be Sunday or Monday at the latest.

Even though Paragallo said he couldn't risk it, there was nothing for him to fear from a victory by Rock Hard Ten, according to trainer Jason Orman. "We weren't going to come back in the Derby even if he had won," he said. "It would have been asking too much of the horse."

As for today's works, let's just say that Smarty Jones' five-furlong work in :58 flat is definitely one of the greatest Derby works I've ever seen, if not the greatest, and that has nothing to do with the time, as Birdstone worked right behind him in :58 2/5. This colt is so smooth, and glides over the ground so effortlessly, he was rattling off :11 and change eighths like it was nothing. Jockey Willie Martinez, working Smarty Jones, never moved his hands, and it's scary to think how fast he could have gone with even the slightest urging. As it is, he still went his final eighth in :11 1/5, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:11 1/5.

At one point, it looked for a second like Smarty might be in trouble, as he ran up behind another worker. Martinez shouted at the rider of the other horse and she moved off the rail. Smarty got a bit competitive and Martinez had to pull back on the reins. Once he cruised by the other horse, he relaxed the reins and never moved a hair after that, as Smarty coasted to the wire and galloped out like a tiger while hugging the rail beautifully. This was as close to a perfect work as you can get. Back at the barn, Smarty, an easy-going horse by nature, had his engines shout down completely and walked around the shed like an old cow, as if he knew his work was done.

Birdstone worked in company, picking up his workmate around the turn, and blowing by him shortly after straightening in the stretch. Exercise rider Maxine Correa, kept her wrists going down the stretch, as the son of Grindstone pinned his ears back and continued strong to the seven-eighths pole. This little colt has been training very impressively, whether working or galloping, and trainer Nick Zito has to be confident he's done all he could to get him to the race in the best shape possible off a six-week layoff.

Zito, who also sent out The Cliff's Edge for another strong gallop this morning, benefited from Rock Hard Ten's scratch, as he was scheduled to saddle Sir Shackleton in the Derby Trial.

Now, back to the series of mini dramas that unfolded this morning. With the defection of Sinister G and the "imminent" defection of Song of the Sword to follow, it appeared as if Eddington was pretty much a lock to get in, which was bad news for Bob Baffert, who was now faced with prospect of finding a last-minute replacement for Jerry Bailey.

Bailey's agent Ron Anderson had explained the situation to Baffert at a time when it seemed highly unlikely Eddington would get in. Now, here he was only a heartbeat away from getting back on Eddington. But he still couldn't officially take off the Baffert-trained Wimbledon until he was positive Eddington was assured of a starting berth. As it turned out, he now is not assured of it, and still needs another horse to come out, while Rock Hard Ten now needs two defections.

At Santa Anita, St Averil, the most tenuous of the top 20 horses, worked six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 Saturday, and a decision will be made whether to come after the colt is scoped and checked out. Castledale, winner of the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I), also worked six furlongs in 1:11 4/5, and will be on the Monday flight from Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Eddington's trainer, Mark Henning, can do nothing but work his horse Sunday and wait for something to develop. "I'm not going to worry about it," Hennig said. "We'll either have a fresh horse for the Preakness or we'll be in Kentucky on Wednesday. The entries for the Derby are at 10:30, and the flight is after that, so we'll be able to train and then see what happens."

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