There should have been a celebration at trainer David Carroll’s barn at Churchill Downs Monday morning, but instead it was more like a funeral. Even though Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren’s Denis of Court turned in a sparkling half-mile work in :48 that pleased both Carroll and jockey Calvin Borel, who was aboard, the mood was downbeat.
Denis of Cork needs a defection from the list of hopefuls for the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum Brands (gr. I) to get a top-20 ranking in graded stakes earnings that would make him eligible for the classic’s field. Entries will be taken Wednesday, and the colt's $165,000 total isn’t good enough.
Time is running out rapidly for the 3-year-old son of Harlan’s Holiday, who was faster Monday than Derby candidates Visionaire (:48.40), Bob Black Jack (:48.60), Pyro (:49.80), and Z Fortune (:51). The morning’s fastest among the 44 horses that breezed a half-mile was Iron Butterfly, with a clocking of :46.60.
“He worked so good that it’s a crime,” said Carroll of Denis of Cork. “It’s very frustrating now just having seen him train the way he has the last couple of weeks – his work last week (five furlongs in 1:00), his work today. It’s the way he’s covering the ground, the way he’s training on a daily basis. I like the way he moves, the way he comes around the turn, the way he quickens up. He’s been wanting to do it. It’s not like Calvin has to ask him to do it. When he comes around and switches leads, he does that by himself.”
Carroll already is thinking about alternatives to the Derby for Denis of Cork’s racing schedule.
“It’s not meant to be, so we’ll just have to move forward,” the trainer said. “While I’m not certain (Denis of Cork won’t make the Derby field), I certainly wouldn’t wish ill on anybody or any horse. Every horse that is in the race right now has earned the right to be in there. We haven’t.”
If Denis of Cork is on the sidelines Saturday, Carroll would point the Southwest Stakes (gr. III) winner for the 1 1/16-mile Preakness Stakes (gr. I) or the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II).
“The Peter Pan might be a better fit for us,” Carroll said. “We would just take a step backward (in distance from the 1 ¼-mile Derby). If he would run well in the Peter Pan, then he would maybe come back in the Belmont (gr. I). I’ll talk it over with Mr. Warren, but right now the horse is doing unbelievably well; that’s the main thing. Obviously, this is disappointing, but at the end of the day, we’ll move forward, and hopefully, in time we’ll look back and it will be a great year.”
But in his heart, Carroll believes Denis of Cork belongs in the Derby.
“He could fit in well with these horses,” Carroll said. “He’s a horse that I feel like that, as the distances increase, he’ll come into his own. The distance wouldn’t be a problem with him. He’s a very talented colt, and for him not to have an opportunity to run the first Saturday in May, it’s disappointing for everybody.”
Borel, who rode Street Sense to victory a year ago, likely will find himself without a Derby mount.
“The Derby comes only once a year,” Borel said. “The way the colt is doing right now, it’s a shame; it’s kind of depressing, the way he worked this morning. He was unbelievable. He was just like I wanted him to be, and he finished up good. The colt’s peaking right now, that’s what’s so sad about it. He kind of got off track a little bit (finishing fifth in the Illinois Derby, grade II), but now he’s freshened up and he’s peaking. He could be a big contender in this Derby, looking at the horses in it. There no Curlin or Street Sense in this race.”
While Borel would be disappointed to not participate in this year’s Run for the Roses, “I wouldn’t want to ride any other horse but him in the race right now with the work the way he worked this morning,” the jockey said. “I like the way he’s finishing up; he relaxes. Looking at all the other horses, there’s a lot of speed in the race, and I think he would overcome them so quick it would be unbelievable.”