Strong Contender, now being aimed at Blue Grass Stakes.

Strong Contender, now being aimed at Blue Grass Stakes.

Equi-Photo/Bill Denver

Bejarano to Ride First Samurai; Strong Contender to Blue Grass

Rafael Bejarano, who rides Flashy Bull in Saturday's Florida Derby (gr. I), has been named as the new rider for First Samurai, replacing Edgar Prado. First Samurai is scheduled to make his next start in the April 15 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I).

In other developments concerning Prado, trainer John T. Ward Jr. informed agent Bob Frieze that Strong Contender, who was originally scheduled to run in the April 8 Wood Memorial (gr. I), will now point for the Blue Grass.

Prado, who will be aboard Barbaro in the Florida Derby, will ride Keyed Entry in the Wood Memorial and Strong Contender in the Blue Grass.

Frieze said he was unaware of the jockey change. "I spoke to Frankie (Brothers) and he said Bruce (co-owner Lunsford) might want a two-race commitment (Blue Grass and Kentucky Derby). We decided we'd talk about it when we got to Kentucky. That's the last I heard."

Prado took over the mount on First Samurai in the Feb. 4 Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) following the retirement of the colt's regular rider, Jerry Bailey. Following a second in the Hutcheson, First Samurai was awarded first on a disqualification in the March 4 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II).

The jockey switch gives Bejarano two major Derby contenders.

"Rafael is an outstanding rider and has enjoyed much success in Kentucky and around the country," Brothers said. "We're happy to have him."

Ward said he and Strong Contender's owner, John Oxley, discussed the colt's immediate future and decided the Blue Grass was the best way to go.

"Edgar worked Strong Contender at Gulfstream yesterday and he went extremely well," Ward said. "Mr. Oxley and I had a pow wow afterward and we thought the Blue Grass was the right set-up for three weeks going into the Derby. He's missed the opportunity to run, and we just felt that would set him up better to run in the Derby. If he can't beat the horses in the Blue Grass, then maybe we don't need to run in the Derby.

"I wasn't worried about my jockey situation. Edgar's worked Strong Contender the last four times and he's got a special appreciation for him. I'm happy with what we're doing, and if things don't work out, then we're going to do what's best for the horse."