The following is from Churchill Downs' barn notes for Monday:
He's the last chance for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas to participate in the 2001 Kentucky Derby, but his trainer says Turnberry Isle will have to earn his way into the starting gate on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. Michael Tabor and Mrs. John Magnier's Irish-bred son of Deputy Minister is scheduled to run in Saturday's $325,000 Coolmore Lexington (gr. II) at Keeneland and Lukas said Monday that a good performance by the colt in that 1 1/16-mile race could put him in the Kentucky Derby. If so, that would keep Lukas' record streak of Derby participation alive. The four-time Kentucky Derby winner has started at least one horse in every Derby since 1981.
"The race is not a perfect situation for him in that Keeneland is showing a lot of speed bias and it's a little bit short for him, anyhow," Lukas said. "So I don't think it's a real fair test -- and yet I think he has to do well in it for the Tabor-Magnier group to go on. It'll be their decision, it won't be mine."
Turnberry Isle, winner of the Group 3 Beresford Stakes last year at Ireland's The Curragh for Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien, has failed to win in two starts since he joined Lukas' stable after a sixth-place finish behind Macho Uno and Point Given in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (GI). He finished fifth behind Millennium Wind in the Santa Catalina (gr. II) and was 10th to Monarchos in the Florida Derby (GI).
The colt emerged from the Florida Derby with a quarter crack (a cracked hoof) that interrupted his training, but Lukas said that problem has been taken care of and Turnberry Isle has trained well in recent weeks at Churchill Downs. "He's got an affinity for this racetrack, evidently," he said. "He's really doing well. He's coming around and he's starting to acclimate. It took him all winter to get him where I wanted. I never felt like when I had him in Florida that I had him where I wanted him."
Even if Turnberry Isle turns in a good effort in the Lexington, Lukas has no illusions about what kind of an effort it will take to win on Derby Day. He said it is clear where the strength in this year's crop of 3-year-olds lies. "I think it's all in Baffert's barn," Lukas said. "It would be hard-pressed for him not to win the Derby. I think he's holding all the cards."
Baffert, of course, trains Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Point Given and Wood Memorial (gr. II) victor Congaree. Lukas has watched both horses train in California through the winter and likes what he has seen. "There are no givens -- no pun intended -- in the Kentucky Derby," he said. "But having said that, he's in great shape."
Lukas said his respect for the Baffert duo makes it even more imperative for Turnberry Isle to show in the Lexington that he merits a spot in the starting gate for the Kentucky Derby. "In order for me to even make a sales pitch at all for Turnberry Isle, I want to see that he's really doing well and that I am at least a factor," Lukas said. "Streak or no streak, I not interested in that. I don't want to go over there just to be in it, I really don't. If I'm competitive even just below those two that I like, that's a different thing. It's no disgrace to finish third or fourth in the Kentucky Derby."