NBC Sports will kick off coverage of the 2005 Visa Triple Crown season Saturday with a two-hour telecast of "NTRA Road to the Kentucky Derby." The broadcast begins 4 p.m. ET and will feature live coverage of the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) from Santa Anita Park; Wood Memorial (gr. I) from Aqueduct; and the Illinois Derby (gr. II) from Hawthorne Race Course.
All three races are contested at 1 1/8-miles and will likely be the final tune-up events for those who will go on to the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) May 7 (NBC, 5-6:30 p.m. ET). Also on tap live from Aqueduct will be the Carter Handicap (gr. I), a seven-furlong sprint for older horses.
The broadcast will feature NBC's Triple Crown broadcast lineup, including host Tom Hammond, analysts Mike Battaglia and Bob Neumeier, commentator Charlsie Cantey, and reporters Donna Barton Brothers and Kenny Rice.
"There are some talented horses--Survivalist, Don't Get Mad and Going Wild, among others--that need to do really well this weekend, otherwise they're out the door for the Derby," said Neumeier. "You better run first or second, or you're going to be on the outside looking in."
The big question to be answered in the Santa Anita Derby, the West Coast's premier Derby prep, is how well can 2004 2-year-old filly champ Sweet Catomine do in her first race against the boys? The winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies is coming off an easy win in the Santa Anita Oaks. A strong race on Saturday should propel her into next month's Kentucky Derby, where she will try to become only the fourth filly, and the first since Winning Colors in 1988, to take home America's most famous race.
A large field awaits Sweet Catomine, including the 2004 Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) champ Wilko, who will be reunited with jockey Frankie Dettori, who led him to victory at Lone Star Park last October. In his first start as a 3-year-old, Wilko was fourth in the San Felipe Stakes (gr II). Jeff Mullins tries to become the first trainer to win this race three straight times when he sends Buzzards Bay to the post. Buzzards Bay was third in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) last month.
Also expected are the Ron Ellis-trained Don't Get Mad, third in the San Felipe; Giacomo, second in the San Felipe; General John B., winner of the Turf Paradise Derby; Wannawinemall, second in the El Camino Real; Go Coyote Joe, A.P. Arrow, Customer, and Allright.
The top four finishers in last month's Gotham Stakes (gr. III), led by winner Survivalist, a Shug McGaughey trainee, return in the Wood Memorial. Also back from the Gotham are Pavo, Naughty New Yorker and Galloping Grocer. But the most dangerous challengers to Survivalist may be the Nick Zito-trained Bellamy Road, and the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Going Wild.
Zito, who could have as many as five Kentucky Derby starters, finds out if the George Steinbrenner-owned Bellamy Road, who won an allowance race at Gulfstream Park by 15 lengths last month, will indeed be headed to Churchill Downs. Going Wild, who won the San Miguel and Sham Stakes at Santa Anita before finishing second to 2004 2-year-old champ Declan's Moon in the Santa Catalina (gr. II), could very well have a trip to Louisville already booked. Scrappy T, who won the Count Fleet Stakes, is also slated for the Wood. A field of nine has been entered for the Illinois Derby, led by Greeley's Galaxy, a Southern California-based horse to be ridden by Kent Desormeaux, and the Ken McPeek-trained Kansas City Boy. Todd Pletcher-trained Monarch Lane, Daddy Joe, Magna Graduate, Medigating, Rikman, Unbridled Energy, and Win Me Over complete the field. The Bobby Frankel-trained Badge of Silver, coming off a win in the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II), should be the favorite in the Carter. His main competition will be Don Six, who has won the Gravesend (gr. III) and Paumonok at Aqueduct; the Pletcher-trained Forest Danger; and the Allen Jerkens-trained Medallist, who won the Deputy Minister Handicap (gr. III) at Gulfstream. Other expected starters include the Lukas-trained Grand Reward, Silver Wagon, and Unforgettable Max.