derby watch

Derby Watch: Connections keep one eye trained on earnings

Graded money will be key for some

Herald-Leader Racing WriterMarch 29, 2010 

  • Derby Dozen

  • 1. Lookin At Lucky: Worked 6 furlongs in 1:12 at Santa Anita Park on Sunday. Trainer Bob Baffert said he was "90 percent certain" the son of Smart Strike would have his final Kentucky Derby prep in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on April 3 rather than the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on April 10. "I liked what I saw," Baffert said.

    2. Eskendereya: In his final serious move prior to the Grade I Wood Memorial on April 3, he covered 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 at Palm Meadows on Saturday.

    3. Noble's Promise: Son of Cuvee covered 5 furlongs in 1:02.80 at Oaklawn on Friday, coming home "like a monster" according to Walter Blum Jr., assistant to trainer Ken McPeek. "Noble can run on grass, Poly or dirt," Blum said. "He could probably run over broken glass."

    4. Ice Box: From a pedigree standpoint, the Derby distance — and beyond — should be of little issue to this colt. In addition to drawing stamina from his grandsire, A.P. Indy, his dam Spice Island was a Grade II winner over 11/2 miles, capturing the 2003 Long Island Handicap on the turf.

    5. Rule: Earlier last week, WinStar Farm's Bill Casner said the son of Roman Ruler "still has to be considered our best horse right now" despite his third-place finish in the Grade I Florida Derby. "It was the first time he'd ever really been pushed that hard and perhaps that's the effort he needed to take him forward," he said.

    6. Odysseus: Had his first move since winning the Grade III Tampa Bay Derby, covering 5 furlongs in an easy 1:03 this past Thursday at Palm Meadows. A decision on whether he'll head to the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 10 or the Arkansas Derby the same day will likely come after he works this week.

    7. Super Saver: Posted a bullet work at Palm Meadows on Sunday, going 5 furlongs in 1:01.40. Will head to either the Arkansas Derby or the Wood Memorial for his final prep.

    8. Sidney's Candy: Had his final pre-Santa Anita Derby work on Sunday, going 7 furlongs in 1.26:20 at Santa Anita. While the son of Candy Ride has earned his two graded stakes wins in gate-to-wire fashion, trainer John Sadler maintains the colt doesn't have to set the pace to be effective. "He doesn't have to be in front, but he does have kind of a free-running style."

    9. Endorsement: He let Conveyance get away with a half-mile in :48.04 in the Sunland Derby and still had no trouble running the graded stakes winner down in the lane. He has ample stamina in his pedigree, being by Distorted Humor and out of an A.P. Indy mare.

    10. Awesome Act: Trainer Jeremy Noseda journeyed from England last week to supervise Awesome Act's work on Thursday, a 6-furlong drill in 1:14.05 over the Belmont Park training track in advance of his expected start in the Wood Memorial. "The work was there to help put us back on schedule and he went as we wanted," Noseda said. "He had a good blow, which will do his wind good."

    11. Mission Impazible: The contenders just keep coming for trainer Todd Pletcher, who has at least six legit potential Derby starters as of now.

    12. Pleasant Prince: Ken and Sarah Ramsey's colt is one of several "bubble" horses with $162,500 in graded stakes earnings.

    The next dozen

    Schoolyard Dreams, Interactif, Discreetly Mine, Caracortado, Dublin, Jackson Bend, Drosselmeyer, Dean's Kitten, Alphie's Bet, Aikenite, Conveyance, A Little Warm

Trainers are used to monitoring every step taken and every breath drawn by their would-be Kentucky Derby hopefuls this time of year.

But as Derby Day draws closer, some trainers fortunate enough to have talented 3-year-olds on their hands now find they have more than just their horses' well-being to keep an eye on.

If there is one statistic that draws the attention of nearly everyone connected to a potential Derby horse, it's the graded stakes earnings list.

With the Kentucky Derby limited to 20 starters, the horses with the most graded money are given preference should more than 20 horses be entered in the race.

Considering there are only a handful of meaningful prep races left that offer substantial purses, this is the time of the year when attention usually turns to the solid horses in danger of being left out.

Drosselmeyer is a classic example. The son of Distorted Humor finished a good third in the $750,000 Louisiana Derby on Saturday, but only has about $94,500 in graded earnings — barely enough to crack the top 30.

"I had tons of trouble," said Drosselmeyer jockey Kent Desormeaux after the race. "If I get through I win by three and I'm the favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Now I won't even get to ride him."

It is easy to say had Drosselmeyer simply been good enough to win one of his stakes starts this year, he wouldn't have this problem to begin with — but capturing a major prep doesn't mean one isn't still vulnerable to the graded earnings issue.

Though he is considered to be among the top 3-year-olds in training, Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Eskendereya is on the cusp of the 20-horse cut with $150,000 in graded earnings. Thus, should the son of Giant's Causeway encounter some sort of trouble in the Grade I Wood Memorial on Saturday (remember I Want Revenge's start last year?) and fail to hit the board, one of the most highly regarded horses this season may need others to drop out in order to secure a spot in the Derby field.

Ironically, a horse who just made the graded earnings cut last season is having a direct impact on this year's chase.

Mine That Bird — who only had $138,705 in graded earnings heading into the Derby — ran fourth in the $800,000 Sunland Derby last year prior to taking the roses.

That effort played a key role in the Sunland Derby being graded for the first time this year. On Sunday, the newly minted Grade III test produced a fresh contender when Endorsement took home the $400,000 first-place prize, giving the horse who was previously a maiden winner a guaranteed Derby spot.

"Hope springs eternal in this game," WinStar Farm co-owner Bill Casner said after the race. "We're absolutely moving on with him now to Kentucky."

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