Derby Watch: Blue Grass champ Dance With Fate answers call to Churchill

Herald-Leader Racing WriterApril 18, 2014 

  • Derby points leaders

    Top 20

    California Chrome 150

    Vicar's in Trouble 120

    Dance With Fate 108

    Wicked Strong 102

    Samraat 100

    Danza 100

    Hoppertunity 95

    Intense Holiday 93

    Wildcat Red 90

    We Miss Artie 60

    Ride on Curlin 55

    Chitu 54

    Tapiture 52

    Midnight Hawk 52

    Ring Weekend 50

    General a Rod 40

    Medal Count 40

    Candy Boy 30

    Cairo Prince 24

    Uncle Sigh 24

    Others

    Vinceremos 20

    Harry's Holiday 20

    Commanding Curve 20

    Pablo Del Monte 20

    Bayern 20

    Social Inclusion 20

    Big Bazinga 14

    Coastline 13

    Strong Mandate 11

    In Trouble 10

    Noble Moon 10

    Cleburne 10

    Commissioner 10

    Schiverelli 10

    Conquest Titan 9

    Casiguapo 5

    Asserting Bear 5

If you can't beat it, join it.

The "it" in this instance is the old, hard-to-shake infection known as Kentucky Derby fever.

While some of the best-intentioned horsemen in the game have claimed immunity to the affliction, fighting it off when the temperature reaches its peak is nearly as tough as winning the Run for the Roses itself.

After initially expressing a desire to bypass the Kentucky Derby with Grade I Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner Dance With Fate, his connections gave into the lure of potentially making history by announcing Friday their plans to point the colt toward the first leg of the Triple Crown.

As is always the case, the complexion of the Kentucky Derby field is still shifting two weeks out from the classic. While the race lost one of its expected favorites this week with news that Grade I Florida Derby winner Constitution suffered a hairline fracture in his front right cannon bone, it solidified a contender in Dance With Fate.

Immediately after Dance With Fate's Blue Grass win, trainer Peter Eurton said he was leaning against a Derby start, citing the three-week turnaround and the fact he thinks the colt is better on turf and synthetic surfaces than dirt.

After evaluating the way Dance With Fate bounced out of the race upon returning to California, Eurton said he and the owners were swayed to take a swing in the once-in-a-lifetime start.

"I wanted to enjoy the Blue Grass win and to me it was just the ultimate," Eurton said Friday. "Maybe I got caught off guard a little too quick but I wanted to see how he came back, and he came back so well I thought Churchill could be a possibility. The main thing I was concerned about was the three weeks.

"If he does as well two weeks from now as he is now, I'll be one happy camper. As long as he continues to do well, he's going to run."

Eurton added that Dance With Fate would probably ship to Churchill on Monday or Tuesday of Kentucky Derby Week. Jockey Corey Nakatani, who was aboard for the Blue Grass victory, will keep the mount.

The Derby Dozen

1. California Chrome: He is an absolute picture to look at physically and you simply can't find a hole in his form since the calendar hit 2014. In a season filled with not some not so great headlines in racing, this Lucky Pulpit colt and his affable trainer Art Sherman are ideal poster boys for the sport. How he takes to the Churchill Downs track will be the thing to watch, but he's not scheduled to ship to Louisville until April 28 so he'll just school and gallop over the Churchill strip.

2. Samraat: There are questions about whether he will handle the 10-furlong distance but there is no doubting his mettle. What has been a sticking point is getting the colt to switch leads, which is what trainer Rick Violette worked on when he sent him out for a half-mile work in :49.12 at Belmont Park on Friday. "It was perfect," Violette said of the move. "He stretched his legs, changed leads and pulled up good. I don't think he can win the Derby without changing leads. When he did change leads really late in the Wood, he went and got second. It's a big thing."

3. Hoppertunity: He wasn't going to beat California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby but that wasn't the point for him that day. Experience and foundation was, so mission accomplished. You get the sense Hoppertunity is only starting to wrap his head around the game. Don't know if he'll figure it out in time to put his name alongside Apollo as Kentucky Derby winners who didn't race at age 2 but he has raw ability in spades.

4. Wicked Strong: Trainer Jimmy Jerkens is a class "A" horseman, and on the list of people who deserve to have a leading Kentucky Derby contender, he is near the top. In his first work since winning the Grade I Wood Memorial, Wicked Strong breezed a half-mile in :49.62 over the Belmont Park training track Thursday, a move that left Jerkens thrilled. "He's a little bit on the light side, but I don't see him any lighter after running that hard and that tough a race," Jerkens said. "I didn't think he lost a pound and I'm really happy about that."

5. Wildcat Red: Again, don't think he will get the pace needed to stay up front for 11/4 miles, but he most likely is the one they have to go through at the quarter pole.

6. Ride On Curlin: He will have perhaps the best intangible a Derby horse can in recent times: three-time Derby winner Calvin Borel in his saddle for the first leg of the Triple Crown. Borel was on Ride On Curlin when the bay colt broke his maiden by 73/4 lengths at Ellis Park last July, an effort that had some pegging him back then as a Derby horse. Has gone from being a well-beaten third in the Southwest Stakes to edged out just a length in the Rebel to being ahead of all his regular Oaklawn rivals while running second in the Arkansas Derby.

7. General a Rod: Worked 5 furlongs in :59.80 at Churchill Downs' Trackside training center on Thursday. He is probably going to be further off the pace in the Derby than he has been in his recent starts. Recall though that he did come from well back when he broke his maiden at Keeneland last October.

8. Cairo Prince: Worked 4 furlongs in :48.60 at Palm Meadows last Sunday in preparation for his now-assured spot — soundness willing — in the Kentucky Derby. "Maybe it was the layoff. I'll take the responsibility that maybe he needed to run," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said of the colt's fourth-place finish in the Grade I Florida Derby. "He got caught wide. Wicked Strong went to New York after the same thing and won the Wood. But it doesn't really matter now."

9. Danza: Even trainer Todd Pletcher can't recall the last time, if ever, he had a horse in a Derby prep race go off at the 41-1 odds Danza did in the Grade I Arkansas Derby. Danza seemingly came from nowhere, but hindsight shows a different story. Danza was third in the Grade II Saratoga Special last August and has bloodlines that suggest he would improve going two turns — which is exactly what he was trying for the first time in the Arkansas Derby.

10. Intense Holiday: Had his first work since his runner-up effort in the Louisiana Derby, breezing 4 furlongs in :48.90 at Palm Meadows last Sunday in company with stablemate and Grade I winner We Miss Artie. "I thought both horses worked well," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "They galloped out strongly. They looked good."

11. Vicar's in Trouble: He is probably the best Kentucky Derby prospect ever to carry the Ramsey Farm colors and even his most disappointing outing — third in the Risen Star Stakes — was nothing to be embarrassed about. Tough colt, but the odds of him having a favorable pace scenario on the front end in the Kentucky Derby are not good.

12. Candy Boy: Not sure what to make of him after his dull third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby. Believe he needed the race off his win in the Robert B. Lewis, but he was not moving forward in the lane the way a horse who is supposed to peak on Derby Day should be.

THE NEXT EIGHT

(Since the Derby is a 20-horse field)

Dance With Fate, Medal Count, Ring Weekend, We Miss Artie, Uncle Sigh, Tapiture, Midnight Hawk, Chitu.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.

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