After months of prep races and the sorting out that goes with them, the haze which has hovered over the Kentucky Derby picture is finally beginning to clear.
However, before the lineup can be crystallized, another dust-up is possible Saturday on the penultimate weekend of the Keeneland Spring Meet.
The 11 horses entered for the Grade III, $200,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes could through circumstance and some creative math produce a runner for the Kentucky Derby on May 5.
With $162,000 in graded earnings, the Bob Baffert-trained Castaway — who won a division of the Southwest Stakes — could earn enough money to crack the Derby's 20-horse limit should he capture the Lexington and take home the $120,000 first-place check. Among those who would need both the big check and some defections in order to have a chance at getting in are Illinois Derby runner-up Morgan's Guerrilla, who has $100,000 in graded purse money.
Though the Lexington is still technically in the Derby mix, the 11⁄16-mile race has become more of a spot where horsemen find out how some of their late bloomers might fit into the division down the line. Such is the case with News Pending, who ran second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes but was seventh in a pace-less Florida Derby that trainer Dale Romans is inclined to draw a line through.
"It's more of a Preakness Stakes prep now," Romans said of the Lexington. "This horse (News Pending) has come together late, it took him a while to get it together mentally in a race. He is a horse who gets better as he goes longer but until you get to the last round of preps, there really aren't any 11⁄8-mile races to run in."
With Toyota Blue Grass Stakes winner Dullahan already primed for the Kentucky Derby, Romans doesn't need to rely on the Lexington to get his classic fix. That isn't stopping Baffert from trying to add to his arsenal, which includes dazzling Arkansas Derby hero Bodemeister.
Though it has not been decided if Castaway would wheel back for the Kentucky Derby should he win Saturday, the son of Street Sense was in the discussion for May after winning his division of the 1-mile Southwest Stakes by 33/4 lengths at Oaklawn on Feb. 20.
Castaway was a distant seventh in the Grade III Sunland Derby on March 25 but that run came after the bay colt got caught in a brutal early pace with Ender Knievel.
Shaun Bridgmohan has the mount for the first time on Castaway, who will break from post position seven.
Prospective headed for Derby
Assistant trainer Norman Casse confirmed via text that Tampa Bay Derby winner Prospective will start in the Kentucky Derby and Luis Contreras will have the mount. Prospective's status had been under consideration after he ran sixth in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland last Saturday.