Kentucky Derby

Derby Watch: Preps end, let the debate begin

Moments after Louisiana Derby winner Friesan Fire completed his one-mile work Sunday morning, trainer Larry Jones began his own bit of preparation in anticipation of the two weeks that lie ahead.

"You're the ones who have all the answers," Jones laughed as media members moved in around him in front of his Keeneland barn. "As soon as I tell you something you are all going to start criticizing."

Indeed, now that months of Kentucky Derby prep races are complete, the hard-core debate about this year's participants for the 11/4-mile test is about to begin.

With the 20-horse field for the Derby coming into focus, so too are the questions surrounding each of the would-be contenders for the first Saturday in May.

For West Coast invaders like Pioneerof the Nile and Chocolate Candy, the question is how their talents will translate on dirt. Quality Road — though he has been training strongly — has the issue of a quarter crack lingering over him. And can Jones really get Friesan Fire to the winner's circle off a seven-week layoff?

While the answers won't come for another two weeks, one long-standing question did get resolved on Sunday when jockey Garrett Gomez announced he had chosen to ride Pioneerof the Nile in the Derby over the lightly raced Dunkirk.

Ron Anderson, agent for Gomez, admitted the decision was a daunting one but said Pioneerof the Nile's four straight graded stakes wins gave him the edge over Dunkirk, who has just three lifetime starts.

With Gomez taking the mount on Pioneerof the Nile, Edgar Prado has now been named to ride Dunkirk in the Derby.

Prado was aboard for Dunkirk's 53/4-length, debut maiden win at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 24, and guided Barbaro to his Kentucky Derby triumph in 2006.

With this year's field nearly set, this will be the last installment of the Derby Watch for 2009. After all, it's about time we start letting these horses speak for themselves, don't you think?

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