Kentucky Derby

Derby Watch: Connections keep one eye trained on earnings

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."