Kentucky Derby

Derby Trial actually means something this year

Don't think for one second the irony of the situation is lost on owner Robert LaPenta.

Earlier this year, LaPenta announced he was sponsoring the 2010 Grade III Derby Trial in honor of his former Grade I winner The Cliff's Edge, a move that doubled the purse of the race to $200,000.

LaPenta will find out after Saturday's race whether he'll be punished for that good deed.

After years of having no impact on the Kentucky Derby, there is actually some significance to this year's Derby Trial.

Two of the horses entered in the race, Florida Derby-runner-up Pleasant Prince and the speedy Eightyfiveinafifty, will be trying to gain enough graded stakes earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby's 20-horse field.

In an intriguing twist, LaPenta is the owner of Wood Memorial runner-up Jackson Bend, who is currently 22nd on the graded earnings list and needs a couple defections to make the Derby.

If either Pleasant Prince or Eightyfiveinafifty collect the $124,000 winner's share of LaPenta's money Saturday, they would knock his colt another spot back.

"You know, everybody wants to get into the Derby. No question about it," said LaPenta, who also owns Florida Derby winner Ice Box. "But this year it seems to be kicked up a notch. And I don't really know what it is."

The graded stakes earnings rule, which determines the Derby field should more than 20 horses enter, has come under more scrutiny this season.

Nowhere To Hide got into the Derby last year with just $55,000 in graded earnings, but it appears it's going to take nearly $250,000 to crack this year's field.

Though the depth of this year's 3-year-old class is part of the reason the cutoff is so high, some point to horses like Homeboykris — who won the Grade I Champagne Stakes last year but has been winless in three starts since — as a reason the system needs changing.

"Maybe you go to something as simple as count 50 percent of their 2-year-old earnings or you scale it for Grade III, Grade II, Grade I races," LaPenta said. "But I think somebody has to look at it and I think the system needs a tweaking."

Considering the system has been in place since 1986, others believe it's up to the connections of each horse to work the format to its fullest.

"The one thing about the graded stakes system is everybody knows it," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who could have as many as seven starters in this year's Derby. "Is there a better system? Probably. But it's probably a much more complicated one. But with as many preps as there are you would think if you had a horse good enough, you could get the graded earnings."

Had Pleasant Prince not lost the photo finish to LaPenta's Ice Box in the $750,000 Florida Derby, he wouldn't be in his current predicament.

Following that effort, Pleasant Prince struggled over the Polytrack at Keeneland, running seventh in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes and staying put at $162,500 in graded earnings.

Eightyfiveinafifty is coming off a win in the Grade III Bay Shore at Aqueduct on April 3, which earned him $120,000 in graded money, but he has never won beyond 7 furlongs. Eightyfiveinafifty gained attention for the wrong reasons when he bolted through the outer rail on the first turn of the Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct on Feb. 6.

Even if Pleasant Prince and Eightyfiveinafifty make the Derby field, they have history working against them. No Trial winner has won the Derby since Tim Tam in 1958.

"The sky is the limit if he ever gets it all together and puts his mind on business," Gary Contessa, trainer of Eightyfiveinafifty, said after the Bay Shore.

graded earnings

If more than 20 horses are entered in the Kentucky Derby, the graded-earnings list decides which 20 horses will start in the race:

1. Lookin At Lucky $1,480,000

2. Noble's Promise $738,000

3. Rule $645,000

4. Sidney's Candy $630,000

5. Eskendereya $600,000

5. Line of David $600,000

7. Mission Impazible $473,434

8. Ice Box $457,500

9. Stately Victor $450,000

10. Endorsement $400,000

11. Conveyance $386,000

12. American Lion $378,000

13. Dublin $373,208

14. Super Saver $363,832

15. Devil May Care $363,000

16. Discreetly Mine $340,000

17. Dean's Kitten $326,475

18. Interactif $307,950

19. Awesome Act $285,000

20. Paddy O' Prado $250,950

21. Homeboykris $250,500

22. Jackson Bend $230,000

23. Backtalk $225,916

24. Aikenite $221,750

25. Make Music for Me$218,750

26. A Little Warm $180,000

26. Setsuko $180,000

28. Pleasant Prince $165,750

29. Caracortado $153,000

30. Eightyfiveinafifty $120,000