Just a little more than a week from the Kentucky Derby, the biggest mystery for the 143rd running centers around the horse at the top of the leaderboard.
That would be Girvin, who depending on your news source may or may not be injured, may or may not be wearing Z-bar shoes, may or may not have come to Keeneland just to use the synthetic training track and may or may not be holding his final workout on Saturday.
One of those news sources may or may not be 32-year-old trainer Joe Sharp, who is the husband of jockey Rosie Napravnik and who as of Wednesday was not saying much about the condition of his prized 3-year-old, who leads the Derby point standings with 150.
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Amid growing speculation about the health of the horse, the Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman reported Wednesday that Instagram video taken at Keeneland showed Girvin was wearing Z-bar shoes, which are used for various hoof problems.
When reached by the DRF, Sharp said, “He’s never raced in Z-bars, so that wouldn’t be accurate anyway.”
The Form reported that after a follow-up question the phone line went dead and Sharp did not answer return calls. He did send a text message saying the horse is at Keeneland and is working Saturday.
If so, that would be the third schedule change for Girvin since Sharp moved his potential first Kentucky Derby horse from Churchill Downs’ Trackside Training Facility to Keeneland last week. At the time, Sharp said the forecast for rain was the reason for the move and the horse would probably work at Keeneland that weekend.
Then the work was scheduled for Monday at 8:30 a.m. At 7:30 that morning, however, Sharp took the horse out for a jog, then returned him to his barn without speaking to reporters. Finally, about 90 minutes later, Sharp told two reporters that Girvin would remain at Keeneland and work Friday.
“We just decided we’re going to work him Friday,” said the trainer. “Just one solid work going into the Derby instead of trying to squeeze like two half-miles in. We’ll probably go five-eighths or three-quarters eight days out.”
That seemed strange considering Girvin has worked just once since winning the Louisiana Derby on April 1, his third win in four lifetime starts. That work came April 15 at Trackside, where Girvin went a half-mile in a quick 47.80 seconds. His worktab has been empty since.
Appearing on the National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference on Tuesday, Sharp insisted Girvin is “the same Girvin, absolutely” and was asked if he could be more specific about the reasons for canceling Monday’s work.
“I mean, not any more specific than I’ve already been,” said the trainer. “I just felt that instead of trying to squeeze in two, what I would consider a maintenance work or half-mile work, we decided to (do) a little more solid work, maybe a little longer distance.”
If, as some suspect, Girvin does not work and cannot go in the Derby, a spot opens in the starting gate. Trainer Todd Pletcher has indicated that Malagacy, 13th on the points list, may skip the Derby and point to the Preakness. That would allow Lookin At Lee a spot among the top 20. If Girvin does not run, that would bring Calumet Farm homebred Sonneteer into the 20.
It would also leave Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith without a mount. Lookin At Lee, Untrapped, Battalion Runner, Patch, and Fast and Accurate are among Derby probables without a named rider.
Here’s the big question: Will Girvin work this Saturday? And will he run in the Kentucky Derby the following Saturday?
“People will probably dissect and analyze the moves,” Sharp said Tuesday. “If I win, I’ll be a hero; if I lose, I’ll be the young trainer that made mistakes. I’m confident I’m doing the right thing for the horse.”
Kentucky Derby leaderboard
Irish War Cry
Saeed bin Suroor
J Boys Echo
State of Honor
Fast and Accurate
Battle of Midway
Lookin At Lee