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Monday, April 06, 2009


KENTUCKY DERBY HOPEFULS RUNNING OUT OF GROUND


“Show me the money” is pretty much the cry as a slew of Kentucky Derby hopefuls get set to make their final assaults on purse earnings Saturday when Keeneland presents its Grade I, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes and Oaklawn Park trots out its Grade II, $1-million Arkansas Derby.

The two make up two-thirds of the final push for money that can make or break the dreams of running in Churchill Downs’ $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on Saturday, May 2. As the prospective field of 20 3-year-olds is taking shape, it appears that it could take $200,000 in graded stakes earnings to put a horse in the gate on Derby Day.


Of the 12 known prospects heading into the Blue Grass, two already have enough purse money to be eligible for a Derby start, another has a guaranteed spot in the field and the rest will be seeking enough purse money to make it to the gate on Derby Day. Already established – money-wise or otherwise -- as solid prospective starters in the Derby who will run in the Blue Grass: HOLD ME BACK, TERRAIN and MAFAAZ. The former two are well ahead of the expected cutoff on money and MAFAAZ is guaranteed a spot by virtue of winning the inaugural Kentucky Derby Challenge Stakes at Kempton Park outside of London last month. Trainer John Gosden has sent the colt to Keeneland for a run in the Blue Grass as a means of measuring his prospects against top runners in this country.

TERRAIN, who will be making only his second start of the year following a third-place finish in the Grade II Louisiana Derby, posted enough graded stakes money as a 2-year-old to put him in good shape for the Derby. Even his fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile netted his $100,000. By winning Turfway Park’s Lane’s End Stakes, HOLD ME BACK’s graded money went to $288,000.

Those potential Blue Grass starters needing more graded stakes money – in varying amounts – include CHARITABLE MAN, making his first start of the year following a two-for-two juvenile season; THEREGOESJOJO, GENERAL QUARTERS, HELLO BROADWAY, CLIFFY’S FUTURE, JOIN IN THE DANCE, PATENA and ZIEGFELD.

Headlining the running of the Arkansas Derby is not money needs but a highly anticipated rematch between the previously unbeaten OLD FASHIONED and his conqueror in Oaklawn’s Grade II Rebel Stakes, WIN WILLY. The former will be looking for redemption and the latter will be trying to prove the Rebel win was not a fluke.

OLD FASHIONED represents the connections – trainer Larry Jones and owner Fox Hill Farms – of the past two runners-up in the Kentucky Derby, Hard Spun in 2007 and the ill-fated Eight Belles in 2008.
On the money bubble and considered one of the top 20 Derby prospects is PAPA CLEM, formerly racing at Santa Anita but choosing – as California cohort I WANT REVENGE did successfully the Grade I Wood Memorial and Grade III Gotham at Aqueduct – to head for dirt competition elsewhere. PAPA CLEM, trained by Gary Stute, finished second in the Louisiana Derby behind FRIESAN FIRE and promptly shipped to Oaklawn to prepare for the Arkansas Derby. The son of Smart Strike could benefit by finishing in the top three Saturday with such a result providing enough money to push him into a Derby post.

Among others that may tackle the top three are DANGER TO SOCIETY and FLAT OUT.

IN THE MEANTIME … At least a half-dozen more 3-year-olds are turning their attention to the Kentucky Derby as a result of the past weekend’s action on the Triple Crown trail. The group is headed by I WANT REVENGE, the impressive and gallant winner of the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and PIONEEROF THE NILE, solid winner of the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. Runners-up in those races – WEST SIDE BERNIE in the Wood and CHOCOLATE CANDY at Santa Anita – figure to head to Kentucky, too.

In those races, there were two major disappointments – the fifth-place finish of the highly rated IMPERIAL COUNCIL in the Wood and the scratch of THE PAMPLEMOUSSE from the Santa Anita Derby for a tendon problem. The news got worse for THE PAMPLEMOUSSE when it was reported Sunday that the problem was severe enough to take him off the Triple Crown trail. The injury is not believed to be career-ending, but he likely will not race again this year.

MUSKET MAN, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, made another patented stretch drive to capture the Grade II Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course and will be heading for the Derby. GIANT OAK finished a strong second and will make the trip, too.

At this juncture, here are the horses expected to be Derby starters: REGAL RANSOM, PIONEEROF THE NILE, DESERT PARTY, QUALITY ROAD, FRIESAN FIRE, I WANT REVENGE, WEST SIDE BERNIE, CHOCOLATE CANDY, MUSKET MAN, GIANT OAK and MAFAAZ.


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