Countdown to Kentucky Derby begins

  • By RICHARD ROSENBLATT
  • Tuesday, April 19, 2016 1:00am
  • News

The road to the Kentucky Derby is just about over. Now comes the countdown to the first Saturday in May.

And it’s always a jittery one for owners, trainers and jockeys.

Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert likes to say all you can do at this point is keep your horses “happy and healthy,” then lead them on over to the track and watch them Run for the Roses.

The Arkansas Derby and Lexington Stakes over the weekend concluded a seven-month run of 34 Derby qualifying races in six states and two other countries. The Derby points have been added up, the field is limited to 20 starters, and if more are entered then total points determines who’s in and who’s out.

On Saturday, Creator stormed from last to first and won the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park to earn 100 points and rank sixth on the Derby leaderboard with 110 points. Suddenbreakingnews ran second, collected 40 points, and clinched his place in the field. He ranks 12th with 50 points.

All signs lead to Louisville. Creator will be on a plane to Churchill Downs on Monday; Suddenbreakingnews will arrive by van on Tuesday. The barns are filling up at the Downs.

“Everything’s great,” Elliott Walden, the racing manager for owner WinStar Farm, said Sunday, the morning after Creator’s 1 1/4-length win.

Ditto for Donnie K. Von Hemel, who trains Suddenbreakingnews.

“You’ll probably see him in the entry box” for the Derby, Von Hemel said.

But anything can happen in the nerve-racking days before the Derby — or any big race for that matter. A little tweak in a 3-year-old’s training — an awkward step, a slight fever — can end Derby dreams in an instant.

For now, here’s a look at the field, and those horses on the bubble.

Louisiana Derby winner Gun Runner is atop the leaderboard with 151 points. Currently sitting at No. 20 is Trojan Nation, an 81-1 long shot who ran second in the Wood Memorial to earn 40 points.

Five horses are on the bubble: Mo Tom, Fellowship, Adventist and Laoban (each with 32 points) and Dazzling Gem with 30 points. If a horse ranked above them drops out, the next in line moves up.

The top 20 features four trainers with two horses each.

Baffert, who won the Triple Crown with American Pharoah, trains Mor Spirit (No. 8) and Cupid (No. 13). Cupid ran a disappointing 10th in the Arkansas Derby, but already had 50 points for winning Rebel Stakes. However, Cupid has not yet been declared a definite for the Derby.

Steve Asmussen not only trains Gun Runner, he also has Creator in his barn. The trainer is a Hall of Fame finalist, and looking for his first Derby win.

Todd Pletcher has Wood winner Outwork (No. 4) and Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin (No. 11)

Chad Brown has Shagaf and My Man Sam, runner-up in the Blue Grass.

As of Sunday, seven of the top 20 3-year-olds are in their Derby stalls. Among them is Lani, the Japan-based colt who won the UAE Derby in Dubai in March.

Fellowship, ranked 22nd, had a workout at Churchill on Sunday. Assistant trainer Norman Casse is hopeful his horse gets in.

“Obviously, there will have to be some defections for us to run,” Casse said, adding another workout is planned next week. “But it’s still too early to tell for sure. … If he gets in he deserves a shot, but he’ll have to work his way in.”

Collected won the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland for 10 points, but the Baffert-trained colt finished with only 21 points.

Oscar Nominated won the Spiral Stakes for 50 points, but owner Ken Ramsey had not nominated him for the Triple Crown races. He said last week he would pay the $200,000 supplemental entry fee to get his horse in the race — whether he has someone to put up the money and become a partner or not.

“So far as I know he’s still on board,” Ramsey said of an unidentified person who told the owner he’d put up the money and share in any Triple Crown money the horse earned. “But ir-regardless of whether he stays on board or doesn’t stay on board, the horse will be in the Kentucky Derby.”

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