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Kentucky Derby 134 Update - March 14

| Churchill Downs Communications | 03/26/2008 #

TOP STORIES:

- Dozen Entered in Wide-Open Lane's End
- Sierra Sunset Injured, Off Derby Trail
- Derby Favorite Pyro Back in Kentucky
- War Pass Passes Gallop Test After Flop

MIDWEST/WIDE OPEN LANE’S END COULD REVEAL NEW KENTUCKY DERBY CONTENDERS – A wide-open field of 12 horses is set to run in Saturday’s $500,000 Lane’s End Stakes (Grade II) at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. and, although a major contender for the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) could emerge from the race, there is no clear favorite heading into the race.

Last year’s running of the Lane’s End was won by Hard Spun, the eventual Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) runner-up who was one of the top members of an outstanding crop of 3-year-olds.

Zayat Stable’s Halo Najib, winner of the OBS Championship over a synthetic surface at Florida’s Ocala Training Center but a well-beaten sixth on dirt in the Fountain of Youth (GII) at Gulfstream Park, is the 7-2 morning line favorite for the 1 1/8-mile Lane’s End, which will be run over a Polytrack surface at the northern Kentucky track.  The Dale Romans-trained Halo Najib has run well on both synthetic surfaces and dirt, with a runner-up finish to Court Vision in Churchill Downs’ Iroquois (GIII) and a third-place finish to Smooth Air in Gulfstream’s Hutcheson (GII) on his resume.

Halo Najib is one of the few members of the Lane’s End field with strong efforts on the dirt on his record.  Several entrants have done their best running so far on turf and are taking a shot because grass horses have frequently run well when making the switch to a synthetic surface like Polytrack. Two-time Kentucky Derby-winner Kent Desormeaux will ride for Romans.

“I think we’re the horse to beat, but it’s a good, even group of horses – a lot of unknowns,” Romans told the Courier-Journal.  “Some of those horses, if they bring their grass form to Polytrack, they’re going to be tough.  But we know our horse will run well on it.”

Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, a two-time Lane’s End winner, has entered Duke of De Buqe and Chitoz.

“It’s not a clear-cut picture, where last year Hard Spun was an obvious choice,” Pletcher said.  “I think this one is wide-open.”

Other major contenders include Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Cannonball, an accomplished runner on grass who finished third in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Monmouth Park and the 9-2 second choice in the morning line odds for the Lane’s End, and Woodford Racing and William S. Farish’s Turf War, the dead-heat winner of the $1 million Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs and the only member of the field to win a graded stakes race.  The Mark Casse-trained Turf War is coming off a disappointing ninth-place run behind Denis of Cork in the Southwest (GIII) at Oaklawn Park and will break from the outside post.

The field for the Lane’s End (from the rail with jockeys) includes: Duke of De Buqe (Julien Leparoux), Macho Again (Miguel Mena), Chitoz (Rene Douglas), Rich Young Ruler (Tom Pompell), Adriano (Edgar Prado), Racecar Rhapsody (Robby Albarado), Halo’s King (Jesus Castanon), Halo Najib (Desormeaux), Cannonball (Alex Solis), El Aleman (Orlando Mojica), Turf War (Patrick Husbands), and Medjool (Michael Baze).

The undercard of stakes races on Turfway Park’s biggest day of the year includes the $100,000 Rushaway, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds that has attracted a field of nine that includes a couple of unbeaten colts that will attempt to boost their reputations.

Briarwood Stable’s Miner’s Claim, a son of 2003 “Horse of the Year” Mineshaft trained by Mark Casse, won his only two starts last fall over Polytrack at Woodbine.  Patrick Husbands will ride Miner’s Claim, who will break from post nine.

Trainer Graham Motion will saddle Earle Mack’s New York-bred Icabad Crane, who also makes his stakes debut with a perfect record in two starts. 

Last year’s Rushaway was won by Dominican, who upset eventual Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in his next start in the Toyota Blue Grass (GI) at Keeneland.

KENTUCKY DERBY FAVORITE PYRO BACK IN KENTUCKY – Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC’s Pyro, winner of the Louisiana Derby (GII) and the favorite for the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, returned to Kentucky at mid-week and galloped over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland on Thursday.

The Steve Asmussen-trained son of Pulpit spent the winter in New Orleans at Fair Grounds and is scheduled to make his next start in the Toyota Blue Grass on April 12.  Pyro galloped a mile at the Lexington track on Thursday and is scheduled to work over the synthetic surface early next week.

SOUTH/INJURY TAKES SIERRA SUNSET OFF KENTUCKY DERBY TRAIL – Rebel Stakes (GIII) winner Sierra Sunset has been knocked off the road to the Kentucky Derby by a hairline fracture discovered in the colt’s left front ankle.

Trainer Jeff Bonde said the California-bred son of Bertrando would be out of training for 90 days.  Bonde said Sierra Sunset appeared to be fine immediately after last Saturday’s romp in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park, but X-rays were ordered after it became apparent on Monday that there could be a problem.

“I would guess it happened in the race,” said Bonde.  “The horse never had any problems.”

The loss of Sierra Sunset removes one of the favorites from the developing picture for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (GII) on April 12 at Oaklawn.  Sierra Sunset heads to the sidelines with four wins in 11 races and earnings of $428,696.  He had made his first nine career starts in California before he traveled to Oaklawn and finished second to Denis of Cork in the Southwest Stakes.  He followed that effort with last week’s three-length romp in the Rebel, an emphatic victory that stamped him as the possible favorite for the Arkansas Derby and a contender for the May 3 “Run for the Roses” at Churchill Downs.

“We understand this is part of the game, but of course this is very disappointing,” Bonde said.  “He is a sound colt, he has danced every dance, he had a clean trip in the Rebel, and he appeared to come out of the race fine. The first set of X-rays were clean, but when we took a second set, we found the hairline.”

SOUTHEAST/WAR PASS LOOKS GOOD IN FIRST GALLOP AFTER FLOP – Two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Nick Zito remained baffled by the dismal effort by former Derby favorite War Pass in last week’s Tampa Bay Derby (GIII), but the Hall of Fame trainer was happy with what he saw when Robert LaPenta’s son of Cherokee Run returned to training on Wednesday at Florida’s Palm Meadows training center.

War Pass galloped an easy mile and Zito said the colt “looked good.”  He said that efforts to find a medical reason for the last place finish to Big Truck in the seven-horse field at Tampa Bay Downs have turned up nothing new.

Zito said War Pass, the champion 2-year-old of 2007, would run next in the Wood Memorial (GI) at Aqueduct on April 5 if all continues to go well.

“We’ll keep going forward from here, plan a work and see how things are going,” Zito told Daily Racing Form.  “All we can do at this point is take things one step at time.”

UP-AND-COMERS ELYSIUM FIELDS, BIG BROWN WORK – Robert Evans’ Elysium Fields, runner-up in the Fountain of Youth (GII), continued to train sharply toward the $1 million Florida Derby (GI) on March 29 with a sharp six-furlong work on Thursday at Gulfstream Park.

The Barclay Tagg-trained Elysium Fields breezed six furlongs in 1:12.

Meanwhile, IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa Jr.’s Big Brown worked a sizzling five furlongs on Wednesday at Palm Meadows in preparation for his stakes debut in the Florida Derby.  The son of Boundary covered the distance under jockey Kent Desormeaux in 1:00.40, the fastest move of the day.

Big Brown won his career debut on turf by 11 ¼ lengths last year at Saratoga, but a hoof problem knocked him out of a planned run in the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.  He turned heads on his return to racing in early March with a 12 ¾ length victory in a one-mile allowance race that had been moved from turf to dirt at Gulfstream Park.

NEW OWNER FOR FIERCE WIND – Streaking Fierce Wind, winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs for Zito, has been purchased for an undisclosed price from Four Roses Thoroughbreds by Halsey Minor’s Minor Stables.

The Dixie Union colt will remain with Zito and is scheduled to run in the Florida Derby.

Fierce Wind has won three consecutive races, with the most recent being a victory over Big Truck in the Davis.  That rival returned to upset War Pass in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Fierce Wind is scheduled to be the first starter for Minor, the founder of CNET who heads a San Francisco investment firm.  Last November Minor purchased Grade I winner Dream Rush for $3.3 million at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky selected mixed sale, but that 4-year-old filly has yet to race for her new owner.

WEST/DESORMEAUX GETS MOUNT ON GEORGIE BOY IN SANTA ANITA DERBY – George Schwary’s Georgie Boy, winner of the Del Mar Futurity (GI), San Felipe (GII) and San Vicente (GII), will have a new rider in the Santa Anita Derby (GI) on April 5.

Trainer Kathy Walsh has named two-time Kentucky Derby winner Kent Desormeaux to pilot the California-bred gelding in the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby.  Micheal Baze was aboard Georgie Boy in the San Felipe in place of the injured Rafael Bejarano, who was forced to miss that race after he suffered two cracked vertebra in a March 13 spill at the Arcadia, Calif. track.

“It was a tough call, but it was a mutual decision,” said Walsh.  “Michael is a fine rider and did a good job in the San Felipe, but Mr. Schwary felt a more experienced rider was in order, even though Kent is tied up for the Big Dance.”

Desormeaux, who won the Kentucky Derby with Real Quiet (1998) and Fusaichi Pegasus (2000), is the regular rider aboard Fountain of Youth winner Cool Coal Man.

Bejarano is scheduled to resume riding on April 5, according to agent Joe Ferrer.