Winless Wallenda worth a flier? 'Capable closer' promising despite failure to win prep

April 27, 1993|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The owners and trainer of Kentucky Derby long shot Wallenda are trying to buck recent history.

A quick look at winners in the past decade shows that every Derby winner, except Alysheba in 1987, had won at least one major prep race.

Wallenda hasn't won a single 1993 race.

But the Dogwood Stable horse is not alone. At least a third of this year's 20 prospective Derby starters -- Wild Gale, Sea Hero, Tossofthecoin, Truth of it All, Silver of Silver and Ragtime Rebel -- is winless this year.

Wallenda's late-rallying efforts in the Florida Derby, where he finished third, and runner-up status in the Blue Grass Stakes rank him at the top of these Derby prep losers.

Alysheba is the only horse among the previous 10 winners that entered the Kentucky Derby without scoring in a major prep race. The son of Alydar actually won the Blue Grass Stakes three weeks before the 1987 Derby, but was disqualified and placed third.

Even the longest shots to win the race in the past decade won important Derby preps. Ferdinand, the 1986 winner at 17-1 odds, had won the Grade II Malibu Stakes before the Derby and last year's winner, Lil E. Tee at 16-1 odds, had won the Grade II Jim Beam Stakes.

Wallenda's near-misses have established his reputation as a colt with promise, but who has yet to put it all together.

But that's not deterring Cot Campbell, who owns the colt along with five other investors, or trainer Frank Alexander, once a regular on the Pimlico/Laurel circuit, from thinking the Derby might be the race where they get lucky.

"He [Wallenda] has been a goof-off kid who has now turned into a studious young man," Campbell said. "He's got more experience than the other horses in the race. He's run 13 times, more than any of the others, and after a slow start getting back to the races this winter-- he came down with a mild virus that caused him to miss the Fountain of Youth Stakes -- we think he might now be ready to peak."

What are the reasons for Campbell's optimism?

Wallenda will be ridden for the first time by Pat Day, something of a Churchill Downs legend, who won the race last year with Lil E. Tee.

Wallenda's regular rider, Herb McCauley, broke his collarbone in a race before the Wood Memorial. So Campbell quickly called on Day after two of Day's prospective Derby mounts -- Marked Tree and Dalhart -- flopped in the same afternoon in the Wood Memorial and Arkansas Derby, respectively.

"It all unfolded on TV and it didn't take a genius to figure out we needed to get ahold of Day," Campbell said. "Naturally Herb is crushed. But it was a clear-cut decision. Do we ride McCauley with a broken collarbone or a jockey like Pat Day without one? We had to move quickly or Day would have been somewhere else."

Day rode Dogwood Stable's previous Derby entrant, Summer Squall, to a second-place finish in 1990 behind Unbridled and then won the Preakness on the colt.

"But this is a lot less stressful situation this year," Campbell said. "Summer Squall was the co-favorite that year with Mister Frisky. This time it's a lot easier."

Another reason for Campbell's optimism is that Wallenda's late-running style puts him among a group of "capable closers" that includes favorite Prairie Bayou, Bull inthe Heather, Kissin Kris and Truth of it All, all of whom should suit the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles.

"We're glad Storm Tower is in there because he has genuine speed," Campbell said. Campbell and managers of the other capable closers hope that Storm Tower and Personal Hope, the front-running Santa Anita Derby winner, run a rapid first mile, finish each other off and set the race up for them.

"We're gambling that the inside [in the long Churchill Downs stretch] will open up. We've got a jockey with enough patience and experience to wait for that to happen, and it will," Campbell said.

"In a nutshell, we need to get lucky, have a nice trip, and be right there at the end."

PREPPING FOR THE DERBY

The key prep races won by recent Kentucky Derby winners:

Year.. .. .. .. Horse .. .. .. Race (grade)

1983.. .. Sunny's Halo .. .. Arkansas Derby (Grade II)

1984.. .. Swale .. .. .. .. Florida Derby (Grade I)

1985.. .. Spend A Buck .. .. Garden State Stakes (non)

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Cherry Hill Mile (non)

1986.. .. Ferdinand .. .. .. Malibu Stakes (Grade II)

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Santa Catalina Stakes (non)

1987.. .. Alysheba Blue .. .. Grass Stakes* (Grade II)

1988.. .. Winning Colors .. .. Santa Anita Derby (Grade I)

1989.. .. Sunday Silence .. .. Santa Anita Derby (Grade I)

1990.. .. Unbridled .. .. .. .. Florida Derby (Grade I)

1991.. .. Strike The Gold .. .. Blue Grass Stakes (Grade II)

1992.. .. Lil E. Tee .. .. .. .. Jim Beam Stakes (Grade II)

*-Won race but was disqualified to third place

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