ARCADIA, Calif. -- The countdown to the Kentucky Derby took an unexpected twist yesterday, when Brocco ended up on the Vet's List for sore horses at Santa Anita Park.
The action was taken by California state veterinarian William Bell, but quickly disregarded by the horse's jockey and trainer. Bell said the horse came back "slightly off" in his right foreleg after his victory on Saturday in the Santa Anita Derby.
Bell said he noticed the apparent soreness when the horse was cooling out in the test barn. "On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being worst, I'd put it at 1," Bell said.
Jockey Gary Stevens called the listing "a joke," and trainer Randy Winick said there is nothing wrong with the horse.
However, the vet's decision will heighten interest in Brocco's preparation leading up to the Kentucky Derby in 27 days.
If nothing else, it could cause a stampede at the Derby entry box if there is suspicion about one of the favorites.
Brocco's assertive performance at Santa Anita had made the Kentucky Derby appear to shape up as a two-horse duel. Holy Bull, runaway winner of the Florida Derby and strongest of the East Coast colts, has looked like the only other horse who can run with Brocco.
Winick said yesterday that he plans to ship Brocco to Kentucky this weekend and give him two stiff workouts -- one at five-eighths of a mile, the other at a mile -- on the Churchill Downs strip before the Derby.
Before he can run in the Kentucky Derby, the horse must be removed from the Santa Anita Vet's List, which is a compilation of horses that return sore from races.
Normal Santa Anita procedure requires that horses on the list work five furlongs in 1 minute, 3 seconds or better and pass a physical and blood tests before they are allowed to run again. Bell said that Winick can proceed with his plans to ship the horse to Churchill Downs. "The state vet in Kentucky [Dr. George Mundy] can observe his works there, and if Dr. Mundy passes him, then that suits our requirements," Bell said. "I don't want to interfere with the horse's training program."
The scenario of an expected duel in the Derby between Brocco and Holy Bull could be recast further if Holy Bull is beaten by Valiant Nature on Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky.
What shaped up as a one-horse tour de force for Holy Bull took on added significance when Valiant Nature, one of two horses to beat Brocco, dropped out of the Santa Anita Derby to take on the East Coast star.
"It's going to be a real interesting to see how Valiant Nature fares," Winick said. "With him in the race, Holy Bull is not going to have the free lunch that he had in the Florida Derby."
The Blue Grass figures to be the last major 3 year-old prep before the Derby. The Wood Memorial, run at Aqueduct also on Saturday, pits Go For Gin, who finished fourth in the Florida Derby, against the Gotham winner, Irgun. "It's just another race," Winick said.
The Arkansas Derby on April 23 also is attracting second stringers, horses such as Ride The Rails and Halo's Image, who finished second and third in the Florida Derby.
With less than a month until Derby Day, Holy Bull and Brocco head the prospective lineup, providing they hold together.
Right behind them in the second tier are four excellent colts -- Valiant Nature, Soul Of The Matter, Tabasco Cat and Strodes Creek.
Valiant Nature would have been second choice to Brocco in the Santa Anita Derby and could take on added stature with a top race against Holy Bull in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Soul Of The Matter, another Santa Anita Derby dropout, probably goes next in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 22. "We followed that same kind of pattern before," said Chris Baker, assistant to trainer Dick Mandella. "He ran in a lesser stakes like the Pirates Cove and then big in the San Felipe [beating Brocco by 2 1/4 lengths]. He could go in the Lexington, then come back in the Derby."
Tabasco Cat held on well to be second in the Santa Anita Derby, but the feeling is that trainer D. Wayne Lukas had him really cranked up for the race and he turned out just to be second best to Brocco.
Strodes Creek, who finished third at Santa Anita, is a big-boned colt who ran a bit green on Saturday, but could improve enough for trainer Charlie Whittingham to be a big factor in the Kentucky Derby.
Rounding out a top 10 are Go For Gin, Irgun, Louisiana Derby winner Kandaly and possibly Numerous, who finished fourth at Santa Anita. He lost a shoe during Saturday's race and Whittingham apparently thinks enough of him to ship him to Louisville.
But one can't forget Maryland-bred Looming. Should he be a decisive winner of the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico on April 23, he, too, could be Derby bound. Except for the top half-dozen horses, he could rank among the top 10 Derby contenders.