Lukas not preaching gospel of Pulpit Colt is heavily favored to take Florida Derby and keep record perfect

March 15, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HALLANDALE, Fla. -- If all goes according to schedule -- and with ABC broadcasting it surely will -- the crowning will take place about 4: 40 p.m. today.

After devouring his opposition in the Florida Derby, Pulpit will be anointed king of the 3-year-olds and overwhelming favorite to win the Kentucky Derby on May 3.

Isn't that right, D. Wayne Lukas?

"I think it's too early for a coronation," Lukas said.

The winning trainer of the past two Kentucky Derbys and seven of the past eight Triple Crown races, Lukas blew into town at the last minute as usual and drew some of the attention away from Pulpit, the early 3-5 favorite to win today's race.

"He's a legitimate favorite," Lukas said yesterday outside his barn here in south Florida. "You can't bet against him. But I might."

He may be the only one. Even the owner and trainer of Captain Bodgit, the entrant from Maryland, seem ready to concede the race to Pulpit.

Barry Irwin, president of Team Valor, the California corporation that bought the brown colt last month for $500,000, said that Pulpit appears unbeatable and that he hopes his horse makes it around the track safely, closes a little and bounces back quickly for the main goal: the run for the roses at Churchill Downs.

Gary Capuano, Captain Bodgit's Bowie-based trainer, said the Florida Derby seems set up for Pulpit again -- little pressure early so he'll have energy at the end.

In the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes here Feb. 22, Captain Bodgit closed mightily but couldn't catch Pulpit.

That was Pulpit's third win in three starts since his trainer, Frank Brothers, launched his racing career here two months ago. In each race Pulpit registered the fastest clocking at the distance for the current Gulfstream meet. An intoxicating case of Pulpit-mania ensued.

"He figures to improve off that race, which is kind of scary in itself," Capuano said of Pulpit's exhibition in the Fountain of Youth.

The Florida Derby at 1 1/8 miles is slightly longer. Only Captain Bodgit has ever raced that far, winning the Laurel Futurity in November.

"If we get a good trip, and things go our way, I think we'll be in the hunt," Capuano said. "Whether we can beat Pulpit depends on the fractions. The first half-mile, three-quarters of a mile, dictates the race."

Pulpit's jockey, Shane Sellers, said his horse can take the lead or take back.

"He's got tactical speed, and he can stay two turns," Sellers said. "A horse that can do that is a dangerous horse, like a Holy Bull, or like Unbridled's Song could have been."

A couple of horses are capable of challenging Pulpit early -- Lukas' Wrightwood and Nick Zito's Acceptable -- but their trainers aren't saying whether they will.

Jockey Jerry Bailey might unleash Acceptable early from the No. 1 post to avoid entrapment on the rail. The new jockey for Wrightwood, Joe Bravo, might hustle his mount out of the gate just to wake him up.

In the Fountain of Youth, Wrightwood stumbled at the start, threw a front shoe and never lifted a hoof.

"The Wrightwood I know, and the Wrightwood you saw, are two different horses," Lukas said. "He was flat the morning of that race. He didn't have that bounce in his step. I think he'll run big."

Also in the Fountain of Youth, Acceptable stepped in a hole or somehow took a bad step accelerating around the far turn. He slowed up, bled slightly and will race today on Lasix for the first time.

Two other also-rans in the Fountain of Youth will take another run at Pulpit: Zito's Jack Flash, who finished fifth, and Frisk Me Now, who finished seventh. Trained by Robert Durso, Frisk Me Now won the Hutcheson Stakes here at odds of 105-1.

The two new challengers are Michelle'sallhands, who jumps into the fray after breaking his maiden on the fourth try, and Hurry the Dance, who raced last on the turf.

But those horses are mere footnotes if you listen to trainers such as Sonny Hine, Billy Turner and Carl Nafzger, who all praise Pulpit.

"He's doing everything you've got to do to be a real class horse," said Nafzger, who trained 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. "When there's no speed, he goes to the front. When there is speed, he drops two or three off the pace, and when you ask him he takes off.

"The only fault against him is inexperience."

Pulpit did not race as a 2-year-old because of a stress fracture in his left front leg. But Nafzger -- and Turner and Hine -- said the horse couldn't be in better hands.

Brothers, 50, trained Hansel in 1991 when he won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Soft-spoken and conservative, he is often compared to Bill Mott, the mild-mannered trainer of Cigar.

"Talk about the Cigar team. Now you've got the Pulpit team," Nafzger said. "They haven't made any mistakes, and they're going places."

Florida Derby PP Horse Jockey Trainer Odds

1 Acceptable Bailey Zito 4-1

2 Pulpit Sellers Brothers 3-5

3 Michelle'sallhands Krone Zacco 15-1

4 Captain Bodgit Solis Capuano 5-1

5 Frisk Me Now King Durso 20-1

6 Jack Flash Perret Zito 20-1

7 Wrightwood Bravo Lukas 20-1

8 Hurry The Dance Boulanger Byrne 10-1

All carry 122 pounds.

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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