When the starter springs the gate in the 123rd Kentucky Derby one week from today, bursting forth could be the smallest field in 18 years.
In 1979, Spectacular Bid dominated a field of 10. As of yesterday, after an injury knocked out Accelerator, 10 horses were committed to this year's race. Two more are on the fence, and several could surface at the last minute.
But for only the fourth time since Spectacular Bid won the Derby as the favorite -- the last time that's happened -- the entire field could start from the main 14-stall starting gate. An auxiliary gate can accommodate six more horses.
Two reasons exist for the likely small field. One is D. Wayne Lukas. The other is a series of mishaps to prospective starters.
Lukas started five last year, more than a quarter of the 19-horse field. This year, one after the other, his many 3-year-olds faltered, and he said this week he'll saddle none. (He'll surprise no one, however, if he changes his mind and enters his filly, Sharp Cat.)
Lukas' top contender and last year's 2-year-old champion, Boston Harbor, will miss the Derby because of injury. Injuries and setbacks, large and small, also eliminated, among others, Mud Route, Traitor, Ordway, Acceptable, Blazing Sword, The Silver Move, Stolen Gold, Inexcessivelygood, Effect and Jules.
Yesterday, Shug McGaughey-trained Accelerator suffered a condylar fracture of his left front cannon bone during a workout at Churchill Downs.
After surgery to insert screws, he'll be sidelined for several months.
And trainer Bob Baffert ruled out Anet, winner of last weekend's Lone Star Derby.
That leaves a solid, consistent field that jockeys, trainers and handicappers consider the most competitive in years.
Although only one Derby champion in the 1990s, Strike the Gold, won his final prep for the Kentucky classic, topping this year's Derby list are horses coming off victories: Captain Bodgit (Wood Memorial and Florida Derby), Pulpit (Blue Grass Stakes), Crypto Star (Arkansas and Louisiana derbys), Free House (Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe Stakes) and Concerto (winner of five straight races).
Add Silver Charm and Hello (California's next-best), Phantom On Tour (Arkansas Derby runner-up united with jockey Jerry Bailey) and Jack Flash (Nick Zito's main man), and you've got nine solid horses from which to make your 1997 Kentucky Derby selection.
Pub Date: 4/26/97