Valhol's shocking victory in the Arkansas Derby was perhaps more shocking than imagined. What's more, an investigation into suspicions that jockey Billy Patin stimulated the gelding with an illegal electrical device could affect the field for the Kentucky Derby.
The Derby on May 1 is limited to 20 horses. When the owners of more than 20 want to get in, the entrants are selected by earnings in graded stakes.
While the Arkansas Racing Commission conducts its investigation, which could take weeks, the purse money of last weekend's Arkansas Derby will be withheld. The winner's share of the $500,000 purse is $300,000. Without that, Valhol, who had not won a race before the Arkansas Derby, would likely not qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
Patin denies using the device, a small, hand-held "buzzer" or "battery" that can shock a horse. But replays of the race show something appearing to drop from Patin's left hand as he pulls up Valhol around the clubhouse turn after the race.
Meanwhile, Wondertross will likely miss the Derby because of a severe stomach ailment discovered the day after his uncharacteristic sixth-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes. Wondertross was treated at a clinic in Lexington, Ky.
That allowed his jockey Jerry Bailey to select Worldly Manner as his Derby mount. Bailey rode the colt, a three-time winner last year in California, in his "trial race" last month in Dubai.
At the Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in the Middle East, Worldly Manner convincingly won the race, reaffirming his status as the top Derby contender for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's Godolphin stable.
Bailey said he could have ridden Silverbulletday -- if trainer Bob Baffert runs her in the Derby. So far, Baffert and the filly's owner, Mike Pegram, who also owns Real Quiet, have said they're pointing Silverbulletday to the Kentucky Oaks, the fillies' version of the Derby.
In another significant jockey switch, John Velasquez hopped off Lemon Drop Kid and landed astride Three Ring.
The only filly definite for the Derby, Three Ring devoured the females in Florida. She has never raced against colts or geldings -- and perhaps even more important, she will enter the Derby off a month-and-a-half layoff.
Scotty Schulhofer, the trainer of Lemon Drop Kid, replaced Velasquez with Jose Santos. Jinny Vance, who owns Taylor's Purchase Farm in Sparks with her husband Laddie Dance, campaigns Lemon Drop Kid.
Finally, a pair of races tomorrow for 3-year-olds, the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and Lone Star Derby in Texas, may produce a starter or two. But the field is nearly set -- and the fuse is burning for the annual explosion of sport and emotion at Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May.
Pub Date: 4/17/99