Baffert adds filly to field

But commitment not total as `Meeting' also in Oaks

April 29, 1999|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Bob Baffert added a third weapon to his already mighty arsenal yesterday in his quest to become the first trainer to win three consecutive runnings of the Kentucky Derby.

Baffert entered Excellent Meeting, one of the country's top fillies, in Saturday's race here at Churchill Downs. She is also entered in tomorrow's Kentucky Oaks, exclusively for fillies.

"Right now, I say she will run in the Derby," Baffert said. "But you know me. I can always change my mind."

The addition of Excellent Meeting to the 20-horse Derby field prompted Mike Battaglia, Churchill Downs' oddsmaker, to declare the filly and General Challenge the 3-1 morning-line favorites. The pair will be coupled in the betting because they're owned by Betty and John Mabee's Golden Eagle Farm.

Excellent Meeting and Three Ring, the other female in the race, will attempt to become the fourth filly to win the Derby.

In 124 runnings, only three fillies have prevailed: Winning Colors in 1988, Genuine Risk in 1980 and Regret in 1915.

Thirty-six fillies have competed in the Derby. This would be the eighth time two have run the same year.

Post positions were drawn yesterday at the Kentucky Derby Museum during a live broadcast on ESPN. The two-stage process was the same as last year. The connections of each horse -- owner, trainer and jockey -- were allowed to select their positions. That change was introduced to increase the drama of the Derby and Preakness draws.

First, numbers were drawn to determine the order of selection. Second, a representative of each horse selected his -- or her -- starting position.

Several highly regarded entrants wound up with outside posts: 5-1 Menifee the 19, 6-1 Vicar the 18, General Challenge the 15 and 7-2 Prime Timber, Baffert's third horse, the 14.

When Baffert chose post 14 for Prime Timber and 15 for General Challenge, 12 and 13 were open. He explained the selections this way:

No. 14 is the last slot in the regular starting gate, No. 15 the first in the auxiliary gate. There is a slight space between the two gates.

"Prime Timber gets a little fidgety in the gate," Baffert said. "This way he's got nobody on his right side.

"General Challenge takes a step or two to get into gear. He can only get hit from one side out there."

Excellent Meeting will break from the favorable post 6, and Three Ring from post 2. That post for Three Ring, a speedy filly who dominated her sex in Florida, will likely mean her jockey, John Velazquez, will hustle her into the lead so she doesn't get squished along the rail.

The 19 post for Menifee, winner of four of five races, prompted his trainer, Elliott Walden, to say: "I wish we had a re-draw."

Carl Nafzger, trainer of Vicar, tried to find the positive in his colt's No. 18 post. Usually, the farther outside the start, the harder it is to maneuver to a favorable spot down the stretch.

"I feel better than if he was in the 1 hole," Nafzger said. "I think he's got enough speed where he can get position into the first turn."

Battaglia, the oddsmaker, struggled over which horses to include in the mutuel field, which he listed at 12-1. He decided on Ecton Park, K One King, Kimberlite Pipe, Lemon Drop Kid and Valhol -- one of the strongest groups in years in a Derby mutuel field, meaning if you bet one you get all.

The unluckiest horse was Lemon Drop Kid, owned by Maryland residents Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance. He drew No. 20 in the selection order. And he ended up, of course, with post position 20.

Yesterday morning, he had his owners and trainer, Scotty Schulhofer, smiling because of a speedy half-mile breeze in 48 1/5 seconds over a track muddy from another day of rain.

"He's progressing really well," Schulhofer said. "He's as good as I can get him, and that might be enough."

Last night, after winding up with the outside post, Schulhofer said: "We'll see how good a rider Jose [Santos] is, and how good a horse he is."

Pub Date: 4/29/99

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