Derby isn't end-all for Zucker

Trainer says health of colt comes first

Horse Racing

April 07, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ARCADIA, Calif. -- Here we are, four weeks before the Kentucky Derby, and the trainer attracting the most attention is the one saying, "Heck no, I won't go."

Howard Zucker, a transplanted Easterner who trains Crafty C.T. here at Santa Anita Park, says that he won't run his colt in the Kentucky Derby even if he upsets Point Given in the Santa Anita Derby.

This race heads the list today of four major stakes for 3-year-olds at tracks around the country. Other races serving as proving grounds for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness are the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah Park, Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park and Lone Star Derby at Lone Star Park.

"I'm thinking this may be my only chance to go to the Triple Crown, and I'm having to forego it for the sake of the horse," Zucker said. "To be honest with you, I'm really surprised we're even going in the Santa Anita Derby."

The lightly raced Crafty C.T. is 9-5 in the morning line and given the best chance of knocking off the favorite. Point Given is even money, but don't let that fool you. He'll be odds-on by the time the starting gate opens about 5:45 p.m. EST for the 64th running of the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

This 1 1/8 -mile jaunt in the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains 15 miles east of Los Angeles has become the most significant lead-in for the Kentucky Derby. Three of the past four winners of the Derby emerged from this race, although none of them won it.

Kentucky Derby winners Charismatic (1999), Real Quiet (1998) and Silver Charm (1997) finished fourth, second and second, respectively, in the Santa Anita Derby. All three also won the Preakness before falling short of a Triple Crown in the Belmont.

Point Given reigns over this year's Kentucky Derby contenders in the West, while Monarchos shines in the East. If Point Given wins today and Monarchos rules next Saturday in the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct, sports fan can look forward to the classic East-West showdown the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.

But first, Point Given must overcome his No. 1 starting post and his expected six challengers in the Santa Anita Derby. Bob Baffert, who trains Point Given, says the only thing that can beat his powerful colt is a bad trip.

That is always possible, especially with a horse breaking from the rail who wants to run freely on the outside. But Zucker, a colorful 52-year-old with three decades of horse experience, says he believes Crafty C.T. can beat Point Given on even terms.

Asked whether he was running for second behind Point Given, Zucker said: "Hell no. If I thought he was going to run second, I wouldn't even lead him over there."

A rangy, long-legged son of Crafty Prospector, Crafty C.T. has raced only three times, all this year at Santa Anita. He underwent surgery as a yearling to repair a problem in his stifle, a joint high in the hind leg. He missed starting as a 2-year-old after stepping on a stone at Hollywood Park.

He made his debut as a 3-year-old Jan. 6, running second by a length to the highly regarded, now injured, D'wildcat. He polished off a field of maidens Feb. 3 by 3 1/2 lengths and then devoured a strong contingent March 3 in the one-mile San Rafael Stakes by four lengths.

Zucker says that if he could have run Crafty C.T. last year and given him a break over the winter to fill out and mature, then he would be first in line for the Kentucky Derby. But as it is, Zucker says, Crafty C.T. is "so tight" for the Santa Anita Derby that he's not eating as much as he should be to further his development.

"He's peaking now," Zucker said. "I don't want to add even more stress and go to the well one time too often and end up with a basket case who's got nothing left. He just needs a little chance to fill out.

"A horse tries to tell you something. You've got to listen. It's a game of observation. And he's telling me that, after this, it's time for a rest."

Just to be sporting, Zucker says, there's a one-in-a-million chance he'll run Crafty C.T. in the Kentucky Derby if he dominates this race. But he says that this race is his Kentucky Derby, that this is where Crafty C.T. will deliver his top performance.

Here's the field for the Santa Anita Derby in post position order, with trainer, jockey and program odds in parentheses: Point Given (Baffert, Gary Stevens, 1-1); I Love Silver (Dean Greenman, Laffit Pincay Jr., 6-1); Crafty C.T. (Zucker, Eddie Delahoussaye, 9-5); Startac (Simon Bray, Alex Solis, 15-1); Scorpion (D. Wayne Lukas, Victor Espinoza, 30-1); Early Flyer (Ron McAnally, Tyler Baze, 12-1); Palmeiro (John Sadler, Kent Desormeaux, 8-1); and Cherokee Kim (Jerry Fanning, David Flores, 30-1).

Early Flyer is expected to be scratched after breezing seven furlongs yesterday at Santa Anita. McAnally says he plans on running him next weekend in the California Derby at Bay Meadows.

The Santa Anita Derby will be televised on ESPN, along with the Illinois Derby and Lone Star Derby. The three races form a pick-three wager available across the country, including betting sites in Maryland.

Kentucky Derby contenders in the $500,000 Illinois Derby (Grade II, 1 1/8 miles) include Dream Run and Distilled, and in the $500,000 Lone Star Derby (ungraded, 1 1/8 miles) Fifty Stars and Hoovergetthekeys.

In the $250,000 Flamingo Stakes (Grade III, 1 1/8 miles), Outofthebox seeks his first stakes victory after finishing second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. Talk Is Money, trained by the Laurel-based John Scanlan, attempts to rebound from dismal performances in those two races at Gulfstream.

"He's coming up to this race much better than he did his last two," Scanlan said. "He likes the softer surface at Hialeah. ... It'd be nice to go to the [Kentucky] Derby with the horse who won the Flamingo."

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