Bailey's fingers crossed with `Blue'

Jockey hopes Wood effort will prove ticket to Derby

Horse Racing

April 11, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Jerry Bailey has learned a thing or two in winning five Eclipse awards as North America's top jockey, four Dubai World Cups, 12 Breeders' Cup races and two Kentucky Derbys.

"You can never have too many," Bailey said.

He was referring to potential Derby mounts, the pot at the end of every jockey's rainbow. Bailey has already lost two this year, perhaps the top two: Siphonic and Repent, both to ankle injuries.

Repent is to undergo surgery Monday for removal of a bone chip after carrying Bailey to a disappointing, second-place finish last week in the Illinois Derby.

Now, Bailey's best chance of a Derby starter is Blue Burner, one of eight 3-year-olds expected Saturday in the $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct. Like every other young horse being pointed to the Triple Crown series, Blue Burner has questions crying out for answers.

"He's got to improve," Bailey said. "He's improved in each of his last races. But he's going to have to finish all the way through the wire in the Wood to deserve serious consideration in the Kentucky Derby. And he might very well do that."

Bailey has ridden the French Deputy colt in all three of his races this year, ever since Bill Mott took over his training from Marylander John J. Tammaro III.

Blue Burner is owned by George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable, which often employs Tammaro as developer of promising 2-year-olds. When they begin fulfilling their promise, Kinsman usually transfers them to its prime-time trainer, Hall of Famer Mott.

Under Tammaro at Monmouth Park, the 2-year-old Blue Burner won both of his races, the first by 5 1/2 lengths, the second by 2 1/4 lengths. Under Mott at Gulfstream Park, the 3-year-old Blue Burner narrowly won an allowance race and then finished third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and second in the Florida Derby.

For the Fountain of Youth, Mott added Lasix, the anti-bleeder medication. For the Florida Derby, he added blinkers. With Bailey once again in the saddle, Blue Burner should finally be the complete package.

"I didn't expect him to win those races, but I expected him to run well, and he did in each case," Bailey said of the Gulfstream stakes.

"The distance limitation is a question mark in my mind. He didn't close the gap the last 16th of a mile in the Florida Derby. The reason could be that he can't quite go that far effectively, or that he ran up against some tough company."

The company was Harlan's Holiday, whose 3 1/2 -length runaway in the 1 1/8 -mile Florida Derby was arguably the most impressive performance so far by a 3-year-old male. A victory Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland would likely propel Harlan's Holiday into the Kentucky Derby as deserving favorite.

The 1 1/8 -mile Wood Memorial, which has groomed the last two Kentucky Derby winners - Monarchos last year and Fusaichi Pegasus the year before - could produce several Derby starters.

In addition to Blue Burner, Wood colts on the Derby trail are the Bobby Frankel-trained Medaglia d'Oro and the H. James Bond-trained Buddha, both of whom have raced only three times; Sunday Break, the Neil Drysdale-trained colt running in his first stakes, and the Shug McGaughey-trained Saarland, who finished second in the one-mile Gotham Stakes in his only race as a 3-year-old.

"Frankel has an unknown quantity in Medaglia d'Oro," Bailey says. "How good is he? You'll find out in the Wood.

"Can Blue Burner step up? You don't know. And Saarland, is he just a one-pace horse or was a mile too short? The Wood will answer that question."

Questions abound as racing closes in on its most celebrated event, the Kentucky Derby May 4 at Churchill Downs. This year, more than most, hardly any answers have emerged. Why?

"Well," Bailey said, "the headliners and heavy-hitters coming into the year have either gone by the wayside [his mounts Repent and Siphonic] or not had the ideal preparation [Johannesburg, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner who lost for the time Sunday in Ireland].

"The lesser-known horses have surfaced, and maybe they don't have the respect that they should."

Blue Burner, among others, will pursue that respect Saturday as the final major Derby preps take place: the Wood here in Queens at the track called the Big A, the Blue Grass at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

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