Favorites on bumpy road to Derby

Since Jan. 1, 30 horses have won 38 stakes races

Horse Racing

March 22, 2004|By Paul Moran | Paul Moran,NEWSDAY

Trainer Nick Zito's expression of disbelief as he faced television cameras moments after having watched Birdstone founder in the mud at Turfway Park as the odds-on favorite in Saturday's Lane's End captured the chaos into which the chase toward Churchill Downs has lapsed. Zito's incredulity is widely shared.

The pile of dented armor grows and the emerging possibilities previously unforeseen multiply with each weekend. Thirty different horses have won 38 stakes races for 3-year-olds run since Jan. 1.

In fact, the horses that did well in this week's edition of the Triple Crown Ratings were those that didn't run. Only two horses received top 10 votes from all five panelists - Eurosilver, rated first, and Florida Derby winner Friends Lake, who is third.

Smarty Jones, winner of the Rebel at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, has risen to the occasion in all three of his races but is only now being considered a serious prospect. He remains unranked.

The coming weekend's ebb in the schedule of Derby preps is an almost welcome respite for those in regroup mode with only the most recent addition to the expansive menu of alternatives for Triple Crown prospects on the schedule.

The first Winstar Derby failed to produce a Kentucky Derby starter but a $500,000 purse and a list of high-profile nominees bodes well for the future of the race, which will be run Sunday at Sunland Park, in Arizona, with none of the high-profile nominees in attendance. West Coast stables with 3-year-olds not quite ready for prime time or testing apparent distance limitations, however, have embraced the race.

Trainer Bob Baffert is expected to send Consecrate and Teton Forest to Sunland while he prepares the more accomplished Louisiana Derby winner, Wimbledon, for the Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe Stakes winner Preachinatthebar for the Blue Grass Stakes. Hosco, who appears to be a cut below the best Southern California-based 3-year-olds, is also expected at Sunland.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Triple Crown rankings

Ranking the top 10 Triple Crown contenders ("No." shows total starts, followed by first-, second- and third-place finishes):

Horse Trainer Jockey No. 1-2-3 Last race Next race

1. Eurosilver N. Zito J. Castellano 4 3-1-0 Swale Stakes (2nd) Bluegrass Stakes

2. Wimbledon B. Baffert J. Santiago 6 2-3-0 Louisiana Derby (1st) San. Anita Derby

3. Friends Lake J. Kimmell R. Migliore 5 3-0-1 Florida Derby (1st) Kentucky Derby

4. The Cliff's Edge N. Zito S. Sellers 7 3-2-1 Florida Derby (3rd) Arkansas Derby

5. St. Averil R. Becerra T. Baze 4 2-2-0 San Felipe Stakes (2nd) San. Anita Derby

6. Master David B. Frankel E. Prado 6 2-3-1 Sham Stakes (1st) Wood Memorial

7. Eddington M. Hennig E. Prado 5 2-2-1 Gotham Stakes (3rd) Wood Memorial

8. Read the Footnotes R. Violette J. Bailey 6 5-0-0 Florida Derby (4th) Wood/Ky. Derby

9. Imperialism K. Nuhall V. Espinoza 14 5-3-1 San Rafael Stakes (1st) San. Anita Derby

10. Limehouse T. Pletcher P. Day 8 5-0-2 Tampa Bay Derby (1st) Blue Grass

Triple Crown panel: Bill Christine, Los Angeles Times; Dave Joseph, South Florida Sun-Sentinel; Tom Keyser, The Sun; Neil Milbert, Chicago Tribune; Paul Moran, Newsday.

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