Maryland's Tapit gets stuck in mud, falls back in pack

Off track leaves colt cold

Lion Heart earns praise

Notebook

Kentucky Derby

May 02, 2004|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Meticulous to the end, Michael Dickinson tried everything to give Tapit his best chance to win the Kentucky Derby.

After an afternoon thunderstorm turned the track into slop, Dickinson waded onto the track and poked his finger into the muck at varying intervals, trying to identify the best ground for his jockey, Ramon Dominguez. Unfortunately for the Marylanders, Tapit would have no part of it. He didn't seem to care for the mud no matter where he trudged.

Third choice in the betting at 3-1, Tapit broke slowly into traffic, was steadied and then hung five wide leaving the first turn. He raced wide down the backstretch, made a brief charge around the turn and then flattened out in the stretch. He ended up ninth.

"Ramon said he didn't handle the track," said Dickinson, who trains at his farm in Cecil County. "In his last race [the Wood Memorial Stakes], he was just cruising. Ramon never had to ask him for his run. Today was different. The track was a little sticky for us. Ramon said he was never running well enough to win."

Dickinson said he and Tapit's owners would discuss whether to run next in the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes.

Happy with Lion Heart

Patrick Biancone and Mike Smith, trainer and jockey, respectively, of runner-up Lion Heart, said they were thrilled with the colt's performance.

"He ran a big race," Biancone said. "I have great respect for the winner. I hope, if everything goes well, in two weeks we can get revenge."

Smith said he thought he had enough horse to hold off Smarty Jones.

"I tried to get away from him, and he hung with me, so I knew it was going to be a dogfight," Smith said. "I had a great trip and every opportunity to beat him, but Smarty Jones had another gear today."

Third fine with Mulhall

Kristin Mulhall, 21-year-old trainer of Imperialism, said she was pleased with third.

"Of course, it was great for us to be here," she said. "He didn't mind the muddy track. He handled it well."

Jockey Kent Desormeaux said he could have done better if he hadn't been trapped around the final turn.

"For about 200 yards, I'd say, I was frozen in my position," Desormeaux said. "The horses all around me weren't going anywhere. I finally decided I had to go out and around, and when I did, the horse cut it loose. I went under the wire with a horse with a ton of run left in him."

Zito's horses falter

Nick Zito, trainer of The Cliff's Edge (fifth) and Birdstone (eighth), saluted Smarty Jones but defended his pair.

"I hate making excuses, and I know the fans hate it, too, but The Cliff's Edge lost his two front shoes during the race," Zito said. "The little man [Birdstone] lost a shoe, too."

Shane Sellers, who rode The Cliff's Edge, said his mount also had a horrible trip.

"There were 16 horses in front of me bumping around," Sellers said. "When I called on him, he just went to swimming. ... It's the greatest race in America - and the toughest race to win."

Mud trouble

Several of the jockeys said their horses struggled in the slop. Typical were Alex Solis, who rode Master David (12th), and Jose Valdivia Jr., who rode Castledale (14th).

"I was in good position all the way, but he started slipping and sliding," Solis said. "He wasn't handling it. At the half-mile pole, he really got discouraged, and it was all over for me from there."

Said Valdivia Jr.: "He immediately started climbing and switching leads. I knew about a sixteenth of a mile out of the gate that I was going to be in trouble. He hated the mud flying back in his face."

Ask our reporter

Go to The Sun's Web site www.baltimoresun.com/sports and submit questions for The Sun's Tom Keyser about the Preakness, the Kentucky Derby and other horse racing topics. Submit your questions by 5 p.m. tomorrow. Look for answers on the Web site Wednesday.

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