With eye on Derby, hopefuls make their run

Swirl of weekend activity gives fans preview of field for the Triple Crown race

Horse Racing

March 21, 2005|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Racing fans may have seen more top Kentucky Derby contenders in action Saturday than they'll see any given day until, of course, the Derby itself May 7 at Churchill Downs.

Six of the 10 Derby hopefuls in last week's Tribune Publishing poll competed, as did 12 of the 25 3-year-olds on Daily Racing Form's Derby Watch. In addition, the top five in last fall's Breeders' Cup Juvenile raced.

Out of that swirl of activity came big winners -- Sun King, Consolidator and Greater Good, and big losers -- Afleet Alex and Roman Ruler. After finishing last in their respective races, the Rebel Stakes and San Felipe Stakes, Afleet Alex, No. 2 last week, and Roman Ruler, No. 10, dropped out of the Tribune poll. However, Tim Ritchey, trainer of Afleet Alex, said the colt was compromised by a lung infection and would return for the Arkansas Derby. Bob Baffert, Roman Ruler's trainer, said he'd pull the horse off the Derby trail and let a nagging cracked hoof heal.

Sun King retained his top ranking with a 3 1/4 -length victory against modest competition at the Tampa Bay Derby. As the 1-9 favorite, he toyed with his opposition, especially around the far turn, where Edgar Prado, his jockey, allowed horses to range up on either side before pulling away down the stretch. That seemed to be about as good a preparation for the Blue Grass Stakes as Nick Zito, Sun King's trainer, could have hoped for.

Consolidator and Greater Good catapulted into the top 10 with eye-catching performances in the San Felipe Stakes and Rebel Stakes, respectively. Trained by the veteran Bob Holthus, Greater Good has quietly compiled an impressive record -- four stakes wins, all around two turns.

He outran the previously-undefeated Rockport Harbor down the stretch, but the John Servis-trainee, whom Servis calls Rocky, impressed nonetheless while racing at less than 100 percent fitness. He had missed training because of a lingering foot injury. Consolidator blasted to a 6 1/2 -length victory, setting a San Felipe record of 1:40.11 for 1 1/16 miles. D. Wayne Lukas, his trainer, said he had a "little heart-to-heart talk" with the Storm Cat colt after his fourth-place finish last month in the San Vicente Stakes.

What Lukas actually did, he said, was tighten the screws on Consolidator's training. It paid off when the striking colt, on a wet and firm track, left, among others, Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko in his wake to finish fourth. Wilko, seventh in last week's Tribune poll, dropped out, as did former No. 8 Don't Get Mad, third in the San Felipe.

The most amazing performance of the day was perhaps the jockey Alan Garcia's on Pavo in the Gotham Stakes. Garcia lost his footing in the irons in tight going, and then rode around the turn sitting straight up and down the stretch struggling to hang on.

Still, Pavo nearly won, finishing three quarters of a length behind Survivalist, who cracked this week's poll winning his first stakes in his first try. Pavo was subsequently disqualified for interference and placed fourth.

"The kid rode a great race," said Pat Kelly, trainer of Naughty New Yorker, who finished fourth but was elevated to third. "I've never seen such a ride without stirrups. He reminded me of Angel Cordero Jr."

The main action this week shifts to Turfway Park for the Lane's End Stakes, which will showcase second-tier Derby contenders hoping for breakthrough performances. Also, the undefeated Shamardal, Godolphin Racing's top Derby threat, makes his 3-year-old debut in the UAE Derby in Dubai.

A son of Giant's Causeway, Shamardal was Europe's champion 2-year-old. He won all three of his races, all on turf, and all on the lead.

Triple Crown Ratings

Horse Jockey Trainer Starts Win Place Show Last race Next race Date

1. Sun King Edgar Prado Nick Zito 6 3 0 2 Tampa Bay Derby (1st) Blue Grass Stakes 4-16

2. Consolidator Rafael Bejarano Wayne Lukas 9 3 1 1 San Felipe Stakes (1st) Blue Grass Stakes 4-16

3. Greater Good John McKee Bob Holthus 7 5 0 1 Rebel Stakes (1st) Arkansas Derby 4-16

4. Rockport Harbor Stewart Elliott John Servis 5 4 1 0 Rebel Stakes (2nd) Arkansas Derby 4-16

5. High Fly Jerry Bailey Nick Zito 5 4 0 1 Fountain of Youth (1st) Florida Derby 4-2

6. Survivalist Richard Migliore Shug McGaughey 5 2 2 0 Gotham Stakes (1st) Wood Memorial 4-9

7. Sweet Cantomine Corey Nakatani Julio Canani 6 5 1 0 Santa Anita Oaks (1st) Santa Anita Derby 4-9

8. High Limit Bobby Frankel Ramon Domiguez 3 3 0 0 Louisiana Derby (1st) Blue Grass Stakes 4-16

9. Bandini John Velazquez Todd Pletcher 4 2 1 0 Fountain of Youth (2nd) Florida Derby 4-2

10. Noble Causeway Pat Day Nick Zito 5 2 2 0 Allowance (1st) Florida Derby 4-2

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

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