Quest for perfection hits snag

Trainer Tagg works to keep Nobiz Like Shobiz from lugging in

April 07, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

Nobiz Like Shobiz has so much potential that his trainer, Barclay Tagg, said weeks ago that he felt his horse was the perfect horse for the Kentucky Derby.

Tagg was, however, quick to add: "I'm not saying that'll make him win the Derby. ... I'm not being overly optimistic or anything like that. It's just he's the perfect type that you could ever design to go into something like this. He's got beautiful conformation, a very strong horse, a very, very fast horse and he does things very, very easily."

But the "perfect" horse has developed a design flaw, and if Tagg can't fix it by the time Nobiz leaves the starting gate today in the Wood Memorial, the colt might not be on anyone's Derby favorites list come May 5.

In his last outing, the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Florida, Nobiz's penchant for lugging in, a tendency to bear in erratically, appeared to cost him a victory and relegated him to third place behind winner Scat Daddy and Stormello.

Since then, Tagg has been working Nobiz, sired by Albert the Great, with blinkers, headgear that helps a horse retain his focus.

"He's still a little green," said Tagg, who flew back to New York from his Gulfstream stables Thursday, as did Nobiz. "I don't think the lugging in is anything serious. It just seems to happen at the same spot [coming down the front stretch during a race] in the afternoon.

"I don't think it's physical. I've had his teeth checked. They're fine. I've had him examined. He's sound. The only thing I can think is it's the noise of the crowd. When he's training in the mornings, there isn't any crowd making any noise."

The only other contributing factor, Tagg said, is family history.

"I trained his mother [Nightstorm], and she did the same thing," he said. "I don't think it's a big deal, and I really don't know why he's doing it."

Today, the Wood will be televised on the NTRA Racing to Kentucky Derby series on ESPN between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. Another of today's big preps, the Santa Anita Derby, will be broadcast live on channels 11 and 4 beginning at 5 p.m.

There are just six prep races left counting today's events for Derby hopefuls.

The Doug O'Neill-trained Liquidity will try to break into the winner's circle of a graded-stakes race for the first time when he takes on perhaps the weakest prep field of the day in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has Sam P. and King of the Roxy running. Jerry Hollendorfer has Bwana Bull and Craig Dollase has Boutrous, and all but King of the Roxy need graded earnings to qualify for the Kentucky Derby if more than 20 horses are entered.

In the Illinois Derby, a race in which Maryland star Sweetnorthernsaint blasted to victory a year ago to become the betting favorite at the 2006 Kentucky Derby, O'Neill's Cobalt Blue and Pletcher's Cowtown Cat will go after victory. Both horses are among the top 20 graded-stakes earners, but could be in trouble if they don't add to their earnings.

But New York is where the biggest showdown looms, with Nobiz taking on the Pletcher-trained Any Given Saturday, who last out lost by a nose to Street Sense, the 2-year-old champion who is on everyone's Derby shortlist.

Tagg, however, is paying little attention to the competition. It is his horse who occupies his time.

"This is a Grade I race and it's important for us to win," Tagg said. "Nobiz hasn't won a Grade I yet, and winning one is important to his future even beyond the Kentucky Derby if there is hope of making him a stallion. And, it's important to me, too. I haven't won the Wood Memorial yet, and I'd certainly like to win it."

Note -- At Laurel Park today, with graded-stakes winner Silmaril taking a rest, the $100,000 Primonetta Stakes for fillies and mares appears wide-open. In the field of six starters, Coli Bear is the 8-5 favorite and has won six of 16 starts, including five at this six-furlong distance.

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