Road to Kentucky Derby is filled with pot holes

Mar 29, 2005 5:01 AM

When it comes to the Kentucky Derby, getting there isn’t half the fun.

Declan’s Moon, male 2-year-old champion of 2004: gone.

Roman Ruler, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile favorite: gone.

Risen Star winner Scipion: gone.

More are certain to fall from the radar screen between now and May 7, when the 131st Run for the Roses unfolds. The Derby is the race every horseman wants to win and it’s the toughest race to win. It’s akin to a male Black Widow spider’s mating chances. Opportunities are limited and attempts could prove fatal.

Bob Baffert won his first Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm in 1997. He’s been hooked ever since. But unless he finds a War Emblem in the next five weeks, he could be watching this year’s race on television. His last chance might be the recently purchased Sort It Out.

His most capable 3-year-old, Roman Ruler, will not make the race. Baffert gave it his best shot, but a record 45 inches of rain at Santa Anita since Christmas coupled with a persistent quarter crack (a crack between the toe and heel) on Roman Ruler’s left front foot were too much to overcome.

Desperate, Baffert saddled Roman Ruler for his belated 3-year-old debut in the San Felipe Stakes on March 19, but the son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus had a troubled trip and was not persevered with by jockey Gary Stevens, finishing last after making a mild bid leaving the half-mile pole. The next day, a relieved Baffert told me Roman Ruler definitely would not run in the Derby.

"I owed it to the clients (Bill Bianco and David Shimmon, who race as Fog City Stable) to try and make the Derby, but they knew what we were up against and they’re fine with it," Baffert said. "I don’t want to ruin him. We knew we were in a tough spot. He was going to need the race but even if he got the trip, he was only going to finish third or fourth. Now we’ll freshen him up and have a summer campaign."

The consensus of opinion from Baffert and D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Consolidator, is that no horse was going to beat Consolidator in the San Felipe. Not even the revered filly, Sweet Catomine, who is scheduled to meet males in the Santa Anita Derby on April 9. Consolidator, a son of Storm Cat, won by a stakes-record 6 ½ lengths after being pressured for six furlongs by 41-1 shot Lucky J.H., then kicking away like a fresh horse to win the 1 1/16-mile race under a hand ride and one crack of the whip from jockey Rafael Bejarano.

"Sweet Catomine was not going to beat Consolidator in the San Felipe," Baffert said. "That was a good field of horses but nobody was going to beat him. He was getting out of town. The two most impressive races I’ve seen this year are his and High Limit in the Louisiana Derby. Consolidator is a very good horse. He freaked and he’s done that before. I do the numbers on my horses the next day after they race and he really had a good one."

Trainers of horses that finished behind Consolidator in the San Felipe were quick to blame defeat on a sealed track.

"Concrete is not his favorite surface," a miffed Ron Ellis said of third-place finisher Don’t Get Mad. "Running times that day were disproportionably fast."

Still, a confident Lukas wasn’t buying. "They’ll get another chance," he said of his detractors.

Bobby Frankel, who has a leading Derby contender in High Limit, inferred the track was juiced when Consolidator won. "It was a funny track," said the Hall of Fame trainer, who has never won the Derby.

But he readily dismissed criticism from figure gurus who worship their often misstated mathematical malarkey. They contend that no horse challenged High Limit at any point during his front-running romp in the Louisiana Derby, and say his time for the race was slower than the hands on a traffic school clock.

"When a horse runs like that," Frankel countered, "it’s not his fault he’s faster than the rest of them."

THE HOMESTRETCH

If Hollywood Park’s dates are assigned to Los Alamitos, it would be music to the ears of racing fans if Michael Wrona or Luke Kruybosch were hired as track announcer.

”¡ With Doug O’Neill shattering the Santa Anita record of 47 wins by a trainer in a single meet, he’s becoming the Jerry Hollendorfer of Southern California.


GOLDEN's TOP 5
IN DERBY

High Limit 7-1

Consolidator 7-1

Sweet Catomine 15-1

Rockport Harbor 20-1

Sun King 8-1

Odds c/o Las Vegas Hilton