Future book bettors should not break into a sweat trying to get down on Crafty C.T. in the Kentucky Derby.
At a time when Derby Fever is sweeping the country, trainer Howard Zucker is reacting to the Run for the Roses like its the Black Plague.
In Crafty C.T., Zucker trains the most hyped 3-year-old in California this side of Point Given and Congaree. The 52-year-old conditioner has steadfastly maintained that Crafty C.T. wont run in the Derby May 5, even after the son of Crafty Prospector rolled to a four-length victory on a speed-favoring track in the March 3 San Rafael Stakes.
As Zucker prepares Crafty C.T. for the April 7 Santa Anita Derby, he remains unwavering in his anti-Kentucky Derby stance for the Kentucky-bred chestnut.
"If he tied his tail around my neck and dragged me to Kentucky, I might enter him," Zucker said. "But Id put the odds of me going to Kentucky at 1 in 100,000. To project that hes going to run in the Santa Anita Derby, do well and bounce out of it like a horse that needs to go on and run again is just too much to imagine.
"Hes impressed me so far in that respect, because race to race he seems to get better. He came out of the San Rafael better than he went into it. He acts like hes improving in every race. But it would be going to the well once too often to think that hes going to run well right back off of the Santa Anita Derby. Its quite a stretch out from going a mile (the San Rafael distance) to a mile and an eighth (of the Santa Anita Derby) with a horse thats never been there before."
Crafty C.T. was unraced as a 2-year-old. That presents a major Derby deterrent for Zucker. The last horse to win the Kentucky Derby that didnt race as 2-year-old was Apollo in 1882!
"Woody Stephens or somebody like that would have sent the horse to the Laurel Futurity, called it a season, gone to Hialeah, freshened him up, grazed him a little bit, then brought him back for one of the early Florida preps," Zucker said. "Thats the classic way of going to the Derby.
"Now, because of the Breeders Cup, guys race a little later but youve got a horse like Point Given, whos been there, done that and has come back twice as strong as he was as a 2-year-old. They have that chance to mature. My horse went through a lot of maturing even while he was racing. I cant believe how much hes changed for the best. But to think hes going to keep doing it and project past the Derby would be asking a lot.
"Im telling future book bettors not to bet on him. I told the guys who already bet on him to sell their tickets. Im going to take that month from April 7 through the first week in May and not even work him, just gallop him and give him a day off every week and lighten up on the gallops, because we do gallop him hard. Well let him gain some weight, fill out and point maybe to the Affirmed or the Swaps (at Hollywood Park)."
Sending a horse across country is another reason Zucker cites to skip the Derby.
"Shipping adds a ton of stress to a horse. Thats part of the reason for not going to Kentucky," Zucker said. "If the Kentucky Derby were run at Santa Anita, Id probably be looking forward to it. Thered be 50 percent more chance of a horse being right for the Derby if he didnt have to go across country and acclimate to an entirely new situation.
"Sure, some horses do it, but theyre much more experienced than Crafty C.T. Some horses Ive trained have at least shipped across town and run. Crafty C.T. made his first start, and it wasnt even the first week of the meet. Now, for the Santa Anita Derby, hes going to be making his fourth start in one meeting. You can count on one hand horses that start four times at one meet, especially the good ones. How many of them make that dance? I wouldnt hold it against him if he didnt even run in the Santa Anita Derby, but he just seems to be improving every day. Maybe hes the super horse everybodys looking for."
Zucker blames the media as another reason to forego the Derby.
"The media puts on the pressure to run in the Derby," Zucker said. "Ill tell you the truth: you guys want to have a super horse, but you dont want to let a guy develop one. You want to press him into doing all the stupid things year after year that people do to ruin their bleeping horses, just because the press and the public would like to see that horse bash his head against the wall in one race or another.
"The Derby is the biggest race you push for. If I dont think its the right thing to do with my horse, the public can watch him for another year and a half or two years and enjoy him, and you guys can write about him. Youll have a lot more left, and so will I."
What Congaree lacks in experience, he makes up for in talent. The son of 1991 Breeders Cup Juvenile champion Arazi had what amounted to a paid workout in winning a 11/16-mile allowance race by eight lengths at Santa Anita Saturday, the same day Kentucky Derby favorite Point Given made his 2001 debut with an authoritative 2Â¼-length victory in the San Felipe Stakes. "Point Given is still the No. 1 horse," said Bob Baffert, who trains both colts. "Congaree (with only three starts) has some catching up to do, but hes a freak of nature and horses like that can overcome a lot," said Baffert. He calls Congaree "this years Indian Charlie."
One of D. Wayne Lukas major Kentucky Derby prospects, Gold Trader, was euthanized after suffering a fractured cannon bone in his right hind leg during the stretch run of the San Felipe. The $400,000 son of Storm Cat was owned by William Youngs Overbrook Farm, whose Grindstone won the 1996 Derby
Veteran trainer George Williams on 18-year-old jockey Tyler Baze: "He reminds me of Pat Valenzuela. When the gates open, he gets the horse right into the race." Baze did just that for his major sponsor, red-hot trainer John Sadler, when he piloted first-time starter Heisman to a front-running $98.80 payoff in Saturdays eighth race
Trainer Jim Cassidy reports that Jamaican Rums sire, Exemplary Leader, died at age 14 of an aneurysm in the breeding shed. "He got off the mare and keeled over," Cassidy said. "Thats the way wed all like to go, isnt it?"
|So-Cal sophs on Derby trail|
|Comprehensive and current status of Southern Californias leading 3-year-olds|
|Horse||Trainer||Next Start Comment|
|CONGAREE||Baffert||Probably the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 14 after son of Arazi scored a smashing eight-length allowance win at 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.16. Baffert says hes this years Indian Charlie.|
|CRAFTY C.T.||Zucker||Santa Anita Derby on April 7, but Zucker says chances of running in Kentucky Derby are one in 100,000. Breezed a half-mile Sunday in: 49.80.|
|DWILDCAT||Hess Jr.||Lafayette Stakes at seven furlongs on April 11 or Derby Trial at one mile on April 28. Hess says no Kentucky Derby for smashing 10 Â½-length winner of Swale Stakes.|
|EARLY FLYER||McAnally||Santa Anita Derby or Arkansas Derby. Hopped at break, went four-wide before running third, beaten five lengths, in San Rafael.|
|FLAME THROWER||Baffert||Undecided. Worked half-mile in: 48 1/5 on March 15. Not nominated to Triple Crown.|
|GLOBAL GAIT||Baffert||Rushaway Stakes or Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on April 24. Recovering from quarter crack. Well-beaten fourth in Fountain of Youth.|
|GOLDEN BALLET||Sahadi||Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 7. Nations top filly won Santa Anita Oaks for fifth straight victory.|
|GOLD TRADER||Lukas||Euthanized after suffering fracture of right hind leg during stretch run of San Felipe.|
|I LOVE SILVER||Greenman||Closed well for second in San Felipe Stakes behind Point Given, called by Greenman "the best horse in the world, right now."|
|JAMAICAN RUM||Cassidy||Lexington Stakes at Keeneland April 21, but Cassidy pondering Santa Anita Derby and Lone Star Derby. Third, beaten 3 Â¾lengths in San Felipe despite five-wide trip.|
|MACABE||Craig Lewis||Undecided. Worked five furlongs Friday in: 58.60.|
|MILLENNIUM WIND||Hofmans||Santa Anita Derby or Blue Grass Stakes on April 14 for runner-up in roughly run Louisiana Derby.|
|NEW PROGRAM||Sahadi||Undecided, but stays on grass. Won downhill turf race Feb. 8.|
|PALMEIRO||Sadler||Santa Anita Derby after finishing game second in San Rafael on speed-favoring track. Worked five furlongs March 14 in 1:00.40.|
|POINT GIVEN||Baffert||Santa Anita Derby. Made 2001 debut with powerful 2 Â¼-length San Felipe win. Baffert says hes still "the No. 1 horse," ahead of Congaree.|
|SKIP TO THE STONE||Mitchell||Undecided after rating tactics failed and he finished sixth, beaten nearly 19 lengths in San Felipe.|
|SPECIAL TIMES||Baffert||Undecided. Dull fourth behind Congaree in allowance race, beaten 10 Â½-lengths.|
|STARTAC||Bray||Santa Anita Derby. Owners are leaning that way, Bray says.|
|SWORDFISH||Craig Lewis||Undecided. Worked five furlongs Friday in 1:00.|
|TURNBERRY ISLE||Lukas||Undecided but ran well on grass in Europe, could return to turf after finishing 10th in Florida Derby.|
|WILD AND WISE||Baffert||Undecided. Worked half-mile in: 49 1/5 on March 13. Not nominated to Triple Crown.|