Now that the majority of the prep races leading up to the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands have been run, each full of surprises and disappointments, it’s time to start putting the puzzle pieces together. As Axel Rose once sang in Sweet Child O’ Mine: “Where do we go now?”
There is still the Coolmore Lexigton Stakes (gr. 3) this Saturday at Keeneland, but the $200,000 purse and $120,000 winner’s check will only help El Camino Real (gr. 3) winner Silver Medallion qualify for the Derby by adding to his $184,334 in graded earnings. According to Keeneland, the other probables are Beachcombing, Casper’s Touch, Derby Kitten and Prime Cut. Hurricane Lake and Uncle Sam are also possible.
Should Silver Medallion win the Lexington, (all other things remaining the same), Santiva would fall out of the Kentucky Derby top 20 with his $242,397. Others on the outside of the Derby looking in are Watch Me Go ($235,500), Shackleford ($212,000) and Twinspired ($197,500). All of these horses of course, were pushed down a notch earlier this week when Coolmore Stud announced that Criterium Internation (F.-1) and Airlie Stud Ganullule Stakes (Ire-3) winner was headed for the Kentucky Derby from Europe.
Last year, it took $218,750 for Make Music for Me to get the chance to enter the Kentucky Derby. Last minutes changes due to injury or an alteration of plans can also wreak havoc on the top 20 graded stakes earning 3-year-olds. In 2009, multiple late scratches allowed Nowhere to Hide to enter the Run for the Roses with only $55,500.
Technically, 2011 has already had several defections, the most recent being Astrology, currently ranked 17th on the list with $281,893. Trainer Steve Asmussen said he will instead be pointed to the Jerome Handicap at Aqueduct this Saturday. That pulled Jaycito up to the 19th spot with his $250,000 and Santiva into the last remaining spot in the top 20.
The additions and subtractions to the field may go right up to the morning of the Kentucky Derby. Two years ago, morning line favorite I Want Revenge was scratched after trainer Jeff Mullins found a hot spot on the colt’s left front ankle. Unfortunately, when a horse scratches that late, no horse can be pulled of the also elibible list. Also that year, Florida Derby winner Quality Road was scratched just days before the Derby due to problems in a front hoof.
This time last year, Eskenderya was coming off of a 18-1/2 length romp in the Wood Memorial and a similar devastation of rivals in the Fountain of Youth (gr. 2) in February. So dominant was Eskendereya that people began to think there was hope for the next Triple Crown winner. But a week later, trainer Todd Pletcher walked into his shed row only to find swelling between the left front ankle and knee. Because of his potential as a sire, Eskendereya was retired to stud in Kentucky.
This year, Pletcher has Uncle Mo, considered the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby before he finished a dismal third in the New York Casino Wood Memorial (gr. 1) last week at Aqueduct. Following the race, it was discovered that Uncle Mo had grabbed a quarter during the running of the Wood. Then a gastrointestinal infection was found a few days later. Pletcher said neither would effect Uncle's Mo training but it can be assumed that Pletcher is doing everything to secure his barn from black cats, turks, gremlins and all other bad luck creatures mythical or real.
Last year at this time Backtalk and Make Music for Me were ranked 22nd and 23rd respectively on the graded earnings list. Both started in the Kentucky Derby and give hope to the connections behind Watch Me Go, Shackleford and Twinspired.
Even as most of the graded stakes monies have been distributed and the major races have been run, the road to the Kentucky is far from it's May 7 destination.