And then there were just four.
With confirmation today that both The Factor and J P’s Gusto
won’t run, only four horses that have been based on the West Coast at some
point in their career are left as contenders for the 20 spots available in the
starting gate at Churchill Downs for this year’s $2 million Kentucky Derby presented by
Yum! Brands (Grade I).
The pair of defections benefits the front-running style of Comma
to the Top (ranked No. 40 on Horse Racing Nation’s 2011 Kentucky Derby Contenders list),
who breezed five furlongs in 1:02.4 at Hollywood Park yesterday under the
watchful eye of trainer Peter Miller. Prior to the Santa Anita Derby, Miller had said that his Florida-bred son of Bwana
Charlie was not on the road to Louisville, but a second place finish seems to have changed that. Should he make the trip, his six
wins would top the Derby
However with the two pace pressers being out, another one
gets in. Shackelford (No. 48), who lead all the way before getting run down in the final strides of the Florida Derby by Dialed In (No. 3), is off the earnings bubble and
intends to run.
Midnight Interlude (No. 12) may have been the least likely
contender coming from Bob Baffert’s barn five weeks ago, but after romping home
by over eight lengths to break his maiden and winning the Santa Anita Derby, he’s
the last hope for the silver-haired wizard. The Kentucky-bred son of War Chant’s
six-furlong work at Churchill Downs was the only positive development for Baffert this morning amid tragedy (Gilded
Gem broke down and had to be euthanized) and disappointment (The Factor).
The decision by Baffert and owner George Bolton to point The
Factor elsewhere is noble considering the allure of running a horse in the Derby. They didn’t want
to ruin the Kentucky-bred son of War Front, whom they have high expectations
for moving forward in shorter races. From the beginning, there were serious
questions about his ability to get two turns, which makes his win in the Rebel
Stakes all the more impressive.
After emerging as a top two-year-old while under the care of
David Hofmans in 2010, the mismanagement of J P’s Gusto since has been alarming. He was
moved to the barn of Joseph Petalino at Oaklawn Park
and after a second place finish in the Southwest Stakes, the Kentucky-bred son
of Successful Appeal was a huge disappointment in both the Rebel and Arkansas
Derby. The addition of blinkers for the Arkansas Derby and the subsequent suicide
mission to steal the lead from The Factor were serious head scratchers, and
following the race it was reported that Petalino didn’t know where the
ownership group had sent the horse or what the plans were moving forward.
Another beneficiary of today’s news is Anthony’s Cross (No.
18), who was scheduled to ship to Louisville
today for trainer Eoin Harty. After winning the Robert B. Lewis (watch my coverage below), the
Pennsylvania-bred son of Indian Charlie disappointed in the Santa Anita Derby.
Last year, he broke his maiden in his only try at Churchill Downs.
Twice the Appeal (No. 16) unexpectedly locked in his spot in the Derby for trainer Jeff Bonde with a win in the Sunland Derby. Also a Kentucky-bred son of Successful Appeal, he broke his maiden at Santa Anita in December against $30,000 claimers after failing in six maiden special weight races in both Northern and Southern California.
Previous casualties on the Kentucky Derby trail from
Southern California include Premier Pegasus, who was sidelined by a knee injury
after emerging as one of the top contenders after his nearly eight length win
in the San Felipe, Jaycito, who has had foot ailments since finishing second in
the San Felipe in his only start for Baffert, and Tapizar, who was the top
early contender for Steve Asmussen after his win in the Sham Stakes, but suffered
an injury after being rank on the lead in the Robert B. Lewis.
Not since Giacomo won as a 50-to-1 long shot in 2005 has a Derby winner come from
West Coast roots.
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