Kentucky Derby 2018 try a ‘fluid situation’ for Combatant

April 18, 2018 12:38pm

There’s the May 5 race at Churchill Downs, but before that comes the race to make it to the 2018 Kentucky Derby, with a handful of horses just outside the Top 20 in points waiting should a current contender defect from the prospective field.

First out as of Tuesday is 
Combatant, who was a head away from third in last Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, a finish that would have put him securely in the Kentucky Derby.

David Fiske, racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, who co-owns the Scat Daddy colt with Willis Horton Racing, said that Combatant’s status remains “a pretty fluid situation at the moment.”

With Combatant still stabled at Oaklawn Park, Fiske said, “It kind of depends on how he feels when he gets up here (to Churchill), how he’s training — all that stuff.”

While fourth by 4 1/4 lengths behind Arkansas Derby winner
Magnum Moon, the Steve Asmussen-trained Combatant closed from sixth in the stretch of a race in which the winner was allowed a 48.60-second opening half mile. The performance landed him a 116 Brisnet Late Pace figure, second to only Santa Anita Derby winner Justify’s 117 for horses still on the Derby leaderboard.

Last year, Asmussen’s Lookin At Lee sat on the wrong side of the Kentucky Derby bubble entering race week, but then made the field and ran second. Is Combatant next?

“You can make a case for that, I suppose,” Fiske said, asked how the colt fits in the field. “I think you can make a fairly cogent argument given the fairly slow pace in the Arkansas Derby. He should theoretically get a better setup in the Kentucky Derby with considerably more pace. But then, on the other hand he is No. 21 on the list, and I guess you could also make an argument for him filling out some of the exotics — tris, supers, High 5s.”

Fiske also quoted Jennie Rees, the former Courier Journal turf writer, “who used to say, ‘It’s a $50,000 saddle towel.’”

Aside from the Arkansas Derby, Combatant has a maiden win last October on the Churchill Downs dirt and hit the board in four straight Kentucky Derby points races after that. Connections believe he has a bright future, but "a lot of horses are never the same again," after the Derby, "so there’s a lot of factors to take in account,” Fiske added.

“Like I said, we’ll get him up here, get him settled in, see how he’s doing and go from there.”

Following Combatant on the Derby points leaderboard are
Snapper Sinclair, another trained by Asmussen, and Blended Citizen, the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Steaks winner who on Tuesday was announced as back in contention should he qualify.

Winchell Thoroughbreds also campaigns the No. 24 horse,
Reride, who was a distant third behind Mendelssohn last out in the Group 2 UAE Derby. Fiske said the Candy Ride colt has since shipped to Churchill Downs, “but a lot of things would need to happen for him to even be considered” for a Kentucky Derby start.

Up to 24 horses can enter the Derby, which draws Tuesday, May 1, with up to four also-eligibles allowed. The scratch deadline falls Friday, May 4, when wagering opens.


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