Strange Kentucky Derby trail leaves many contenders in limbo

Strange Kentucky Derby trail leaves many contenders in limbo
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

The last five runnings of the Kentucky Derby have included the reigning winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. It will be a few more days before we know whether that streak will continue.

“We are going to give it a week or so,” trainer Peter Eurton said in a text message Monday about Storm The Court, the champion 2-year-old of 2019 that is winless in five starts as a 3-year-old.

Eurton is weighing whether to keep him on the turf, where he raced for the first time Sunday and finished second in the La Jolla Handicap (G3) at Del Mar, or to the Derby, where he is at least 100-1 in the Las Vegas futures market. Eurton said last week that if he and the ownership group, led by David Bernsen, do not choose Sept. 5 at Kentucky, they would probably go with the Del Mar Derby (G2) on the turf a day later.

Bernsen said in a text message: "In my opinion, I have always felt since day one he is a stayer who has a long sustained run and his future may very well be 1 1/2 miles on the grass. But there is one thing for sure, his getting 1 1/4 miles in the Kentucky Derby won't be an issue, so that is half the battle." 

Storm The Court is not the only horse in the top 20 of the Derby prep standings still uncertain to run for the roses.

Third in last month’s Blue Grass Stakes (G1), Rushie also has the points he needs to qualify, but he is not nominated for the Triple Crown. Trainer Michael McCarthy said in a text message that the allowance winner is “training forwardly. Nothing set in stone at the moment. Taking it week by week.”

Last month, McCarthy said he has been authorized to decide whether owners Jim and Donna Daniell will spend $45,000 to supplement Rushie plus $25,000 to enter him and $25,000 more to start him in the Derby. He added that the Pat Day Mile (G2) on the undercard would be an alternative.

Rushie was faded in the final pari-mutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager. He was 188-1 when betting closed Sunday evening. Only Shivaree at 285-1 carried longer odds.

Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Été Indien is certain to miss the Derby — but not necessarily the whole Triple Crown. “Hopefully, we will have him back for the Preakness,” trainer Patrick Biancone texted Sunday.

Été Indien suffered an unspecified setback after a turf workout June 28 at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida. He has not had a timed workout since.

His stable mate Sole Volante returned to the work tab late last month for the first time since his sixth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes (G1). He has breezed twice since. As long as he is not knocked off his 20th-place position on the qualifying bubble, Sole Volante will train up to the Derby, according to Biancone.

One of the stranger exits from the road to Louisville came out of Ireland, where connections for Dalvey were caught off guard by questions about whether they would send their lightly raced maiden winner across the Atlantic.

“Has he even qualified?” trainer Denis Hogan asked Sunday when he was contacted by HRN.

The answer was yes, because all the other points earners on the “European Road to the Kentucky Derby” were no longer on the trail — or the voyage — according to Churchill Downs. Dalvey’s third-place finish in last month’s Ballysax Stakes (G3) at Dundalk gave him qualifying points. But like Rushie, a total of $95,000 is required to get him into the Derby gate — not to mention the cost of the trip from Ireland.

“To be honest I never even considered it,” owner James McAuley said. When told of the fees that would have to be paid, he added, “That would be enough to rule him out. He is a lovely horse going forward, but he wouldn’t warrant that type of money as an entry.”

With Europe and Japan interests turning down their one bid each, that means American qualifiers have dibs on all 20 post positions in the Derby — presuming that many are entered. 

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