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Constitution out of Derby

Constitution, a leading Triple Crown hopeful off his win in the $1 million Florida Derby, will be forced to miss the May 3 Kentucky Derby and the rest of the 2014 Triple Crown due to the discovery of a hairline fracture in his front right cannon bone on Monday.

Gary West's Kentucky Derby Championship Series Review: Arkansas Derby & Blue Grass

By Gary West, special to

When Danza slipped through an opening along the rail at Oaklawn Park and also into the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, the odds – he was 41-1 – said it was a shocking development, a stunner, a lung-emptying blow to the gut of expectations. But his trainer wasn’t shocked. All along, Todd Pletcher thought Danza might be one of the horses in the famed roseate run. Danza was behind the others in his training and lightly raced, and he would get only one shot at it, one opportunity to earn sufficient qualifying points, one chance to hop aboard the train as it was pulling out of the station. And he made it. 

But just because he might be the last one aboard, don’t underestimate his talent. In winning Saturday’s Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, Danza ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.68. A race earlier, Will Take Charge, who’s one of the best older horses in the country by any measure, completed the same distance in 1:49.55. Granted, Will Take Charge raced wide in both turns, and Danza enjoyed a PT, or perfect trip, but how many 3-year-olds, even under the best of circumstances, could be close to Will Take Charge after nine furlongs?

And Danza didn’t just win, or squeeze in there by a handsome head; he won decisively, running the final three-eighths of a mile in 37.09 seconds to draw clear by more than four lengths. In other words, in the final round of major preps on dirt, only California Chrome (36.71) and Constitution (36.76) ran faster at the most decisive point in the race, and, of course, when they did so, they were racing over much faster surfaces than Oaklawn Park’s.

Yes, he was a long shot, and when he made his move to get alongside Bayern in the blink of an eye, from the huge closing-day throng at Oaklawn there was an audible gasp that sounded as if a sea of expectations had been sucked up by a vacuum. But Pletcher wasn’t surprised. Last year, in his second start, Danza closed strongly to finish third in the Saratoga Special. And when this year began, Pletcher said Danza was among the most promising 3-year-olds in his barn. And now, quite suddenly, he’s in the Kentucky Derby.

Danza obviously is peaking at just the right moment. And he galloped out so strongly after the race that he suggested he could appreciate the 1 ¼ miles of the Kentucky Derby even more. With the 100 points he earned, Danza is sixth on the leaderboard. He could be a player and should be included among the contenders to watch closely in the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby.

Ride On Curlin also put himself in the Derby field with a good effort. He swung to the far outside and rallied to finish second. The solid effort earned 40 points and reserved for him a place the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Calvin Borel, a three-time Derby winner, will be on Ride On Curlin. One of the curious things about him, though, is that he never has run particularly well at Churchill Downs, where he is winless in three starts.

Bayern, the highly regarded colt from the Bob Baffert stable, led the field into the Oaklawn Park stretch, but faltered and finished third. It was his first start in two months, and, all things considered, it was a solid effort, but hardly what he needed. It left him short on qualifying points. He has 20, putting 26th on the leaderboard.

But, of course, with two weeks until entries are taken, the field for the Kentucky Derby is still taking shape. Dance With Fate, the Blue Grass Stakes winner who’s No. 3 on the leaderboard, isn’t aimed at a roseate run. In fact, his trainer, Peter Eurton, said Dance With Fate is unlikely to run in the Kentucky Derby because he’s better on synthetic surfaces or turf. This year’s, of course, was the last Blue Grass to be run over Keeneland’s synthetic Polytrack. Medal Count, the Blue Grass runner-up who, like the winner, rallied strongly, earned 40 points and is at No. 18. But plans for a few of the horses in the top 20 on the leaderboard are uncertain, which means Uncle Sigh, for example, who's at No. 21, has a good chance to move up and into the gate.

And so now the final buildup, the relentless scrutiny and the final preparation will all converge in a crescendo of anticipation and expectation, until on the afternoon of May 3, after the swelling of music and emotion, everything erupts into a horse race, the 140th Kentucky Derby. 

Updated and Audited Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard

Derby hopefuls put in works at Palm Meadows

Constitution, who captured the Grade 1, $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 29, returned to the worktab at Palm Meadows Training Center Sunday morning. 

Derby decisions pending for Dance With Fate, Ring Weekend

While Sharon Alesia, Bran Jam Stable and Ciaglia Racing's Dance With Fate had an easy morning at Barn 22 following his victory in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass, trainer Peter Eurton was flying back to his Southern California base.

Divine Oath tunes up for Lexington

Let's Go Stable's Divine Oath, who did not draw in to Saturday's Grade 1 Blue Grass from the also-eligible list, worked a half-mile Sunday in :48 3/5 in preparation for next Saturday's Grade 3 Lexington.

41-1 Danza bosses Arkansas Derby field

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners' Danza appeared to be trainer Todd Pletcher's second string in Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby, but the 41-1 longshot got the last laugh when rolling to a 4 3/4-length decision and sparking an $84.60 win mutuel. Launching his challenge along the rail on the far turn, Danza headed the Bob Baffert-trained favorite Bayern, drew off to earn 100 points, and booked his spot in the Kentucky Derby.

Dance With Fate fulfills long-term plan in Blue Grass

With the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass being the target since the Breeders' Cup, Dance With Fate delivered the best performance of his career Saturday, rallying past Medal Count to win going away by 1 3/4 lengths on Keeneland's Polytrack. The Peter Eurton-trained colt registered his first stakes victory and earned 100 points toward a possible Kentucky Derby bid.

Two pre-Derby works planned for Wildcat Red

Wildcat Red, who finished a solid second in the Florida Derby on March 29, will continue preparing for the Triple Crown at Gulfstream Park until April 22. The Jose Garoffalo-trained colt is slated to return to the work tab at Gulfstream on April 20.

Eurton believes Dance With Fate's preferred surface is Polytrack

Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass offers 170 points on the road to the $2 million Kentucky Derby, but for trainer Peter Eurton, the points are the furthest thing from his mind with Dance With Fate.

Kentucky Derby Report -- April 11

California Chrome unleashed his move entering the stretch run of Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, blowing away the competition with another dazzling turn of foot, and established himself as the likely Kentucky Derby favorite.

Oversubscribed Blue Grass features Bobby's Kitten, Medal Count and Vinceremos

A total of 15 sophomores were entered on Wednesday at Keeneland for the Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes, which takes place on Saturday going nine furlongs over that Lexington, Kentucky, venue's Polytrack. Only 14 will be allowed to line up, leaving unbeaten Divine Oath on the outside looking in and hoping for a withdrawal.

Bayern a horse on the rise in Arkansas Derby

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has a chance to win the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby for a second time in three years on Saturday, and again with a speedy colt who will have made his debut only three months previously.

Gary West's Kentucky Derby Championship Series Review: Santa Anita Derby & Wood Memorial

By Gary West, special to

Unless Pegasus suddenly appears out of nowhere, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands has its favorite. A flashy Californian with a modest provenance and a venerable trainer will be the center of attention when he arrives in Kentucky.

California Chrome has earned the honor. Saturday, he won the Santa Anita Derby with the fifth fastest clocking (1:47.52) in the race’s history, running the final three-eighths of a mile in 36.71 seconds and winning by more than five lengths while being geared down in the final yards. It was his fourth consecutive stakes victory, his domination measured in the accumulative margin of more than 24 lengths.

With the win and the 100 points it earned him, California Chrome assumed the top spot on the leaderboard. He has 150 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, followed by Vicar’s In Trouble with 120 and Wicked Strong, who won Saturday’s Wood Memorial, with 102. And while Mike Battaglia, the Churchill oddsmaker, has yet to make it official, consensus and universal acclaim have clearly established California Chrome as the Derby favorite. His win Saturday dispelled all doubt, for it was his best performance yet, which means it was the best performance by a 3-year-old this year.

After a crowded start Saturday at Santa Anita, he quickly assumed a stalking position just outside the early leader, Dublin Up. And just to California Chrome’s outside, Candy Boy was close, less than a length from the lead. Dublin Up led the field through moderate fractions – 47.02 seconds for the opening half-mile and 1:10.81 for three-quarters. On the backstretch, California Chrome dragged jockey Victor Espinoza up to the leader, and they were on even terms entering the second turn, where California Chrome began to assert his superiority. With a fourth quarter-mile in about 24.20, California Chrome quickly opened up a five-length advantage. Hoppertunity, who waited momentarily behind the leading trio, outfinished the others to be second, and Candy Boy, who offered little in the stretch, checked in another 3 ½ lengths behind the runner-up.

The pace was casual (the opening half-mile for the Santa Anita Oaks was 47.38, and for a two-turn optional claimer early on the card it was 45.77), and the surface, as usual, kindly favored speedsters (six of the seven winners on the main track either had the lead or were disputing it after an opening half-mile). Such circumstances might plant seeds of doubt about California Chrome’s ability to succeed at the next, longer step, at 1 ¼ miles at Churchill Downs, where the pace is likely to be stronger (relatively, when adjusted) and the track less kind. Still, by any measure, his effort was outstanding. After some crowding, he nimbly put himself in the race. And then he dominated a strong field that included the winners of the Rebel and the Robert Lewis Stakes. His 1:47.52 for the 1 1/8 miles was the fastest running of the Santa Anita Derby since Indian Charlie’s 1:47 in 1998. Of subtle but vital significance, California Chrome ran the second turn strongly – with a fourth quarter-mile that was as fast as his second – and that’s typically where horses win the Kentucky Derby, with an athletic move around the second turn. He put the race away by mid-stretch, and, again, that’s typically how the Kentucky Derby is won. As for his success going farther, yes, Santa Anita played to his style and his game, but he didn’t win with just his speed; he finished fastest of all. In fact, his final three-eighths of the Santa Anita Derby was faster than Constitution’s 36.76 in the Florida Derby and Wicked Strong’s 37.35 in the Wood and Vicar’s In Trouble’s 38.63 in the Louisiana Derby.

The day after the Santa Anita Derby, California Chrome’s 77-year-old trainer, Art Sherman, said the handsome Cal-bred tried to bite him repeatedly, which, all things considered, was a good sign. With his stable based at Los Alamitos, Sherman lives in a retirement community in Rancho Bernardo. In 1955, as the exercise rider, he accompanied the great Swaps to Kentucky; Swaps, of course, defeated Nashua to win the roses. And soon Sherman will return to Kentucky, with another chestnut and hoping for a similar outcome.

Wicked Strong also turned in a powerful effort Saturday while winning the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Highly regarded when the season began because of a third-place finish in the Remsen Stakes, Wicked Strong disappointed in two efforts at Gulfstream Park before returning to New York. He obviously didn’t appreciate the Florida sunshine or the Gulfstream surface. But he took a major step forward Saturday, rallying four-wide, storming by the leading trio to win by 3 ½ lengths and completing the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.31, the fastest clocking for the Wood since Bellamy Road’s 1:47.16 in 2005.

The effort suggested that Wicked Strong would go to Kentucky as one of the horses who’s indeed within reach of the sort of effort that’s typically required to win the Derby. He had a solid pace in front of him Saturday, and he’ll need a lively pace, of course, if he’s to enjoy any success in Kentucky, but he’s likely to get it. And although he does his best running on the straight – he ran the final furlong in 12.52 seconds – he can run the turn effectively, as was evident by his fourth quarter-mile in 24.83. Keep in mind when comparing his Wood to other preps that the Aqueduct surface was much slower than, say, Santa Anita’s, more than seven lengths slower at 1 1/8 miles and about 3 ½ lengths slower at a half-mile. And when he arrives in Kentucky, Wicked Strong will be preparing to make his first start as a 3-year-old, which might sound strange, but he was actually foaled, or born, on April 28. In other words, Wicked Strong is moving forward and developing at just the right time.

Samraat, the King of Queens, finished second, losing for the first time in his career; although he fought gamely, he had little left for the final furlong, where he trundled home in 13.28 seconds. And Social Inclusion, the 8-5 favorite who was making only the third start of his career after two sensational victories in Florida, faltered badly in deep stretch. After stalking, he rolled to the lead with apparent ease and was clear by 1 ½ lengths with a furlong to run, but finished third, a nose behind Samraat and 1 ½ lengths ahead of Schivarelli. Still, Social Inclusion was impressive. Coming from Florida, where he raced over a surface that carried his speed along, he probably wasn’t prepared to run 1 1/8 miles over a much more demanding track, against much stronger company than he ever had seen and when he couldn’t easily control the pace. He should move forward in his next start. Social Inclusion has a bright future, but he also has only 20 qualifying points for the Derby. Having to wait until the Preakness to join the Triple Crown fray wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen to the lightly raced colt.

Toast of New York ruled out of Kentucky Derby

Jamie Osborne, trainer of U.A.E. Derby winner Toast of New York, has revealed the colt will be bypassing the May 3 Kentucky Derby and instead point for the June 7 Epsom Derby, for which he was supplemented for £8,000 on Tuesday.

Casiguapo hopes to score for Big Blue Nation in Blue Grass

About 12 hours before the University of Kentucky plays for the NCAA championship in men's basketball Monday night, a Thoroughbred at Keeneland with UK connections turned in his final work for Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Blue Grass. All American Horses' Casiguapo, a Sightseeing colt who was bred by UK, worked three furlongs on the Polytrack in a bullet :34 4/5 with Hector Salazar up for Calder-based trainer Mario Morales. (Click here to watch a video of the work.)

California Chrome basks in limelight

Racing has itself a Rock Star. He's California Chrome, who on Saturday started on the path of legends, winning the Santa Anita Derby in breathtaking fashion, overpowering seven rivals, including well-regarded stakes winners Hoppertunity and Candy Boy. He was all but eased up at the end of a mile and an eighth, floating home by 5 1/4 lengths under a nonchalant Victor Espinoza.

Call it Superman compared to Clark Kent.

Wicked Strong to stay at Belmont until Derby Week

Trainer Jimmy Jerkens was still basking this morning in the glow of Wicked Strong's emphatic victory over previously undefeated Samraat and Social Inclusion in Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial.

Violette: Wood was great 'learning experience' for Samraat

Samraat, who suffered his first career defeat when second by 3 1/2 lengths to Wicked Strong in Saturday's Grade 1 Wood Memorial, will breeze twice at Aqueduct before he departs for Louisville, Kentucky, to compete May 3 in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Rick Violette said Sunday morning.

Social Inclusion focuses on Preakness

Owner Ron Sanchez looked anything but dismayed that his beaten 8-5 favorite Social Inclusion didn't win the 90th running of the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on Saturday. On the contrary, he was delighted with his colt's third-place finish behind Wicked Strong and Samraat after clearing off by 1 1/2 lengths at the top of the stretch.