Eightyfiveinafifty and Pleasant Prince, two colts hoping to earn enough money to gain a spot in the starting gate for next week’s $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), top a field of 10 3-year-olds entered for Saturday’s $200,000-added The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (GIII) as Kentucky Derby Week begins at historic Churchill Downs.
The one-mile race is the final prep for the 136th “Run for the Roses” and serves as the centerpiece of the opening day of Churchill Downs’ 42-day Spring Meet that will be highlighted by the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1 and the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks on April 30. The meet, which runs through July 4, will also feature the return of night racing with four “Downs After Dark” programs scheduled for June 11, 18, 25 and July 2.
The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial has attracted one of its strongest fields after prominent Thoroughbred owner-breeder Robert LaPenta sponsored the race and named it in honor of his Grade I-winning star who finished fifth in the 2004 Kentucky Derby and now stands as a stallion at Central Kentucky’s Margaux Farm. The distance of the race also returned a one-turn mile after being run recently at 7 ½ furlongs. The Trial will go as the 10th race on Saturday’s 11-race program that begins with a 12:45 p.m. (all times Eastern) post time. Approximate post time for the Derby Trial is 5:17 p.m.
Eightyfiveinafifty, with $120,000 in graded stakes earnings, comes into The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial off a front-running victory in the seven-furlong Bay Shore (GIII) at Aqueduct on April 3. Ramon Dominguez, who was aboard for the Bay Shore score, has the call Saturday and will break from post position 10. Eightyfiveinafifty will carry high weight of 121 pounds. Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has installed trainer Gary Contessa’s son of Forest Camp as the 8-5 morning line favorite.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s Pleasant Prince, who ran seventh in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) at Keeneland on April 10, will try to add to his graded stakes bankroll of $166,250. The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters and those spots in the gate go to the horses with the most graded stakes earnings. The Derby’s cutoff mark is hovering around $250,000 and the Derby Trial winner will receive 62 percent of the purse.
Trained by Wesley Ward, Pleasant Prince broke his maiden at Churchill Downs last fall. This winter, he finished fourth behind probable Kentucky Derby favorite Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth (GII) and ran second, beaten a nose by Kentucky Derby contender Ice Box, in the Florida Derby (GI). Julien Leparoux will ride Pleasant Prince, the 4-1 second choice who breaks from post position four and carry 117 pounds.
Three other colts that ran in the Florida Derby are in The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial, including one owned by race sponsor LaPenta. That is Miner’s Reserve (8-1), a son of Mineshaft who finished 10th behind Ice Box. Jose Lezcano will ride the Nick Zito-trained Miner’s Reserve, who will break from post position six.
The remaining Florida Derby graduates are colts that count among their owners a pair of notable American sports stars. The Bob Baffert-trained Game On Dude (10-1) is owned by Kuehne Racing and Bernie Schiappa, an ownership group that counts Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre among its partners. Ol Memorial Stable and C.E. Glasscock’s Soaring Empire (20-1) also ran in the Florida Derby, and University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino is the principal partner in Ol Memorial Stable.
Game On Dude, who finished seventh in the Florida Derby, will be ridden by Robby Albarado and break from post position one. Soaring Empire, eighth in the Florida Derby, will break from post position two under Eddie Castro.
The field for The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial, from the rail out, is as follows: Game On Dude (Albarado, 117 pounds), Soaring Empire (Castro, 117), Privilaged (Rajiv Maragh, 117, 15-1), Pleasant Prince (Leparoux, 117), Hurricane Ike (Calvin Borel, 117, 5-1), Miner’s Reserve (Jose Lezcano, 117), Wow Wow Wow (Terry Thompson, 117, 20-1) Hear Ye Hear Ye (Corey Nakatani, 117, 20-1), Aikenite (Garrett Gomez, 117, 6-1) and Eightyfiveinafifty (Dominguez, 121).
Five horses have swept both the Trial and the Kentucky Derby since the Trial was introduced. Black Gold won the inaugural 1924 running of the Trial, which was then run on the Tuesday before the Derby, and returned to complete the sweep in the main event. The last horse to win both races was Calumet Farm’s Tim Tam in 1928. Calumet’s Citation, winner of the 1948 Triple Crown, also swept the Derby Trial and the Derby.
Several Kentucky Derby winners failed to win the Trial, but bounced back to win the “Run for the Roses.” Most notable of those were Calumet Farm’s Iron Liege, who finished fifth in the Trial and returned to defeat a Kentucky Derby field that included champions Gallant Man, Round Table and Bold Ruler that is generally considered to be the greatest field in Derby history. King Ranch’s Assault finished off the board in the Trial, but returned to win the Derby and sweep the Triple Crown. In 1941, Triple Crown winner Whirlaway finished second in the Derby Trial, but returned to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.