Kentucky Derby tough to handicap

Posted: Monday, April 25, 2005

NEW YORK — One final audition demonstrated how quickly fortunes change on the always unpredictable road to the Kentucky Derby.

After a little ol' 1 1/16th-mile race at Keeneland, former top contender Rockport Harbor is headed back to Philadelphia, a long shot to run in the Derby on May 7; virtually unknown Coin Silver rocketed onto the scene; and trainer Bob Baffert can only hope his last chance colt, Sort It Out, qualifies for the race.

Consider Rockport Harbor.

The injury-plagued gray colt flunked his test in Saturday's Lexington Stakes, finishing sixth in a seven-horse field. Trainer John Servis told owner Rick Porter he's against a trip to Louisville. That would leave Servis and jockey Stewart Elliott — last year's Derby winning combo with Smarty Jones — without a chance for an encore.

Servis, though, said he's on a ''wait and see'' schedule.

Consider Coin Silver.

Who? Exactly. Rarely, if ever, mentioned as a Derby possibility, Coin Silver won the Lexington by 3 1/2 lengths in the slop to give trainer Todd Pletcher a third 3-year-old for the race.

Assistant trainer Tristan Barry said Sunday that Coin Silver came out of the race in ''great shape. We're very excited about his race. We don't know who will ride him in the Derby, but Todd will make that decision shortly. After the way he ran, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a jockey.''

Consider Baffert.

The three-time Derby winning trainer could be without a Derby starter for the second year in a row. Sort It Out finished second in the 1 1-16th-mile Lexington and earned $65,000 in graded stakes money. The Derby is limited to 20 starters; if more enter the field is determined by graded stakes earnings. Sort It Out is 21st.

Among questionable Derby starters ranked ahead of Sort It Out are Survivalist and Rockport Harbor.

No matter the size of the field, it will feature two trainers saddling a total of eight horses, five from Nick Zito's barn and three from Pletcher's.

The weekend results did little to change the Run to the Roses' Top 10, with Zito's duo of Bellamy Road and High Fly rated first and second, respectively.

Zito's other Derby horses are Sun King, Noble Causeway and Andromeda's Hero.

Pletcher, last year's Eclipse Award winner as the nation's top trainer, saw his Derby chances take a dramatic turn the past eight days.

On April 16, Bandini won the Blue Grass Stakes and Flower Alley ran second to Afleet Alex in the Arkansas Derby. Pletcher has sent both to Churchill Downs to get ready for the Derby, and Coin Silver, who came into the Lexington with only a maiden victory in four starts, will make the trip shortly.

Coin Silver was ridden by Javier Castellano, the regular rider for Bellamy Road.

Bellamy Road, owned by Yankees boss George Steinbrenner, worked five furlongs Thursday at Churchill Downs in his first timed workout since winning the Wood Memorial by 17 1/2 lengths on April 9.

Also, Corey Nakatani will ride Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Wilko in the Derby, meaning Zito will need a new rider for Andromeda's Hero.

This week's top 10, with final Derby future wager odds (Next start for each is the Kentucky Derby):

1. Bellamy Road (Nick Zito, trainer; Javier Castellano, jockey): Drilled five furlongs in 1:02 4/5 at Churchill on Thursday, first work since 17 1/2-length Wood win ... Is he so much better than the rest? ... 4-of-5 for owner George Steinbrenner with earnings of $611,400 ... Derby odds: 3-1.

2. High Fly (Zito, Jerry Bailey): Drilled five furlongs in leisurely 1:06 3/5 at Churchill on Friday over heavy track ... trainer's most consistent colt ... 5-of-6 for owner Charlotte Weber of Live Oak Plantation ... Derby odds: 13-1.

3. Bandini (Todd Pletcher, John Velazquez): Son of 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus ... More focused with each race ... 3-of-4 for owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith ... Arrived at Churchill on Friday, galloped 1 1/2 miles Saturday ... Derby odds: 13-1.

4. Afleet Alex (Tim Ritchey, Jeremy Rose): Could be one to beat off explosive finish in Arkansas Derby win ... Rose will be riding in his first Derby ... Galloped a mile at Churchill on Saturday ... Derby odds: 16-1.

5. High Limit (Bobby Frankel, Ramon Dominguez): Lightly raced with just two starts this year and four overall ... Blue Grass runner-up but never a factor ... May not be ready for rugged Derby ... Derby odds: 13-1.

6. Sun King (Zito, Edgar Prado): Prado stays despite poor effort in Blue Grass ... 3-of-7 for owner Tracy Farmer ... Expected to work on Thursday ... Derby odds: 10-1.

7. Noble Causeway (Zito, Gary Stevens): Hall of Famer Stevens given the mount last week ... 2-of-6 with three seconds for owner Leonard Riggio's My Meadowview Farm ... Derby odds: 18-1.

8. Flower Alley (Pletcher, Jorge Chavez): Late-bloomer comes into Derby off runner-up finish in Arkansas Derby and win in Lane's End Stakes ... Owned by Eugene Melnyk ... Arrived at Churchill on Friday ... Derby odds: 35-1.

9. Buzzards Bay (Jeff Mullins, Mark Guidry): Can't keep Santa Anita Derby winner off list ... 3-of-8 for owner Fog City Stable ... Derby odds: 12-1 (mutuel field).

10. Consolidator (D. Wayne Lukas, undecided): At least Lukas is in the Derby ... Inconsistent colt is 3-of-10 for owners Bob and Beverly Lewis ... Never count four-time Derby winner Lukas out ... Odds: 12-1.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Andromeda's Hero, Closing Argument, Coin Silver, Greater Good, Wilko.

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