Earnings Race Set To Hit The Wire
EARNINGS RACE SET TO HIT THE WIRE
With the Kentucky Derby less than two weeks away on Saturday, May 1, the focus this coming weekend falls on two events at Churchill Downs.
On Saturday, in the Grade 3, $200,000 "The Cliff's Edge" Derby Trial at Churchill Downs, three horses -- Eightyfiveinafifty, Pleasant Prince and Drosselmeyer -- could possibly earn their way into the Derby's 20-horse lineup. On Sunday, Eskendereya will have his final major workout before the Run for the Roses, which could decide how heavy a favorite he'll be when they play "My Old Kentucky Home."
The Derby Trial, which returns to a mile this year after three runnings at 7½ furlongs, once lived up to its name as a prime Derby prep. From 1948-58, when it was run on Tuesday of Derby week, four horses -- Calumet Farm's Citation, Hill Gail and Tim Tam, and Cain Hoy Stable's Dark Star -- used it as a springboard to Derby victory. Other notable Derby Trial winners to run for the roses were Derby favorites Hill Rise (1964) and Bold Lad (1965), Barb's Delight (second in the 1967 Derby), Caveat (third in 1983) and Houston (eighth after setting the pace in 1989).
Over the past two decades, however, the Derby Trial fell out of favor as a Derby prep, although it produced a number of Preakness starters. This year, however, with 25 or more horses scrambling to make the Derby field that's limited to 20 starters based on earnings in graded stakes, the Derby Trial has newfound importance.
Drosselmeyer, a rallying fourth in the Risen Star and third last out in the Louisiana Derby for trainer Bill Mott, would be a legitimate late threat to hit the board if he runs in the Derby. So would Pleasant Prince, who would have banked enough graded stakes money to crack the top 20 if he'd run 1/100th of a second faster in the March 20 Florida Derby, which he lost by a nose to Ice Box.
Hoping to crack the top 20, owner Ken Ramsey ran Pleasant Prince (trained by Wesley Ward) in the April 10 Blue Grass, but he floundered over Keeneland's plastic Polytrack and finished seventh. So it's back to dirt for the Derby Trial. Currently 27th on the earnings list with $166,200, Pleasant Prince would bank $120,000 with a win in the Derby Trial, vaulting him to 18th.
As for the aptly named Eightyfiveinafifty, he might be the fastest 3-year-old in America coming off a 2½-length romp in the seven-furlong Bay Shore. But in his only start around two turns, the Whirlaway at Aqueduct, Eightyfiveinafifty bolted on the clubhouse turn and crashed through the outer rail. If he somehow gets into the Derby and does that again, he could wipe out half the field!
by Ed Fountaine
Soaring Empire looks to rebound in Derby Trial
Grade 3-placed SOARING EMPIRE (Empire Maker), a troubled eighth in the Florida Derby (G1) last time out, left his Palm Meadows base Saturday morning on a van bound for Louisville, Kentucky. The Cam Gambolati trainee is headed to Churchill Downs for Saturday's $200,000 Derby Trial S. (G3).
Soaring Empire has raced at Churchill once before, finishing a solid third in the November 1 Iroquois S. (G3) over the same one-mile distance of the Derby Trial. The royally-bred dark bay reappeared on February 25 at Gulfstream Park, where he overcame a bump at the break to get up in time in a seven-furlong allowance.
Next time out in the March 20 Florida Derby, Soaring Empire again suffered a rough start, and encountered trouble later in the race, en route to an uncharacteristic eighth behind Ice Box (Pulpit).
"He's not really a bad gate horse," Gambolati reflected. "But I felt he would probably get stirred up with the start right in front the grandstand and the size of the crowd (on Florida Derby Day).
"It won't be an issue at Churchill (for the Derby Trial). They start back in the chute where it's quiet and a long way from the grandstand.
"We schooled him a lot here at Palm Meadows since the (Florida) Derby," he continued, adding that noted starter Bob Duncan, the former head starter for the New York Racing Association, worked with Soaring Empire extensively for the past few weeks.
"He (Soaring Empire) didn't do a thing wrong for Bob and hasn't done a thing wrong in the mornings. I don't anticipate any problems in Kentucky."
Soaring Empire, who has only $11,476 in graded earnings, would not enter the Kentucky Derby (G1) picture even with a win in the Derby Trial.
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