Horse racing: Nobles Promise moves closer to Kentucky Derby
By MIKE FARRELL
For The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. Noble's Promise turned in a solid four-furlong workout Monday morning, greatly increasing his chances of running in the Kentucky Derby.
The 3-year-old has been dealing with a mild lung infection since finishing a troubled fifth in the Arkansas Derby. He put in a promising five-furlong workout last week and came back Monday by covering four furlongs in 48.80 seconds.
Trainer Ken McPeek said a post workout scope of the horse's lungs came back clean and he will almost certainly be entered for the Derby on Saturday when the 20-horse field is finalized on Wednesday.
"Nothing is set in stone," McPeek said. "We've still got until Wednesday. I think we'll be fine. The horse is doing good."
McPeek said the cuts Noble's Promise suffered on his front legs in Arkansas are "not an issue" and jockey Willie Martinez believes he rides a colt who will be a factor.
"We expect a big race out of him on Saturday," said Martinez, who would make his first Derby start since finishing 15th aboard Valhol in 1999.
BUSY TODD: Trainer Todd Pletcher once had as many as seven contenders for the Derby.
On a busy Monday morning, the Pletcher brigade shrank to five when Rule was withdrawn, while filly Devil May Care moved solidly into the Derby picture.
Pletcher suffered a major blow on Sunday when Eskendereya was sidelined with swelling in his left front leg. The impressive winner of the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial would have been the morning-line favorite for Saturday's 1-mile race.
One day later, Pletcher still didn't know the full nature of the injury.
"Until we do some real diagnostics, no," he said.
His best chance might now rest with the filly.
Pletcher said Devil May Care will run in the Derby against the boys instead of tackling the fillies on Friday in the Kentucky Oaks.
"Right now, I believe we will enter Devil May Care in the Derby only," he said. "That's what we're looking at."
Devil May Care will try to become the fourth filly to win the Derby, joining Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980) and Winning Colors (1988).
Pletcher could lose another Derby runner Tuesday when a final decision is made on Interactif.
"He probably won't run," he said. "That's the most likely scenario."
That would leave Pletcher with the filly and three colts in the 20-horse field: Louisiana Derby winner Mission Impazible, Discreetly Mine and Super Saver.
Rule, winner of the Delta Jackpot last year and third most recently in the Florida Derby, did not train strongly enough to suit Pletcher.
"Rule is fine," he said. "For whatever reason, he just doesn't seem as sharp as he was earlier in the year. We're going to take a pass. We'll see how he responds in the next week or so. The Preakness is a possibility, if he turns around in his training."
Pletcher is 0 for 24 and still seeking his first Derby win.
JOHNNY V ABOARD: A factor influencing Pletcher to run Devil May Care in the Derby instead of the Oaks was the unexpected availability of jockey John Velazquez, who had been committed to Eskendereya.
"It was ultimately the deciding factor," he said. "Not only because Johnny is available, but why he is available."
RULED IN: The defection of Rule opened the door for Jackson Bend to run in the Derby.
The top 20 horses based on graded-stakes earnings make the Derby cut. Jackson Bend was 21st on the list, and needed help to make the race.
He got it on Monday.
"I'm very excited," trainer Nick Zito said. "He is certainly worthy of the start."
Jackson Bend is winless in three starts this season, finishing second every time. He was runner-up to Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial.
"He's kind of a gem of consistency," Zito said. "That's what we really want. He didn't really duck anybody to get in this field. He never runs a bad race. I'm just happy that he's going to get a good opportunity."
The happiness also extends to co-owner Robert LaPenta, who last week expressed dissatisfaction with the graded-stakes earning system when it appeared Jackson Bend might be excluded.
Zito, a two-time Derby winner, will saddle two horses in the field for LaPenta as Jackson Bend joins Florida Derby winner Ice Box.
LOOKIN' GOOD: Lookin At Lucky, the likely Derby favorite in the absence of Eskendereya, turned in a sparkling workout Monday morning at cold, wet and windy Churchill Downs.
Exercise rider Dana Barnes was aboard for trainer Bob Baffert as the colt zipped five furlongs in 1:00.80, the fastest of 26 drills at the distance.
Baffert, a three-time Derby winner, was on the headset to Barnes as last season's 2-year-old champion had his final serious tuneup.
"He wanted to gallop out and do more," Baffert said. "I told Dana to shut him down. He was reaching out well and he was happy. The track was in good shape. This is what you want to see going in. From here on we just need some luck, we need to draw well and have a good trip."
Conveyance, Lookin At Lucky's stablemate, will have his final Derby workout on Tuesday.
RACHEL WORKS: Rachel Alexandra, the defending Horse of the Year, was also on the track Monday morning. She worked four furlongs in 50 seconds in preparation for the $400,000 La Troienne Stakes for fillies and mares Friday on the Kentucky Oaks undercard.
It will be her first appearance at Churchill Downs since a dazzling victory in the last year's Oaks.
The La Troienne will be her second start of the season, having run second to Zardana in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes on March 13 at the Fair Grounds.