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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 29, 2010

Horses: Kentucky Derby a mixed blessing for trainer Barba

For The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Trainer Alexis Barba had mixed emotions when she learned Wednesday morning that Make Music for Me would draw into the Kentucky Derby following the last-minute defections of Endorsement and Interactif.

Of course, there is the excitement that comes with running in the world's most famous horse race. She has a chance to make history as the first woman to train a Derby winner.

All of that was tempered by the knowledge her opportunity came at the expense of others.

"It's very exciting, but you feel bad for the other person," said Barba. "You're glad you're in, but you're sad for the other person, that's just the way it is."

Barba had earlier entered Make Music for Me in Friday's American Turf at Churchill Downs as a fallback position. Now it's on to the Derby

"You go through all the emotions," she said. "You're on a journey."

The door for Make Music for Me opened when Sunland Derby winner Endorsement broke his right front ankle after a workout, and he may have surgery Thursday. Trainer Todd Pletcher opted not to run Interactif.

Of the two defections, Endorsement was the most surprising.

Trainer Shannon Ritter, aboard for the drill, knew something was wrong as the horse walked back to the barn.

"I didn't even notice it right away until we had been further down the road walking," said Ritter.

Pletcher had said for several days that Interactif was doubtful for the Derby. He ended the suspense with an announcement that the colt would be pointed to turf races in the future.

"I think he's a little better on the grass," Pletcher said. "Even though he trained well here, I just felt that a mile-and-a-quarter on the dirt is not his specialty."

With rain in the Derby Day forecast, Pletcher had toyed with using Interactif as his Derby mudder.

"Even though it looks like he likes a wet track, we felt it was in his best interest to wait," he said.

HERE COMES THE SUN: After several days of rain, the sun finally broke through Wednesday.

That was the cue for trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. to send Homeboykris out for his final Derby workout. Dutrow, winner of the 2008 Derby and Preakness with Big Brown, hates to drill horses on a wet track, and Churchill Downs has been a sea of mud since the weekend.

"I watched horses breeze on these terrible tracks for races like the Derby and the Kentucky Oaks and I can't believe it," Dutrow said. "It's beyond me. I could not bring myself to do it. It's dangerous. Why take a shot?"

Avoiding a wet track during workouts is something Dutrow learned from his mentor Bobby Frankel, the late Hall of Fame trainer.

So Dutrow kept Homeboykris in the barn, postponing the tuneup until Wednesday. On a drying-out track labeled "good," Homeboykris went four furlongs in 48.40 seconds.

"I know he's doing good," Dutrow said. "I know he's happy. Right now, this very moment, we're happy with things. I know he's ready to run."

Whether Homeboykris can run with the competition, including talented filly Devil May Care, remains to be seen. Unlike the heralded Big Brown, Homeboykris is 50-1 on the morning line for co-owner Joe Torre, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is looking for his first win since the Champagne Stakes at Belmont last October.

KEEP IT SIMPLE: Nick Zito, trainer of two Derby winners, loved the return to the traditional draw to determine post positions.

In recent years, sorting Derby starting slots was a made-for-TV production involving two steps. First came a draw to determine selection order. The owners and trainers then conferred, picking the best remaining post when their turn came.

Reverting to the old method this year, there was a single draw. The number pulled was the Derby post for that horse.

"The other system, you had to be a rocket scientist," Zito said. "And then you had to run up there like Lynn Swann and put your number up, and look good doing it.

"I like it this way. You just get your number."

WET FORECAST: A wet Derby could be on tap, according to forecasts.

Rain is expected Friday night in the Louisville area. The showers and thunderstorms are forecast to linger into Saturday with highs in the upper 70s.