By RICHARD ROSENBLATT, Associated Press
It's a hectic yet hopeful time for Kiaran McLaughlin in his pursuit of winning the Kentucky Derby.
The trainer of Alpha just couldn't seem to make up his mind where to race his promising 3-year-old colt for a final prep before heading to Churchill Downs for the Derby on May 5. One day it's the Florida Derby, another it's the Louisiana Derby, and another it's the Wood Memorial.
The latest? The Wood at Aqueduct on April 7 has the nod.
"There's a flight to New York on April 4, but that's a little close to the race," McLaughlin said from his winter base in Florida over the weekend. "There might be another one going up on (March 30). We'll figure it out."
The dilemma was this: McLaughlin likes to believe he can win a big race before committing, and that left Saturday's $1 million Florida Derby out because the trainer feels top Derby contender Union Rags is too good right now. He also was looking to avoid Gotham winner Hansen in the $1 million Wood, and considered the $1 million Louisiana Derby, which is Sunday.
But a little game of musical races shook things up last week when owner Kendall Hansen changed his mind about the horse he named for himself. Hansen is now headed to the Blue Grass on April 14, leaving McLaughlin with perhaps his top choice all along, the Wood.
"He's in great shape," McLaughlin said following Alpha's five-furlong workout in 1:00.99 at Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla., on Sunday. "He'll definitely be there."
Fountain of Youth winner Union Rags and last year's 2-year-old champion Hansen once again are 1-2 in the AP's latest Run to the Roses Top 10 list of Derby contenders. Alpha, winner of the Withers at Aqueduct on Feb. 4 in his most recent start, is No. 5. Risen Star winner El Padrino is third, and Rebel winner Secret Circle is fourth.
Union Rags put in a solid four-furlong workout in 49.10 seconds at Palm Meadows on Saturday, with trainer Michael Matz pleased at the big colt's progress.
"I think he should take a step forward from that," Matz said in reference to Union Rags' four-length win in the Fountain of Youth. "I would hope that having a race under his belt would help him in the Florida Derby."
There could be a shakeup in the Top 10 by the end of the weekend, with Union Rags and El Padrino meeting up in the Florida Derby, and No. 10 Mark Valeski running in the Louisiana Derby.
A few new Derby prospects emerged over the weekend in Went the Day Well, who won the $500,000 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, and Daddy Nose Best, who won the $800,000 Sunland Derby in New Mexico.
Trainer Graham Motion, who won last year's Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom, may end up with several horses in the race this year. He trains Went the Day Well and No. 9 Howe Great, winner of the Palm Beach Stakes two weeks ago. He also trains Lucky Chappy, set to run in the UAE Derby in Dubai on Saturday.
Animal Kingdom won the Spiral before taking the Derby, but there's a chance Went the Day Well could have one more prep — the Lexington Stakes on April 21 — before heading to the Derby.
"Just because we won it last year, I don't think we're any more pushing to get there," Motion said. "If anything, it makes it easier because having won the race — which I never imagined I would do at this stage of my career — maybe I'm a little less (anxious). I want to be there for the right reasons."
1. Union Rags (Michael Matz, trainer; Julien Leparoux, jockey): Fountain of Youth (G2) winner worked 4 furlongs in 49.10 Sunday at Palm Meadows under exercise rider Peter Brette. ... Has four wins in five career starts. ... Next start: Florida Derby (G1), Gulfstream, Saturday. ... Derby future wager odds: 4-1.
2. Hansen (Mike Maker, Ramon Dominguez): Change of plans has colt staying home in Kentucky for final Derby prep. ... Gotham (G3) winner worked 5 furlongs in leisurely 1:01.20 Saturday at Churchill Downs trackside training center. ... Next start: Blue Grass (G1), Keeneland, April 14. ... Odds: 9-1.
3. El Padrino (Todd Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Risen Star (G2) winner worked 4 furlongs in 49.00 Sunday at Palm Meadows. ... Next start: Florida Derby. ... Odds: 12-1.
4. Secret Circle (Bob Baffert, Rafael Bejarano): Rebel (G2) winner has won five of six races. ... Next start: Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn, April 7. ... Odds: 37-1.
5. Alpha (Kiaran McLaughlin, Dominguez): Withers (G3) winner worked 5 furlongs in a fast 1:00.99 Sunday at Palm Meadows. ... A few race changes now has colt headed to New York for final Derby prep. ... Next start: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, April 7. ... Odds: 18-1.
6. Gemologist (Pletcher, Castellano): Unbeaten in four races, but likely needs strong effort in final Derby prep to pick up graded stakes earnings. ... Next start: Wood Memorial. ... Odds: 23-1.
7. Creative Cause (Mike Harrington, Joel Rosario): San Felipe (G2) winner worked 5 furlongs in 59.40 last Tuesday at Hollywood Park. ... Next start: Santa Anita Derby (G1), Santa Anita, April 7. ... Odds: 17-1.
8. Bodemeister (Baffert, Bejarano): San Felipe runner-up worked 4 furlongs in 46.80 at Santa Anita last week. ... Final Derby prep not set. ... Next start: Santa Anita Derby or Arkansas Derby. ... Odds: 29-1.
9. Howe Great (Graham Motion, John Velazquez): ... Palm Beach (G3) winner needs strong effort in next race, then needs to show he likes Churchill Downs dirt. ... Next start: Blue Grass (G1). ... Odds: 3-1 (mutuel field).
10. Mark Valeski (Larry Jones, Rosie Napravnik): Risen Star runner-up worked 5 furlongs in 59.40 at the Fair Grounds last week. ... Next start: Louisiana Derby (G1), Fair Grounds, April 1. ... Odds: 38-1.
Keep an eye on: I'll Have Another, My Adonis, Optimizer, Take Charge Indy, Went the Day Well.
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