By Gene Kershner
With just over two weeks to go before Kentucky Derby 140 the field is changing almost daily due to defections, injuries and connections deciding to skip the Run for the Roses on the First Saturday in May.
Some news, notes and thoughts before next weekend's Degrees of Separation post…
-- The last race with a chance to earn qualifying points for the Derby will be tomorrow afternoon at Keeneland where the Grade 3 $200,000 Lexington Stakes will be run. The last chance race will offer 10 points to the winner, 4 to the runner-up and the third and fourth place finishers will earn 2 and 1 point, respectively.
-- Only one horse, Ami's Holiday (10 points) in the Lexington has a chance to qualify for a Derby gate. A win would vault him in the field at No. 20 in the current standings; a second-place finish would place him at 27th with an outside chance to get in through defections. The Lexington will be the first start of his 3-year-old campaign for the son of Harlan's Holiday trained by Woodbine-based trainer Josie Carroll. We may well see this Ontario-bred colt later on down the road in the Queen's Plate.
-- The horse currently in the final spot is Uncle Sigh, trained by Gary Contessa, who looks to be a lock to get in the race, as there are 2-3 horses that are likely going to drop out of the top 20 before Derby week. This would be Contessa's first horse to qualify for the Derby.
-- To see the current standings and a first peek at my annual Derby spreadsheet loaded with analytics and statistics on each horse currently in the top 20, go here. The spreadsheet provides information on post positions, pedigree, speed figures and dosage for the current qualifiers. I'll be updating it as more information (jockey confirmations, last race speed figures, etc.) become available.
-- The biggest defection so far was from the Todd Pletcher barn who announced on Wednesday that Win Star Farm's Constitution, the Florida Derby winner, suffered an injury and would not enter the Derby. It does not appear to be season-ending and we'll likely see him later in the season.
-- Ironically the horse sitting at No. 21 is Vinceremos, the Tampa Derby winner, who is also trained by Pletcher and could be his fourth entry in this year's race and is also owned by Win Star Farm.
-- Midnight Hawk, the son of Midnight Lute, sits currently at No. 14 (52 points) is entered in this weekend's Illinois Derby, a prep race for the Preakness. It would be highly unlikely for trainer Bob Baffert to wheel him back in two weeks in Louisville, so that appears to be a potential open gate for the next qualifier. Midnight Hawk is owned in part by former football coach Mike Tice and current Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
-- In his first work since winning the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, Wicked Strong breezed a solid half-mile in 49.62 seconds on Thursday morning over the Belmont Park training track in preparation for the Derby. Named after the bomb victims of last year's Boston Marathon, the son of 2007 Derby runner-up Hard Spun will be among the favorites for this year's race. "He did most of his work on the turns, which is what I wanted; I thought it would keep him from working too fast," said trainer Jim Jerkens, 55, who has never saddled a Derby starter. "He eased up a little bit in the stretch and then picked it before the wire. It was just what I was looking for."
-- Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack (FLGR) will kick off the 2014 live thoroughbred racing season this afternoon. The historic Western New York track’s 52nd season will begin with the nine-race Opening Day card. Post time for the first race is scheduled for 12:35 p.m. Chris Englehart will also be presented an award for his achievements in 2013. He was the top FLGR conditioner for the eleventh consecutive year. Englehart saddled 143 winning horses to register his thirteenth career trainer title. He surpassed the 3,500 mark in lifetime wins during the FLGR break.
-- The grandson of former thoroughbred owner and late Buffalo real estate entrepreneur Roxie Gian passed along a letter his grandfather received from late Bills owner Ralph Wilson recently. The letter from Wilson on his Oxford Stable letterhead to Woodbine Hall of Fame trainer Frank Merrill was to purchase five horses back in February 1969 for $20,000.
-- Expect the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to be in full force during Derby week after posting a damning video about trainer Steve Asmussen's barn. The group placed an undercover volunteer in the barn last year at Churchill and Saratoga in attempts to document certain practices in Asmussen's barn. He currently has the likely favorite for the Kentucky Oaks (Untapable) and a top contender for the Derby (Tapiture) and will be facing media scrutiny most of the week.
Let the analysis begin…