War Pass’ absence won’t affect Monba

The absence of injured War Pass shouldn't affect Don Lucarelli's Monba in the Kentucky Derby.

With War Pass out of the Kentucky Derby, it didn’t take long for speculation to arise about how that would affect the pace scenario in next Saturday’s Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.

The obvious assumption was that it would help the current buzz horse, the lightly raced and undefeated Big Brown, who led at every call in dominating the Florida Derby from the daunting 12 post.

During a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference on Tuesday, trainer Todd Pletcher said he believes that Monba, owned in partnership by Schenectady

native Don Lucarelli, has shown himself to be versatile enough to adapt, no matter how the pace plays out at the front end of the mile-and-a-quarter race.

“With Monba, one of the concerns that we had going into the Fountain of Youth was that he’d gotten too far back in the CashCall Futurity, so we were a little more focused on trying to get him into the bridle and into the early part of the race, which he was certainly able to do well in the Blue Grass,” Pletcher said. “So, having shown that side of him, where he can fall well back off the pace, I’m not concerned about him. I think he’s adaptable to any pace scenario.”

This will be Lucarelli’s third entrant in the Derby, after Keyed

Entry in 2006 and Sam P. last year.

Monba won the Grade I Blue Grass on Keeneland’s Polytrack two weekends ago and started a late rush of Derby prospects for Pletcher, who had five in last year’s race, but was on the verge of being shut out this year until Monba and Cowboy Cal went 1-2 in the Blue Grass, and Behindthebar won the Lexington at Keeneland last year.

As of Tuesday, Pletcher was still up in the air about Behindthebar, who has a guaranteed spot in the field if his connections choose to take it, as the 19th ranked 3-year-old in graded-stakes earnings.

It’s all systems go, meanwhile, for Monba, who ranks eighth after his Blue Grass win. Cowboy Cal’s second put him at 17th.

They’re both scheduled to work this weekend, but the weather will determine where. Pletcher said he wants to get a breeze on the Churchill dirt, but he will opt for the Keeneland Polytrack if it rains.

Louisville had a 50 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms overnight Friday, and a

70 percent chance tonight, according to the National Weather Service.

“These two horses are extremely fit,” Pletcher said. “I’m not concerned at all about their fitness level. I think they’re both fit enough. If they’re good enough, they’ve got enough foundation to be compet­itive in the Kentucky Derby.

“I think any time you bring a horse like Monba, who’s won the Blue Grass, which is historically a terrific prep for the Kentucky Derby, then you’ve got to be confident that you’re bringing the right kind of horse. I’m comfortable that we’re bringing two of the right kind of horses that are stoutly bred and have some stamina in their ped­igree. And then, I think they’re the kind of horses that are improving at the right time of year. So we’re optimistic. But we also have

tremendous respect for how hard this race is to win.”

Big Brown, owned in partnership by IEAH Stables, breezed five furlongs in :583⁄5 at Palm Meadows on Thursday.

Trainer Rick Dutrow has been gushing about the colt since the Florida Derby, and the workout, under exercise rider Michelle Levin, did nothing to diminish his enthusiasm.

“He did exactly what we wanted him to do,” Dutrow said in an IEAH release. “He did it the right way, looked real good and did it in racehorse time while well within himself. He went about his business in a smooth and ordinary way.

“Right now, I’m not concerned in any way. We needed to turn his head loose a little in the lane, because we’ve kept him covered up in his last couple of breezes. I told Michelle to let him out just a little notch in the stretch. She did just that, the colt took the bit, and just carried her to the wire. With the race 10 days away, this is what we needed and wanted.”

Big Brown is tentatively scheduled to be flown from his Florida base to Churchill Downs on Monday. He’ll likely have an easy three-furlong breeze over Churchill’s main track two days prior to the Derby.

There’s a good chance the Derby won’t have a full field of 20 because trainer Larry Jones plans to enter the filly Eight Belles in both the Derby and Friday’s Kentucky Oaks.

If she gets a favorable post pos­ition in Wednesday’s Derby draw, Jones said he will have to consider her for that race, but otherwise, she’ll go in the Oaks. Because of the uncertainty surrounding Eight Belles, Jones and owner Rick Porter let Ramon Dominguez, who rode her the last two times out, get on Monba. The mount on Monba was available because Edgar

Prado chose Adriano as his Derby horse.

‘saturday continues’

There will be three more screenings of “The First Saturday in May,” the acclaimed Kentucky Derby documentary that tracks the lead-up to the 2006 race own by Barbaro, at the Saratoga Film Forum at 320 Broadway in Saratoga Springs.

Shows are scheduled at noon and 3 p.m. today and 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Tickets are $6 for non-members and will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information or to purchase a copy of the DVD, go to www.thefirstsaturdayinmay.com.

triple crown countdown

Capital Region handicappers and racing analysts Mark Cusano,

Andrea DeLong and John Pricci will be featured in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame’s annual Countdown to the Triple Crown program at 4 p.m. today.

The popular program in the Museum’s Hall of Fame Gallery includes video highlights from important prep races and aud­ience-driven discussions with the panel. Admission is free, and each person attending will receive a complimentary issue of the Triple Crown past performances issue published by Daily Racing Form, and a complimentary copy of the Thoroughbred Times’ Triple Crown Preview issue.

otb seminar

The OTB Teletheater on Central Avenue in Albany will hold a Derby handicapping seminar at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

OTB handicapper Jeanne Wood will be the host, and panelists Seth Merrow and Nick Kling will offer their insights.

Those attending the seminar will receive free Daily Racing Form past performances and beverages.

weekend stakes

A light schedule of stakes includes two races for 3-year-olds, the Grade III one-mile Withers at Aqueduct and the $100,000 Derby Trial on opening day of the Churchill Downs meet today.

The Withers will be the third of 10 races on a card that features the Grade III Beaugay for fillies and mares 3 and up.

J Be K, who romped in his career debut at Saratoga Race Course last year for Bob Baffert before being transferred to Steve Asmussen’s barn, is the even-money morning-line favorite in the Withers off his five-length win going seven furlongs in the Grade III Bay Shore at Aqueduct.

Two other 2-year-old stars at Saratoga last year, Grade I Hopeful winner Majestic Warrior, owned by George Steinbrenner’s Kinsman Stable, and Grade II Saratoga Special winner Kodiak Kowboy, are entered in the 71⁄2-furlong Derby Trial.

Majestic Warrior hasn’t finished better than sixth in three starts since the Hopeful, and was

181⁄2 lengths behind Big Brown in the Florida Derby.

Kodiak Kowboy, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, was a well-beaten third behind War Pass in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and was fourth to Keep Laughing as the even-money favorite in the Lafayette at Keene­land in his last start.

Grade II Swale winner Eaton’s Gift is also in the wide-open

10-horse field off his third in the Lafayette.

The two-time Grade III-winner Criminoligist is the 7-5 favorite in the Beaugay after having a four-race winning streak stopped by a half-length to Sharp Susan in a mile allowance over a yielding turf course at Keeneland on April 6.

here and there

Ticket applications for the 2008 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park will be mailed beginning Thursday.

Completed ticket applications received at Santa Anita Park by June 9 will be included in a random draw for priority seating. Fans may register to receive a ticket application by visiting www.breederscup.com, www.santaanita.com, or www.oaktreeracing.com.

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