LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Kentucky Derby lineup changed unexpectedly with the addition of Giant Finish.
The horse was not in the Derby discussion until late Tuesday afternoon, when the owners — the Sunrise Stable — decided they wanted to run.
The latest move capped a busy two-day period during which the field for Saturday’s race remained in flux.
After several horses were withdrawn Monday, the field shrank to 19, one under the limit. The open slot did not last long as Fear the Kitten stepped in, bringing the Derby up to a full complement.
He wasn’t there long. Turns out, Giant Finish had enough points to surpass Fear the Kitten under the new system this year that determines Derby eligibility.
Giant Finish earned 10 points for a third-place finish in the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, trumping the six held by Fear the Kitten.
Fear the Kitten is now back on the bubble, unable to run unless another horse withdraws before the close of entries Wednesday.
“I am so surprised by all of this,” said Tony Dutrow, Giant Finish’s trainer. Dutrow had planned to run Giant Finish in a May allowance race at Belmont Park. The horse, currently at Fair Hill training center in Maryland, will arrive on the Churchill Downs grounds by the Thursday morning deadline.
Dutrow said he won’t travel to saddle the horse, and that the owners were in the process of lining up a rider.
“Derby Fever” seemed to be catching on Tuesday. The partnership that owns Carving told Churchill Downs that they too would run, should spots open. They have a plane on standby for Thursday morning to transport the horse, who has only two points, from his home base at Emerald Downs in Auburn, WA.
SET THE PACE: Falling Sky has been plenty frisky in his gallops at Churchill Downs, a sign the speedy colt could be a major factor in setting the early pace in the Derby. Whether he has the stamina to last 1 ¼ miles is a question to be answered Saturday.
“He was really into it,” trainer John Terranova said after Falling Sky’s Tuesday gallop. “He’s always into it.”
Falling Sky, 3 for 6, was the leader in the Arkansas Derby turning for home before finishing fourth.
In a Derby with few confirmed speed horses, Falling Sky should be easy to spot early on. Look toward the front of the 20-horse field.
“I’d just like to see him comfortable wherever he’s going to be, whether it’s on the lead or close,” Terranova said. “Knowing him, he’s going to be forwardly placed. There’s no getting around that fact.”
Jockey Luis Saez has the job of coaxing that speed as far as possible.
RAIN IN THE PICTURE: The warm, sunny weather in the Louisville area is not expected to last.
The Derby Day outlook calls for a 40 percent chance of rain with temperatures topping out in the mid-60s.
DERBY TV: NBC Sports will present 14 ½ hours of Derby coverage, starting Wednesday with a look back at Mine That Bird’s 50-1 upset win in 2009. The retrospective will be followed by live coverage of the Derby draw at 5 p.m. EDT.
The bulk of the programming will be carried on the NBC Sports Network. NBC will take over with three hours of live coverage, including the Derby, on Saturday starting at 4 p.m.
OAKS DRAW: Dreaming of Julia, the 3-1 favorite, drew post No. 8 in a field of 11 fillies for the $1 million Kentucky Oaks on Friday.
The 1 1-8 miles Oaks is the companion 3-year-old event to the Derby.
It could kick off a huge weekend for trainer Todd Pletcher, who has four entries in the Oaks led by Dreaming of Julia, the winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks by 21 ¾ lengths.
Pletcher also sends out Unlimited Budget, Silsita and Princess of Sylmar. A two-times Oaks winner with Ashado (2004) and Rags to Riches (2007), Pletcher will have a record-tying five runners in the Derby on Saturday, led by the undefeated Verrazano.
Pletcher said he expects recuperating Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez to be aboard both Dreaming of Julia and Verrazano. Velazquez has been sidelined with rib and wrist injuries from an April 7 spill at Aqueduct.
“I understand Johnny was to get on some horses this morning at Belmont Park,” Pletcher said. “Then he’s going to ride some races there tomorrow.”
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