Thursday, April 29, 2004

The Cliff's Edge made favorite in packed field

Kentucky Derby notebook

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LOUISVILLE - Six weeks ago, The Cliff's Edge was an afterthought in Nick Zito's barn behind Birdstone, a horse many projected as the Kentucky Derby favorite.

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By Wednesday they had switched places. The Cliff's Edge was made the 4-1 morning-line favorite by handicapper Mike Battaglia, and Birdstone had the longest odds at 50-1.

Battaglia installed undefeated Smarty Jones as second choice at 9-2. Tapit was third at 8-1.

"It was very tough to separate those first two," Battaglia said. "I can't knock Smarty Jones. But ... Nick Zito has won the Derby twice, and The Cliff's Edge has won twice at Churchill Downs."

Smarty Jones trainer John Servis said he perceived no slight.

"We took the path of least resistance and only ran in one graded stakes race, so I'm not surprised," he said.

Birdstone won three of four races before a disappointing fifth on a sloppy track in the Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park. The colt ended up with a six-week layoff when a high white blood-cell count caused him to scratch from the Blue Grass Stakes.

"He is the forgotten horse," Zito said. "He got sidetracked, but he was brilliant as a 2-year-old and is doing good."

A full field of 20 horses was entered. If no horses scratch, it will be the first full field since 1984.

Of the top contenders, the only one to draw an undesirable post was Tapit, in the 18 hole.

"It's a long way out, starting out near the hot dog stand," Tapit trainer Michael Dickinson said.

LEFT OUT: The full field meant Eddington and Rock Hard Ten, 21st and 22nd in graded earnings, were left out. Rock Hard Ten trainer Jason Orman was crestfallen, having arrived two weeks ago to train in hopes his horse would get in.

"The biggest disappointment was the disqualification," Orman said, referring to the Santa Anita Derby. Stewards ruled the horse interfered with Imperialism and dropped Rock Hard Ten from second to third. The difference in earnings would have gotten him in.

RULING COMING: U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II said he would rule after 10 a.m. today on a suit by seven jockeys against the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, concerning their right to wear advertising in the Derby.

John Velazquez and Jose Santos said they might not ride in the Derby. Those jockeys, who are part of the suit challenging the state law banning advertisements, want to wear ads despite a threat that officials will escort them from the racetrack if they do so.

"If we will be escorted out of the racetrack, there will be no Kentucky Derby, put it that way," Velazquez said on ESPN2's Cold Pizza.


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