Saturday, May 1, 2004

Lion Heart, Smarty Jones may control pace

Derby notebook: Closers like The Cliff's Edge hope to be around to pick up the pieces

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LOUISVILLE - Speed horses aren't supposed to win the Kentucky Derby. Yet War Emblem debunked that theory two years ago by seizing the lead and then slowing down the race, and when no one challenged that pace, he rolled unimpeded to victory.

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Lion Heart is this year's War Emblem candidate.

Trainers have talked of not allowing a front-runner to steal the race again, but whichever horse pushes Lion Heart - seemingly burning that colt out early - risks doing the same to himself.

Bob Baffert, who trained War Emblem, said of Lion Heart, "It could be another War Emblem year."

In 2002, there weren't any other true speed horses to push War Emblem. There are this time.

Smarty Jones and Quintons Gold Rush fit that bill, while Read the Footnotes, Pollard's Vision and Limehouse have tactical speed.

"The race sets up with Lion Heart on the lead," said Bobby Frankel, who trains Master David. "What Smarty Jones does will affect the race."

Choosing post 15, Smarty Jones trainer John Servis seemingly conceded the early lead to Lion Heart, who will break from post five. That's the third occupied post, since stewards decided to make the first two posts vacant after Wimbledon and St Averil scratched Friday.

Limehouse, Song of the Sword, Lion Heart and Action This Day were moved out two spots. Friends Lake, Minister Eric and Master David moved out one spot.

Horses in posts 10 through 20 were unaffected.

Closers such as The Cliff's Edge seemingly would pass speed horses tiring in the stretch, but it's unknown if Lion Heart and the others will burn out at the 1 1/4-mile distance. Baffert's advice is to not wait for them to.

"It's like a championship game," he said. "You've got to play hard, be aggressive and hope the wheels stay on."

TWO SCRATCHED: The normally affable Baffert appeared shaken up Friday when discussing Wimbledon, scratched because of swelling in his left front leg.

"It's a tough phone call to make" to an owner, he said. "It's the worst thing about our business."

Baffert discovered a sore and swollen dime-sized knot on the outside of his leg near the tendon. Baffert said he didn't believe it to be career-threatening.

The injury ended Baffert's streak of eight consecutive Derby appearances. He had 13 starters over that span and won three times.

Baffert had suffered another blow Tuesday when friend Dan Chandler, 70, died. The jovial Chandler was the son of former Kentucky Governor A.B. "Happy" Chandler.

Wimbledon's injury left Jerry Bailey, named the nation's top rider the past four years, without a mount for the first time since 1990.

Long shot St Averil's injury was announced as tender front feet.



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