When Cefis won the Tampa Bay Derby in Florida last Sunday, the victory was extraordinary for a reason other than that the colt once trailed by 22 lengths. So far this year, there have been 12 important prep races for the Kentucky Derby, and Cefis was only the fourth favorite to win.
The only other 3-year-olds who have won after getting public support are Forty Niner in the Fountain of Youth, Aloha Prospector in the Swift and Private Terms in the Federico Tesio.
Here's the list:
Race--Favorite, Winner, Price
Flamingo--Sorry About That, Cherokee Colony, $9.40
Florida Derby--Ruhlmann, Brian's Time, $67.60
San Felipe Handicap--Lively One, Mi Preferido, $10.60
Fountain of Youth-- Forty Niner, Forty Niner, $3.60
San Rafael Mi Preferido What a Diplomat, $51.40
El Camino Real--Antiqua, Ruhlmann, $9.20
San Vicente--Success Express, Mi Preferido, $5
Hutcheson--Forty Niner, Perfect Spy, $19
Tesio--Private Terms, Private Terms, $2.80
Swift--Aloha Prospector, Aloha Prospector, $3.80
La. Derby--Jim's Orbit, Risen Star, $7.20
Tampa Bay Derby--Cefis, Cefis, $3.20
It may have reached the point where a trainer doesn't want to be favored in a Derby prep. In the 7-furlong Bay Shore on Saturday at Aqueduct, the crowd will be hard-pressed to pick a favorite in a small field.
Success Express won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November at Hollywood Park, but has been unsuccessful three times since then in California. He'll be joined in the Bay Shore field by Perfect Spy, the good sprinter who upset Forty Niner in Florida, and Finder's Choice, the lightly raced but undefeated Maryland colt.
Seeking the Gold, who's also undefeated, will not run in the Bay Shore, his handlers awaiting the 1-mile Gotham at Aqueduct on April 9.
Another Maryland-based 3-year-old who deserves another look is King's Nest. He finished well behind Aloha Prospector in the Swift, but was bothered by another horse on the far turn, dropped back to last and then came on again to finish fourth.
"We had a terrible trip, but this horse will win the Gotham," said Craig Perret as he dismounted from King's Nest.
"That may be true," trainer Marvin Moncrief told Perret, "but we're not going in the Gotham.
As Kentucky Derby preps go, the Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park has been a washout for most of its 22 runnings. Broad Brush was a Beam winner in 1986 and finished third in the Derby, and At the Threshold did the same thing in 1984, but usually the winner of the stake becomes as invisible on the national scene as the track itself, which lost several lengths in terms of recognition when its name was changed from Latonia a few years ago.
Turfway, which is located in Kentucky, just across the Ohio state line from Cincinnati, made the Beam a $500,000 race last year, and still none of the top horses came. The racing strip had a long-standing reputation for being unkind to horses, even though new management had revamped the surface.
This year, the Beam is still a $500,000 race, but geography more than money may be the reason Turfway has lured Brian's Time, the winner of the Florida Derby and right now, because of his late-running style, one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby.
Brian's Time is owned by Wally Phillips, and both he and his racing in-laws, the John Galbreath family, live in Columbus, Ohio, which is not far from Turfway.
The Galbreaths' main racing base is their farm in Lexington, Ky., also handy to Turfway. Phillips and the Galbreaths are going to use Brian's Time's appearance in the Beam as a day to reward more than 50 of their employees who work in Columbus and Lexington. They will be bused to the track for a day at the races.
Such a gang may make Brian's Time more of a favorite than he deserves to be at the windows, but the Florida Derby winner's appearance at Turfway isn't scaring away the opposition. At least 18 horses are being considered for the race, and only 12 will be allowed to run, with total earnings determining the starters.
If earnings do come into play, Drouilly's Boy, winner of the San Miguel Stakes at Santa Anita, will be one of the horses on the borderline. Drouilly's Boy has earned $62,475.
Cawood Ledford is a Kentucky telecaster who has won three Eclipse Awards for local coverage of racing.
"I have this recurring nightmare," Ledford says. "Wayne Lukas is the trainer of all the horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, and he doesn't arrive at Churchill Downs for interviews until the day before the race."
Lively One bled while finishing fourth as the 4-5 favorite in last Sunday's San Felipe Handicap at Santa Anita and will be able to run on Lasix, the diuretic that sometimes controls bleeding, in the Santa Anita Derby April 9.
The first four finishers from the San Felipe--Mi Preferido, Purdue King, Tejano and Lively One--are expected to be joined by Ruhlmann, who also bled in his last start, Flying Victor, All Thee Power and the filly, Flying Colors, in the race.