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Horse Racing : McCarron Gets Choice Rides, but Big Choice Is Still Ahead


It is too early to tell which horse Chris McCarron will be riding in the Kentucky Derby, a race he won with Alysheba in 1987, because he has been sampling several contenders on a weekly basis.

There are few jockeys around who wouldn't trade places with him. With the Derby future books in Nevada having difficulty arriving at a consensus favorite, this is the kind of year when it pays a rider to have strength in numbers.

This is what McCarron has been doing and will be doing with a variety of 3-year-olds:

March 14--With Pat Valenzuela taking off because of a sore back, McCarron took over and rode Corby to victory in the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita.

March 20--McCarron went to New Orleans, riding Tossofthecoin to a third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby.

March 27--McCarron was aboard Prairie Bayou for the first time as the colt came from far back to win the Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park.

Saturday--McCarron will be riding Union City, a colt seeking his first stakes victory, in the Santa Anita Derby.

April 10--McCarron might ride Corby again in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

April 17--McCarron will reunite with Tossofthecoin in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

On Sunday at Santa Anita, John Sadler, who trains Corby, said that he didn't know whether McCarron or Valenzuela would ride the colt in the Blue Grass.

"(Owner Allen) Paulson will be back from Florida (where his wife, Madeleine, saw her Fraise win Saturday's Pan American Handicap under Valenzuela) on Monday, and we'll try to sort this out," Sadler said.

One scenario suggested by Sadler would have McCarron riding Corby in the Blue Grass and Valenzuela getting the assignment on Diazo, another Paulson colt, at Golden Gate Fields in the California Derby, which will be run the same day.

"Kent (Desormeaux) rode Diazo in that good race of his the other day," Sadler said, "but the ($750,000) Oaklawn Handicap is the same day as the Blue Grass and California Derby, and I would imagine that he'd be with Best Pal in that race (at Oaklawn)."

Riding assignments on Paulson's horses are automatically complicated because he employs several trainers. While Sadler has Corby, Bill Shoemaker trains Diazo and Alex Hassinger trains Eliza, the filly who will try to win the Santa Anita Derby with Valenzuela. Although Valenzuela is no longer Paulson's contract rider, he will continue to ride some of his horses.

McCarron's deal with Tom Bohannan was to ride Prairie Bayou only in the Jim Beam, but because Bohannan has more than one Derby contender, it is possible that McCarron will ride the colt again.

Before the Beam, Bohannan thought that Dalhart was his No. 1 Derby prospect, but after the Turfway race, the trainer isn't so sure. Dalhart won his second race as a 3-year-old, Saturday's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Prairie Bayou came from next to last, almost 10 lengths behind the leader, to win the Beam by one length. His rally came on a track that had favored front-runners all day.

"I chirped to the horse a little bit at the three-eighths pole, just to get him going, but he wanted to go right now," McCarron said. "He made up about four lengths, just like that. I couldn't believe how much he turned it on."

While Bohannan's plan is to run Dalhart in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on April 17, his schedule for Prairie Bayou is unclear. Possibilities are the Blue Grass, the Arkansas Derby and the Wood Memorial. Dalhart and Prairie Bayou are owned by John Ed Anthony. Bohannan said that Mike Smith, who has been riding both, would have his choice of which he rides should they both make it to the Kentucky Derby on May 1.

Valenzuela pulled into the Santa Anita parking lot about 2:30 p.m. Sunday to ride a few horses after his victory aboard Fraise at Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

Eliza will be the 15th filly to run in the Santa Anita Derby. Filly winners of the race have been Ciencia in 1939, Silver Spoon in 1959 and Winning Colors in 1988. Winning Colors went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

"I love Eliza's chances Saturday," Valenzuela said. "A mile and an eighth is no problem for her. I don't think the mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby will be a problem, either, but I'll know more about that after she runs Saturday."

Horse Racing Notes

Never Black, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, outfinished River Majesty by a head to win Sunday's $79,800 Miramontes Handicap at Santa Anita. Owned by Edmund Gann and trained by Bobby Frankel, Never Black has won three in a row after losing his first seven starts in the United States. The 6-year-old's career began in Europe. Carnival Baby, who has been more effective on firm grass courses, was scratched. On a course listed as yielding, favored Never Black ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50 and paid $3.40.

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