Badger Land won’t fit in the barns at Keeneland. That’s why the Flamingo Stakes winner will soon be shipped directly from Florida to Churchill Downs, where he’ll make his next start May 3 in the Kentucky Derby.
Wayne Lukas, trainer and part owner of Badger Land, wanted to send the horse to Keeneland, at Lexington, Ky., where he already has a string of horses. Then Badger Land could have been moved to Churchill Downs, 70 miles away at Louisville, a week or so before the Derby.
But Badger Land stands about 17 hands--68 inches--and there are supporting rods running under the ceilings of the Keeneland barns. Lukas was afraid that Badger Land might injure himself there.
“His ears might almost touch those pipes as it is,” Lukas said. “All he’d have to do is rear up slightly and you may have lost a Derby horse.”
In all directions, Badger Land needs as much stall space as a track can give him. His quarters are usually padded, because the horse is so gangly that when he lies down, just rolling over, his feet touch the opposite wall.
A year ago, Skywalker, winner of the Santa Anita Derby, was shipped to Churchill Downs well before most of the horses that ran in the Kentucky Derby.
It seemed a sound idea at the time, trainer Michael Whittingham wanting Skywalker to acclimate himself to his surroundings and the track he would have to run on. Sunny’s Halo, winner of the 1983 Derby, had been the first Derby horse to arrive at Churchill Downs that year.
But last year, Churchill Downs’ track was rock-hard, and Skywalker paid the penalty, breaking a leg in the Derby and not running again until last Sunday, when he finished third in a race at Santa Anita.
“Instead of going to Churchill Downs early, I would have been better off staying in California and hitting the horse in the leg with a hammer every day,” Whittingham said.
Lukas was asked if he was concerned about the same thing happening to Badger Land that befell Skywalker.
“No, I’m not,” Lukas said. “Like many of our horses, he doesn’t need that much training to be ready. He’s got enough races in him that he shouldn’t need that much work between now and the Derby.”
Badger Land’s four-length win in the Flamingo was his 12th career start and fifth race this year. He has finished behind Kentucky Derby favorite Snow Chief four times--seconds in the Florida Derby and the El Camino Real Derby, a sixth when Snow Chief won last year’s Norfolk and a fourth when Snow Chief ran third in the Del Mar Futurity.
Lukas now owns 25% of Badger Land. His son and assistant trainer, Jeff, owns 50%, and Melvin Hatley has the other 25%. Before the Flamingo, Hatley was a 50-50 partner with Jeff Lukas. Badger Land, a son of 1980 Preakness winner Codex, is out of the mare Gimieroom, whom Jeff Lukas raced, winning three times in three years, one of them a stake at the Solano County Fair.
Snow Chief’s five-race winning streak began when trainer Mel Stute accepted jockey Alex Solis’ suggestion and outfitted the colt with blinkers.
Tasso, another Kentucky Derby candidate, has been running well since the removal of blinkers. Tasso wore blinkers for the first time late last year when he won Keeneland’s Breeders Futurity and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Aqueduct, clinching the 2-year-old championship.
But this year, trainer Neil Drysdale has run Tasso twice without a hood--in his win in the Manassa Mauler Stakes at Aqueduct and in a second-place showing, despite being jolted at the start, in the Gotham last Saturday.
The blinkers will be back on, however, when Tasso runs in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 19.
“I took the blinkers off because I didn’t want him to be running fresh (unrelaxed) in his first two races,” Drysdale said. “He hadn’t had a race in more than four months. But he settled nicely in these two races and he’s ready to wear them again.”
Trainer Ross Fenstermaker was prepared for the worst as he awaited the weight assignments for this Sunday’s $200,000 San Bernardino Handicap at Santa Anita.
“I saw Charlie (Whittingham) in the racing secretary’s office the other day, probably arguing his case,” Fenstermaker said last Sunday.
But when the weights for the San Bernardino came out this week, Fenstermaker’s Precisionist and Whittingham’s Greinton were rated even at 126 pounds apiece. When they last raced against each other, in the Santa Anita Handicap, Greinton, carrying 122, had a four-pound edge. Greinton won the Big ‘Cap, and Precisionist, more the victim of an extra-quick workout than weight, finished sixth.
Although 16 horses were weighted for Sunday, not many trainers are expected to challenge Greinton and Precisionist, national sprint champion last year.
With Laffit Pincay scheduled to ride Greinton Sunday, trainer Dick Mandella will need a jockey when undefeated Phone Trick tries to win his eighth race in the six-furlong Bold Ruler Stakes at Aqueduct.
Fobby Forbes, who ran second to Bordeaux Bob in last Saturday’s Cherry Hill Mile at Garden State Park, is a Kentucky Derby hopeful bred and owned by Bob Brennan.
Brennan, who runs Garden State, made life miserable for the Triple Crown tracks last year, offering a $2-million bonus that was tied to his Jersey Derby. After winning the Kentucky Derby, Spend a Buck skipped the next jewel in the Triple Crown, the Preakness, to concentrate on the Jersey Derby and wound up with a record $2.6-million payday.
It would delight Brennan to run a horse in the Kentucky Derby. But if Fobby Forbes won at Churchill Downs, would he, like the Spend a Buck crew, bypass the Preakness and run in Brennan’s own Jersey Derby?
“I think Mr. Brennan would run the colt in both the Preakness (May 17) and our Derby (May 26),” said Eual Wyatt, racing secretary at Garden State. “I think he’d run in the Preakness just to show the Pimlico people that he wasn’t slighting their race.”
Carl Grinstead, one of the owners of Snow Chief, said his colt will stay on the Triple Crown schedule until he loses.
Racing Notes If Bill Shoemaker and Angel Cordero retire at the end of this year, racing would lose two jockeys who have combined to win more than $200 million in purse money. Shoemaker has hinted at retirement, and Cordero, who underwent surgery for a cut liver after a spill at Aqueduct last month, is also thinking about quitting. “I plan to ride again in July,” Cordero said. “But now is the time to think about retiring. I’ve been in several spills in the last four years, and that makes you think about retiring.” . . . Symboli Rudolf, the Japanese champion who was injured in the San Luis Rey Stakes, has been flown back to Japan, where he will start a stud career. . . . Foscarini, another horse injured in the San Luis Rey, survived surgery and will be sent to stud. . . . Roy, undefeated in his only two starts this year, won’t make the Kentucky Derby and is being pointed toward the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct May 7. Roy missed a start in New York this year when Aqueduct wrote a race for him and trainer Jan Nerud reportedly forgot to enter. . . . The track announcer at Fairplex Park--formerly the Los Angeles County Fair--will be Ralph Siraco, who worked at Garden State Park last year. The first Fairplex harness season will open the night of April 22. . . . L’Attrayante, a European standout who had trouble winning in the United States, won the Merry Madeleine Handicap at Golden Gate Fields last Saturday and will now be bred to either Seattle Slew or Lyphard. . . . If a capacity field of 20 starts this year’s Kentucky Derby, the race will be worth $864,400, with the winner getting $689,400. That would break the record $537,400 that Swale earned in 1984. Last year, with a field of only 13, Spend a Buck won $406,800.