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Horse Racing : Tasso Kicks Himself Out of Derby

A worker who dropped a lead pipe from a truck at Aqueduct last week is partly responsible for Tasso being scratched from this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Tasso, last year’s champion 2-year-old colt, ran fourth as the odds-on favorite in Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. He injured himself in the race, suffering at least six cuts on his left hind leg.

But Tasso’s leg problems began at about 6 a.m. Friday morning, when he was going from the track back to trainer Neil Drysdale’s barn.

According to Drysdale, a worker dropped a large lead pipe from a truck, about 20 feet away from the horse.

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“The sound of the pipe scared him, and he kicked himself,” Drysdale said. “He suffered a small cut on his right foreleg. We didn’t think it was serious enough to keep him out of the race.”

In contention going into the far turn of the Wood, Tasso suddenly dropped back. He came on again through the stretch, but not enough to overtake Broad Brush, who won the race.

“The front leg bothering him caused him to make an adjustment in his stride,” Drysdale said of Tasso. “That’s why he kicked himself badly in the back. You wouldn’t think a Derby horse coming off a track at that hour of the morning could run into any problems, but this is what happened.”

Drysdale said that Tasso would be taken out of training and remain at Aqueduct until his legs heal. He did not rule out running in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, the second leg of the Triple Crown series on May 17, but said that Tasso’s recovery would be a day-to-day proposition.

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The stakes-winning Ketoh, who would have been a factor in the Kentucky Derby, died Saturday at a veterinary clinic in Chino after lingering illnesses.

Ketoh was hospitalized with stomach problems on March 18. Complications developed, including a deterioration of the hooves and a kidney ailment. The cause of death was listed as kidney failure.

Ketoh is the third Derby candidate to have died. Swear, considered one of the best 2-year-olds at Del Mar last summer, died a few months ago and Regal Dreamer died a few days after running fourth in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in March.

Vernon Castle, winner of Saturday’s California Derby in only his third career start, apparently is heading for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, even though his trainer is not that keen about going.

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“If he comes out of the race sound--and we have no reason to think he didn’t--it looks like we’ll go to the Derby,” said Allen Paulson, who with a 40% interest is the principal owner of Vernon Castle. Franklin Groves, who bred the horse, Nelson Bunker Hunt and Dick Duchossois each own 20%.

John Sullivan, who trains Vernon Castle, feels that running the unseasoned son of 1977 Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew only two weeks from now will be asking a lot of the horse. Kentucky Derby starters carry 126 pounds--Vernon Castle has never run with more than 118--and they’re being asked to run 1 miles for the first time.

“I don’t see any disadvantage,” Paulson said. “A lot of the other horses in the Derby will be running within two weeks of their last race, too.”

Snow Chief, the Kentucky Derby favorite, worked a mile in 1:38 2/5 Sunday at Santa Anita in his next-to-last drill before he’s flown to Louisville next Monday.

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With regular rider Alex Solis aboard, Snow Chief started slowly, with fractions of :25 2/5, :50 1/5 and 1:14 3/5. But as he’s done in many of his workouts, Snow Chief finished strongly, going the last eighth of a mile in :11 3/5.

“He galloped out faster than he ran the first part,” said Gary Stute, an assistant trainer for his father Mel, who conditions Snow Chief.

Mel Stute would have preferred Snow Chief going a little faster in his work.

“The important thing is that he did what he was supposed to do in the end,” Solis said.

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