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French-Based Colt Tagel Will Miss the Derby : Is It True Also Expected to Skip Race After a Poor Performance at Santa Anita

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

The 115th Kentucky Derby, which seems to be losing more horses than it gains, shrank again Sunday when Tagel, a French-based colt with globe-hopping possibilities, was scratched from a stake because of a cough that has been bothering a number of horses at Longchamps.

Tagel, who hasn’t run since he finished third, behind Is It True and Easy Goer, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last November at Churchill Downs, needed a strong race Sunday in order to be considered a Derby candidate.

Is It True also was probably eliminated from the Derby after running last in a sprint at Santa Anita on Friday. Is It True was making his first start since he underwent knee surgery shortly after the Breeders’ Cup.

Easy Goer, the heavy favorite for the Derby and the reason some owners with marginal 3-year-olds will duck the race, worked five furlongs Saturday at Belmont Park in an easy 1:00 4/5, in preparation for his appearance in the Wood Memorial on Saturday at Aqueduct. Trainer Shug McGaughey said that he worked Easy Goer a day earlier than scheduled because rain in New York figured to make Belmont’s track muddy on Sunday.

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Faultless Ensign, the winner of Saturday’s Garden State Stakes at Garden State Park, is not expected to challenge Easy Goer in the Derby, which will be run May 6.

The list of viable candidates for the Derby has been reduced to this:

--Easy Goer.

--Sunday Silence, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby, and Hawkster, who ran fourth in the race.

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--Western Playboy, the troubled winner of Saturday’s Blue Grass at Keeneland and possibly Dispersal, who finished second after twice bumping the winner in the stretch and almost knocking him sideways.

--Houston, the favorite who finished fifth in the Santa Anita Derby. After a workout today at Santa Anita, trainer Wayne Lukas is expected to announce that Houston will run in the Derby Trial, a week before the Derby.

--The winner of the Arkansas Derby this Saturday at Oaklawn Park, where Manastash Ridge will be favored.

--Possibly the winner of the California Derby, which is also scheduled Saturday at Golden Gate Fields.

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--Open Mind, who is already stabled at Churchill Downs and will run in either the Derby or the May 5 Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.

--Majesty’s Imp, the second-place finisher to Dispersal in the Louisiana Derby, who will need a strong performance in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland next week in order to earn a trip to Churchill Downs.

The average number of starters in the Derby this decade has been 17. It is beginning to look as if this year’s field will be the smallest since Spectacular Bid won in a 10-horse lineup in 1979.

Despite his colt’s victory over five other horses in the Blue Grass, trainer Harvey Vanier knows that Easy Goer will be an extraordinary opponent for Western Playboy in the Derby. The two horses both have a running style that brings them from well off the pace.

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On Sunday morning at Keeneland, Vanier sounded like a man whose horse is running for second place in the Derby. “If my horse had just a little more zip, we might be able to beat that other colt,” Vanier said.

One good thing for Vanier is that this year’s Blue Grass, for the first time since World War II, was run three weeks instead of nine days before the Derby and Western Playboy will have the extra time to recover. When Vanier won the Blue Grass on an off-track--much like Saturday’s--with Play Fellow in 1983, the colt came out of the roughly run race and was dull in the Derby the next week, finishing sixth.

Voicing a minority opinion, trainer Bud Delp said that Dispersal probably would have won the Blue Grass if he had been able to run a straight path in the stretch. Dispersal had a narrow lead when he came from off the fence at the top of the stretch and slammed into Western Playboy, who was closing in the middle of the track. A more widespread opinion was that Western Playboy was about to roll past Dispersal when the first of the two incidents occurred.

Dispersal will remain here until Thursday, when he will either be shipped to Churchill Downs, 75 miles to the west, or be sent to Maryland. If he stays in Kentucky, Dispersal will run in the Derby Trial and Delp will then consider the Derby. If the other option is used, the objective will be either the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, at Pimlico on May 20 or the Jersy Derby at Garden State Park on May 29.

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If Delp runs in the Kentucky Derby, it would be like old times for the trainer of Spectacular Bid, trying to beat a relatively small field at Churchill Downs. This time, though, Delp would be running one of the Davids instead of the Goliath.


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