Monday, April 29, 2002

Saarland carries Phipps' hopes

Late runner could give family first Derby win

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Saarland was out for a bath at Churchill Downs, standing quietly near Barn 43 as he was being sponged down. Cynthia Phipps' 3-year-old colt had just returned from a 1 1/2-mile gallop a week before the Kentucky Derby, and his exercise rider was sitting on a metal folding chair waiting to work another horse.

        “He's a lot more relaxed, he wanted to keep going, he's doing really well,” said Adolph Krajewski, better known as “Juice.” “Before, he wasn't as enthusiastic.”

   Horse — Last Race
   Harlan's Holiday — Blue Grass (1st)
   Came Home — Santa Anita Derby (1st)
   Buddha — Wood Memorial (1st)
   Medaglia d'Oro — Wood Memorial (2nd)
   Perfect Drift — Lane's End Spiral (1st)
   Request for Parole — Lane's End Spiral (3rd)
   Saarland — Wood Memorial (4th)
   Blue Burner — Wood Memorial (5th)
   Easy Grades — Santa Anita Derby (2nd)
   Lusty Latin — Santa Anita Derby (3rd)
   Private Emblem — Arkansas Derby (1st)
   War Emblem — Illinois Derby (1st)
   Essence of Dubai — UAE Derby (1st)
   Castle of Gandolfo — Foster's (1st)
   Johannesburg — Gladness (2nd)
   Windward Passage — Arkansas Derby (3rd)
   Proud Citizen — Lexington (1st)
   Ocean Sound — Blue Grass (3rd)
   Wild Horses — Arkansas Derby (3rd)
   It'sallinthechase — Arkansas Derby (9th)

        Also eligible

   Crimson Hero — Lexington (2nd)
   Sunday Break — Wood Memorial (3rd)
   USS Tinosa — Santa Anita Derby (5th)

        Four minutes of minor surgery a few days after the Wood Memorial may be the difference. After a dull fourth-place finish in the Wood on April 13, it was discovered the regally-bred son of 1990 Derby winner Unbridled had trouble breathing. The problem was solved, and now the colt is considered a top Derby contender. What an appropriate time for a Phipps-owned horse to return to America's greatest race with a shot at winning.

        Ogden Phipps, patriarch of one of the grandest families in thoroughbred racing, died April 22 at the age of 93. He owned 5 percent of Saarland, his daughter's Derby hope.

        “I think it would be a great tribute to him” if Saarland wins, trainer Shug McGaughey said. “This is kind of Cynthia's thing, but Mr. Phipps bought a small piece of him last fall. I thought that was good, so everybody could sort of participate.”

        McGaughey, the Phipps' personal trainer since 1985, returns to the Derby for the first time since 1989, when Easy Goer was beaten by Sunday Silence.

        McGaughey, 51, said Ogden Phipps kept up with Saarland's progress. “He was always asking, "You think he's got a chance?' And I'd say, "Yeah, I think he's got a chance.' "I hope so,' he'd say, and I'd say, "I hope so, too.”'

        The familiar black silks and cherry cap of the Phipps stable never made it to the Derby winner's circle. The family's only Classic victory came in the 1989 Belmont Stakes when Easy Goer spoiled Sunday Silence's Triple Crown bid. That, Phipps liked to say, was his greatest racing moment.

        Another big moment looms. With so many international interests now involved in trying to win the Derby, a win by Saarland could turn this edition into a testimonial to America's last big-name, family owned breeding and racing operation.

        Last Wednesday, McGaughey attended a memorial for Phipps in Palm Beach, Fla. It brought back memories.

        “It's sort of the end of an era,” he said a day after returning to New York. “The Phipps stable will go on, but along with Mr. Mellon and the Whitneys and Vanderbilts, Mr. Phipps was a cornerstone of racing. And that's all over.

        “He had a great passion for the sport and his horses. He loved going over and being the favorite, and he always took the good very well and the bad very well.

        “It would be something special if Saarland should go on and do well.”

        While Saarland doesn't possess the gaudy record of a Harlan's Holiday or Came Home, he does have a running style that should get him the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles.

        If he's moving well for jockey John Velazquez, the big-striding colt should be behind the leaders before moving into overdrive for a strong stretch run. A full field of 20 could help, too.

        “I think it will because there's going to be so much activity going on in the race that it will probably keep him really focused,” McGaughey said of his colt, who has two wins in seven starts. “As long as he doesn't get in any trouble, that is.”

        That started McGaughey talking about Phipps' affection for fillies, especially the campaign of undefeated Personal Ensign. The filly was injured while training for the 1986 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, but made a remarkable recovery to become the champion older filly in 1988 with a dramatic win in her final race — a nose victory over '88 Derby winner Winning Colors in the BC Distaff.

        On Saturday, Saarland has a chance to show that Phipps colts can rise to the occasion, too.


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