Saturday, May 04, 2002

McGaughey back to Derby with 'right horse'

By Neil Schmidt,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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        LOUISVILLE — Shug McGaughey owns the Breeders' Cup, having started 45 horses and won seven races. But as Saarland's trainer says, “You go up to some people and they don't ask if you've won the Breeders' Cup.”

        They ask about the Kentucky Derby. And the 51-year-old Lexington native is 0-for-5 here.

        “It's been on my mind my whole training career,” McGaughey said. “It would be a great thrill to me.”

        McGaughey was stung by the 1989 Derby, when he sent out odds-on favorite Easy Goer and finished second to Sunday Silence. He hadn't been back until this year.

        “I learned from the experience,” he said. “I don't make it a focus to get here, because I want to get the right horse here. I think this is that horse.”

        GATE CHANGE: With Buddha scratching Friday, the Derby field drops from 20 to 19. The Derby does not accept “also-eligibles” after the entry deadline.

        In years past when a horse scratched, every horse with a farther-outside gate would move in one spot to fill in that gap. But the state's chief steward, Bernie Hettel, elected Friday to move each horse with a gate inside of Buddha's original No.10 post out one spot each from the rail. That leaves the No.1 post vacant.

        “The decision was for safety concerns, keeping horses from hitting the rail, and to keep intact the strategy involved for those who, for instance, chose the 14th or 15th gate (near the break in the auxiliary gate) on purpose,” Churchill Downs publicist John Asher said.

        UPDATED ODDS: Advance wagers on the Derby were taken Friday. Saarland is the current favorite at 5-1, with slightly more money wagered on him than fellow 5-1 choice Harlan's Holiday. The rest of the updated odds:

        Came Home, Perfect Drift 7-1; Johannesburg, Medaglia d'Oro 11-1; Essence of Dubai 13-1; Proud Citizen 17-1; Lusty Latin, War Emblem 18-1; Request For Parole, 23-1; Danthebluegrassman, Private Emblem 24-1; Ocean Sound, Castle Gandolfo 34-1; Blue Burner 36-1; Easy Grades 43-1; Wild Horses 50-1; It'sallinthechase 97-1.

        CLOSE CALL: Carol Mikules, part of the ownership group for long shot Ocean Sound, is grateful just to see this Derby. She was scheduled to be on the Sept.11 flight out of Washington, D.C., that crashed into the Pentagon, but husband Kelly persuaded her to take an evening flight the night before.

        “It really makes you think about what's important,” she said. “We're just hoping we have a little more luck.”

        NO LOVE: Derby oddsmaker Mike Battaglia's morning line is his guess at how the public will bet each horse. He put Johannesburg at 6-1, but the colt's lack of prep races turns off Battaglia. “I don't like him at all,” he said.

        SIBLING RIVALRY: There are two sets of half-brothers in the race.

        Private Emblem and War Emblem are both sired by Our Emblem, the former out of Merion Miss and the latter from Sweetest Lady.

        Three colts were sired by Gone West: Came Home, out of Nice Assay;Proud Citizen, from Drums of Freedom; and Castle Gandolfo, out of Golden Oriole.

        BONUS BABY: War Emblem is eligible for a $1million bonus from the Illinois Derby folks, who have promised that amount to the winner of their race if he goes on to win any of the Triple Crown races.

        Baffert said he was so thankful for the help of Frank Springer, who had trained the horse until Prince Ahmed Salman bought him April 10 and gave him to Baffert, that he told Springer they could split his share of the bonus money if War Emblem earned it.

        PURSE: With Buddha out, the Derby's total purse will be $1,190,000. The winner gets $890,000.


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