Thursday, April 16, 2009

Lexington offers final opportunity

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The final stop on the Kentucky Derby trail once again amounts to a win-and-you're-in situation for any horse whose connections are looking to move on to Louisville. The Grade 2, $300,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes will be run for the 28th time Saturday at Keeneland, with only one of the 12 3-year-olds entered Wednesday, Square Eddie, having already accumulated enough graded earnings to make the May 2 Derby at Churchill Downs.

Despite a sizable hiccup this winter, Square Eddie looms the favorite for the Lexington, which is run at 1 1/16 miles over Polytrack. A romping winner of the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity over this track last fall, Square Eddie exited a workout at Hollywood Park in early February with a minor leg fracture that originally was thought to have eliminated him from Derby consideration. But trainer Doug O'Neill believes the colt has recovered to the point that he deserves a shot at the Derby, so here they are.

Outside of Square Eddie, the Lexington looks like a pure scramble. Any of a half-dozen or so opponents appear fully capable of posing a major threat, with a number of familiar outfits stepping forth with a bunch of new shooters.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, a winner of two of the last four runnings of the Lexington with Coin Silver (2005) and Behindatthebar (2008), will start the uncoupled pair of Masala, fourth in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, and Advice, the beaten favorite in the Breeders' Futurity here last fall. Nick Zito will run Brave Victory, most recently fourth in the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Barclay Tagg will run the speedy Pitched Perfectly, an Aqueduct allowance winner last out. And Steve Asmussen and Shug McGaughey are represented by horses with two-race win streaks, Omniscient and Conservative, respectively.

From the rail, this is the Lexington field: Jeranimo, Omniscient, Pitched Perfectly, Brave Victory, His Greatness, Masala, Conservative, Square Eddie, El Crespo, Parade Clown, Advice, and Hull.

ESPN2 will provide live coverage of the Lexington during a one-hour broadcast that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern.

The weather forecast for Saturday calls for partly cloudy skies and a high temperature of 69.

* The secondary Saturday feature, the $100,000 Giant's Causeway, drew an overflow field of filly-mare turf sprinters, with Diamondrella and Genuine Devotion heading a very deep cast. Fourteen were entered, but only as many as 12 can start in the 5 1/2-furlong race.

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