The May 7 Kentucky Derby lost one of its top contenders yesterday that might have challenged speedy favorite Holy Bull for the early lead.
Irgun, the front-running winner of the Wood Memorial and Gotham Stakes, was pulled out of the prospective lineup after he missed a scheduled workout yesterday because of a sore right front foot.
The horse had popped a gravel, an abscess that occasionally forms at the top of the hard, insensitive portion of the hoof. Trainer Steve Young said he doesn't think that he can get the horse ready in time for the Derby.
Now it looks like Holy Bull, who has scored impressive back-to-back victories in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, could have a much easier time in the Derby.
"He [Irgun] was the one horse that could have set a good early pace," Jimmy Croll, owner-trainer of Holy Bull, said yesterday. "But I didn't think he could get the trip [the 1 1/4 -mile Derby distance]."
Undoubtedly, Croll added, there are other horses that might challenge Holy Bull for the lead if he gets to the front early and attempts a wire-to-wire victory.
Smilin Singin Sam, front-running winner of the Remington Park Derby, and Ulises, the Panamanian pacesetter who tired and finished third Sunday in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland (Ky.) Race Course, are two likely candidates.
But Croll said Smilin Singin Sam has been competing against "little lesser horses" and that Ulises might skip the Derby.
"I know Churchill Downs is counting on Ulises to run," Croll said. "But he's stabled in the same barn with us at Keeneland and his groom told me yesterday that the horse is going to be shipped to New York. But I don't know whether or not that's true."
Including Ulises, Churchill Downs officials estimated yesterday that there will be 15 Derby starters.
If that's the case, an auxiliary starting gate will have to be used for the one extra horse. The main starting gate holds 14 horses.
"I don't really care about the size of the field," Croll said. "I just hope I get a decent post, from the seven or eight on in."
All of the potential Derby starters, except Holy Bull, Valiant Nature and Ulises, are already at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Croll has purposely kept his horse at Keeneland "to avoid all the excitement" at Churchill Downs. I have other horses at Keeneland and it's a lot quieter here," he said. He intends to ship Holy Bull to Churchill Downs on Saturday and work him six furlongs on Monday.
He added that the track at Keeneland is "a little slower" than the one at Churchill Downs. "I think that is going to help us, to go from a slower to a faster track," Croll said. "It's better that way than the other way around."
Jockeying for places
In other Derby developments, Churchill Downs press officials said that Eddie Delahoussaye, a two-time Derby winner, has replaced Corey Black as the jockey on the Charlie Whittingham-trained Strodes Creek.
Whittingham's other intended Derby starter, Numerous, will bypass the Derby and instead run this weekend in the Derby Trial Stakes.
The trainers of the top eight horses have jockeys already lined up, although four of the seven long shots still need riders.
Kandaly, the Louisiana Derby winner who finished fourth in the Blue Grass, probably will be getting Craig Perret as his jockey, although Perret made a monumental error yesterday. He was scheduled to work Kandaly, but instead of driving to Churchill Downs, where the horse is stabled, he mistakenly drove about 75 miles west to Lexington.
Instead, Brocco's jockey, Gary Stevens, worked Kandaly.
"There was just a miscommunication," said Louis Roussel III, Kandaly's trainer. "Next week Keeneland will be closed so maybe he won't get confused."
Karl F. Schmitt Jr., vice president of corporate communications for Churchill Downs, said he was not surprised that there are 14 or 15 expected starters, even though Holy Bull has been so dominant in the Derby preps.
A field of 13 faced Secretariat in 1973. There were 15 starters going against Seattle Slew in 1977 and fields of 11 and 10 started in the Derbies won by Affirmed and Spectacular Bid in 1978 and 1979, respectively.
Asked why he thought there were so many likely starters, Schmitt simply said, "It's the Derby."
KENTUCKY DERBY PROSPECTS
Horse ...... ..... Trainer ...... ...... Jockey
Holy Bull ..... ..... W. A. Croll ......... Mike Smith
Brocco ....... ..... Randy Winick ........ Gary Stevens
Strodes Creek.. ..... Charlie Whittingham.. Ed Delahoussaye
Tabasco Cat ... ..... D. Wayne Lukas ...... Pat Day
Valiant Nature....... Ron McAnally ........ Laffit Pincay Jr.
Soul of the Matter... Dick Mandella ....... Kent Desormeaux
Southern Rhythm ..... Jim Keefer .......... Garrett Gomez
Go For Gin .......... Nick Zito ........... Chris McCarron
Kandaly ............. Louis Roussel III ... Indefinite
Blumin Affair ....... Jack Van Berg ....... Indefinite
Smilin Singin Sam ... Niall O'Callaghan ... Larry Melancon
Powis Castle ........ Rodney Rash ......... Chris Antley
Meadow Flight ....... Jim Ryerson ......... Indefinite
Mahogany Hall ....... Jim Baker ........... Wilfredo Martinez
Ulises ........ ..... Alfredo Callejas .... Indefinite