Trainer hoping for luck and pluck

The Baltimore Sun

The Grade II, $600,000 Louisiana Derby seems to be bulging with fine Kentucky Derby possibilities, and it could be a wildandcrazyrace if Imawildandcrazyguy steps up the way trainer Bill Kaplan expects him to.

"I know people have heard it before about bad fortune in a race or bad luck or things happening," he said. "But in most of his races there was something that caused him to have a problem. Either he got blocked, bumped, stumbled or something happened to stop him from getting to the top, and his race in [Calder, in Florida], where he went 1:46 and won it for the mile and a sixteenth, was the fastest 2-year-old race this year in [Calder].

"I think it was faster than anything last year also, so it was a phenomenal burst-out effort and it was with a very small field and he had no traffic whatsoever and he was able to save some ground and go [about] his business.

"Now, I got eight horses in the Louisiana Derby, [who are] much better than the 12 we ran at last time ... so I'm hoping for a clean trip. A little clean trip. Fast-paced. A little bit of luck and we'll be there."

One might think Kaplan is asking a lot, but this is a man luck seems to have smiled on this year. Kaplan has a stable of eight horses, and three of them remain serious contenders for the Derby: Drums of Thunder, Storm in May and Imawildandcrazyguy.

"I've been asked, and it's no exaggeration, at least 50 times over the last couple weeks how I could have so many talented horses in a small stable, and it's really hard to answer that. I've been very fortunate, obviously, and I give the standard answer to everyone that either I'm one heck of a trainer or I've got the best eye for horses in America or I'm the luckiest guy in America. I tend to think it's more the latter."

Today, he will need a lot of luck at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, where Todd Pletcher's Circular Quay is the favorite. Trainer Doug O'Neill's well-respected Liquidity is also here and so, too, is trainer Ken McPeek's Birdbirdistheword,

"There's no pressure on us," said McPeek, whose horse already has $600,000 in graded earnings, which is the basis for entry to the Kentucky Derby if more than 20 horses are entered. "I'd like to take him over there [to the Fair Grounds] and him be about 85 to 90 percent. There's no reason to really tighten him up for this race. I think he needs to run a good race. His next race needs to be a better race. And then, the first Saturday in May should be his best race."

The 1 1/16th-mile Louisiana Derby is one of two Derby preps on today's schedule, with the 1 1/16th-mile, $200,000 Gotham Stakes (Grade III) at Aqueduct being the other.

In New York, trainer Rick Violette's Summer Doldrums, a son of Street Cry, comes into the race undefeated in 2007 after two starts. For Violette, this is Summer Doldrums' chance to step it up and give an indication he belongs in graded company. It is a question that came to be asked after his unexpected seventh-place finish in November at age 2 in the Grade II Remsen. He finished nearly 20 lengths behind Nobiz Like Showbiz, who tops many experts' lists for the Kentucky Derby.

"Aside from the Remsen, he's got a nice string of races and it's getting to be where he's a natural fit around two turns," Violette said. "He's so adaptable. He can stalk the pace or be on the lead, whatever the rider wants."

"He's supposed to bounce like a Super Ball," Violette said. "But, hopefully, we can bounce a little bit and still get the job done."

But Summer Doldrums is coming into the Gotham off a flying, 5 1/4 -length victory in the Whirlaway, which poses another concern.

The Gotham appears to be Summer Doldrums' race to win or lose, which is not the case for any horse in the Louisiana Derby.

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