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April 15, 2008

Ballz: That horse didn’t work out. But wait! I’ve got another

[img_assist|nid=6663|title=Adriano|desc=Photo by Reed Palmer/Churchill Downs Adriano’s win in the Lane’s End got little notice, but he seems to like the Churchill track.|link=|align=left|width=200|height=143]Everyone’s heard how tough it is to win the Kentucky Derby.How just one of 30,000-something thoroughbred horses born each season in North America (and more overseas) can win the Derby. And how you have to be so lucky just to get your good horse to the race, right and ready to go on the First Saturday in May.Well, we can tell you it isn’t much easier to pick the winner than it is to own it. And it’s simply baffling to figure out what’s going on along the Derby Trail of prep races that narrows the herd of 30,000 down to the 20 who will start at Churchill Downs.Like this: Back in February, I figure out a horse named Elysium Fields that might be a legitimate Derby longshot — before hardly anybody else has even heard his name. A distance-bred colt, trained by Derby-winning trainer Barclay Tagg (Funny Cide, 2003), that has never run in a sprint race and pops up strong, breaking his maiden down in Florida.I ask a guy who knows every Derby prospect there is, and is super sharp on them — just ask him offhand — if he has any particular horses he likes in the Derby. And the first horse out of his mouth is Elysium Fields.So the game is on!I look up Elysium Fields in my “Smaller Classical Dictionary” and find that Homer, a top handicapper operating on the Greek circuit around 880 B.C., describes Elysium Fields as a place beyond Ocean, where gods and godlike men can go and nothing bad can happen to them. Which is exactly what all us gods and godlike horseplayers have been looking for.Elysium Fields next runs a bang-up second in the Fountain of Youth, and I’m thinking the horse is set up perfectly for the Florida Derby. Of course, he runs LAST (with all my money) and drops out of the Kentucky Derby picture. Later, I see in the chart he actually finished11th, nipped for last by some other horse.It turns out that what we should have been paying attention to was not the horse who ran the bang-up second in the Fountain of Youth, but the one who ran last in the Fountain of Youth — a 39-length loser named Monba.Yes, that Monba. The same Monba who bounced back Saturday to win the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland at 8-1.It’s a tough game.But Monba’s Blue Grass triumph was a good one. The son of Maria’s Mon (sire of 2001 Derby winner Monarchos) broke alertly, laid close to the pace, then drove past stablemate Cowboy Cal for the victory. A sharp performance.The dark-gray colt, owned by a partnership headed by Louisvillian Jack Wolf, is now the likely third to fifth choice in the Kentucky Derby — behind the solid East-West twosome of Big Brown, the runaway winner of the Florida Derby, and Colonel John, the strong-finishing hero of the Santa Anita Derby.But wait!We’ve got another horse for you.That’s Adriano, who back in March won the $500,000 Lane’s End at Turfway Park. A little noticed but very impressive triumph. Sunday, Adriano worked a half mile in 50 seconds at Churchill Downs for trainer Graham Motion, with jockey Edgar Prado in the irons. Prado not only won the Blue Grass on Monba, and the Wood Memorial with Tale of Ekati, but also the Lane’s End with Adriano. He indicated he would make his choice of the three this week.Trainer Motion said he was interested to see how Adriano would handle the Churchill track, and Prado has been the stable’s top rider this spring.“I pretty much told Edgar he had a free rein to do what he wanted, within reason,” said Motion. “He kind of smooched to him at the eighth pole and he really lengthened his stride. He just seemed to accelerate like he would on any surface.”Stay tuned. Contact the writer at citystrobe@leoweekly.com