Guesswork Castledale's win at Santa Anita further muddled the Derby picture

April 11, 2004

Nearly an hour after the finish of last Saturday's Santa Anita
Derby, 35-year-old trainer Jason Orman walked to his backstretch
barn with a sport coat slung over his shoulder. His massive
3-year-old colt, Rock Hard Ten, had just finished third in the
West Coast's preeminent Kentucky Derby prep race (he was second
under the wire but placed third for interfering with
Imperialism), an encouraging effort in just the third race of his
life. Even more significant, 2-1 favorite St Averil was sixth,
and Louisiana Derby winner Wimbledon, off at 5-2, was a dull,
fading fifth in a race won by 30-1 shot Castledale. "This race
won't scare anybody out of the Kentucky Derby," said Orman. "In
fact, it'll probably encourage people to go. If my horse comes
out O.K., we're going."

Before Santa Anita the Kentucky Derby picture was murky. Now,
with only two weekends of significant racing in which to find a
favorite for the May 1 Derby, it is sludge. Castledale is the
latest unlikely contender. Bred in Ireland, the colt won two of
eight races as a 2-year-old on turf. He made his dirt debut by
finishing sixth in the March 6 San Rafael and was a surprise
entry in the Santa Anita Derby. In the irons was Jose Valdivia
Jr., who ended a 73-race losing streak on March 19 and closed
from next to last in a seven-horse field despite dropping his
whip during last Saturday's stretch drive. The winning time of
1:49.24 was slower than 17 of the last 20 Santa Anita Derby
winners.

Those who did not win were scarcely discouraged. Imperialism, the
dark gray closer who won the San Vicente and the San Rafael over
the same track, was fighting for the lead in deep stretch when he
was shut off by a drifting Rock Hard Ten. Had he not been fouled,
Imperialism might have won the race and taken the Kentucky Derby
favorite's role. Even in defeat, the colt with an odd, sunken
socket just above his partially blind right eye will almost
surely take owner Steve Taub (who bought him in January) and
21-year-old trainer Kristin Mulhall to their first Derby.

Rock Hard Ten's effort was even more intriguing. A huge, dark
brown animal standing more than 17 hands high, he inspired
disbelief when he arrived at co-owner Ernie Moody's training farm
as a yearling in 2002. "I said to the van driver, 'This is the
wrong horse. I'm expecting a yearling, and this is a
2-year-old,'" recalls Mike Orman, the farm's race manager who is
a former trainer and also Jason's father. Slowed by sore shins,
Rock Hard Ten did not race until winning a seven-furlong maiden
on Feb. 7, and then he won again, at a mile on March 3. Facing
much more experienced horses last Saturday, Rock Hard Ten moved
four wide on the final turn and stayed in the race through the
wire. "He moved way up," said Jason Orman. "I think this race
will make him much better the next time."

That next time could be on the first Saturday in May in
Louisville (provided Rock Hard Ten makes the list of the top 20
earners and secures a place in the Derby). If he runs, he will be
fighting 122 years of history; not since Apollo did it in 1882
has the Derby been won by a horse that didn't race as a
2-year-old.

COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN Valdivia lost his whip in the stretch, but Castledale (4) still held off Rock Hard Ten. COLOR PHOTO: BENOIT PHOTO/AP Lion Heart

shakeout Saturday?

A trio of races this weekend could help clarify a muddled
Kentucky Derby picture.

--WOOD MEMORIAL (AQUEDUCT) Eddington needs to run better than his
disappointing third in the Gotham, and Sinister G can prove that
his surprise win in the Lane's End was no fluke. Master David,
winner of the Sham Stakes on Feb. 8, has been fighting illness
since but has lots of class.

--BLUE GRASS (KEENELAND) Lion Heart has speed but only one start
as a 3-year-old. Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Action This Day
has one last chance to get into the Derby picture, while
Preachinatthebar can move near the head of the class by following
up on his San Felipe victory. Which Birdstone will show up?

--ARKANSAS DERBY (OAKLAWN PARK) Five-for-five Smarty Jones has
been tested only once. Another big win could make him the Derby
favorite. Borrego finished an encouraging second in the Louisiana
Derby.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)