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Eskendereya No. 1 on list of Derby prospects

Photo by Adam Coglianese

Photo by Adam Coglianese

NEW YORK -- A tight squeeze and a punch resulted in a suspension and fine at the Santa Anita Derby. An overpowering victory by Eskendereya in the Wood Memorial provided racing fans with the likely favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

Eskendereya (es-ken-DRAY-uh) delivered a second straight overpowering victory, a 9 3/4-length romp over a strong field in Saturday's the Wood at Aqueduct. The chestnut colt trained by Todd Pletcher won the Fountain of Youth by 81/2 lengths in his previous start Feb. 20.

At the Santa Anita, favorite Lookin At Lucky was squeezed at the rail and forced to hold up in his bid to win but eventually finished third behind Sidney's Candy. Lucky's rider Garrett Gomez punched the rider of the horse who cut him off, then Lucky's trainer Bob Baffert called Gomez's ride "horrendous."

Victor Espinoza, the rider of Who's Up -- the horse who angled in on Lookin At Lucky -- was suspended three days for his action Sunday; Gomez was fined $750 for punching Espinoza after the race.

The race results produced a change atop the AP's latest Run to the Roses Top 10 list of Kentucky Derby contenders: Eskendereya moves up to No. 1, Lookin At Lucky drops to No. 2.

Even Pletcher -- 0-for-24 in his quest to win the Derby -- was feeling confident about his chances with Eskendereya.

"We've never had a horse we knew could handle the mile-and-a-quarter and we've never had one put together a couple of preps like this one," Pletcher said of perhaps his best of at least seven Derby prospects. "We've had some good prep wins, but none as impressive as these two."

Lookin At Lucky remains a formidable contender, but the 3-year-old colt also had a troubled trip in winning the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 13.

"We're not the favorite anymore. We've dropped down a few notches," Baffert said. "California 3-year-olds are very good this year. They're tough."

Lookin At Lucky had been in the top spot for six straight weeks.

New additions to this week's list are Jackson Bend and American Lion. Jackson Bend was second in the Wood and moves in at No. 7 for trainer Nick Zito. American Lion is No. 10 after winning Saturday's Illinois Derby by 2 3/4 lengths over Yawanna Twist.

With just over three weeks before the Derby, another round of preps is set for Saturday with the Arkansas Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes.

No. 6 Noble's Promise and No. 9 Dublin, who ran second and third behind Lookin At Lucky in the Rebel, could be the top choices for the $1 million Arkansas Derby on dirt. Also likely is Pletcher's Super Saver, Pulsion and Uh Oh Bango.

At Keeneland, Tampa Bay Derby winner Odysseus and a pair of Pletcher-trained colts -- Aikenite and Interactif -- are among the field for the $750,000 Blue Grass on a synthetic surface. Also probable is Florida Derby runner-up Pleasant Prince.

The Derby field is limited to 20 starters. If more are entered, the field is determined by graded stakes earnings. Lookin At Lucky tops the list with $1,480,000, with Make Music for Me (set for the Blue Grass) ranked 20th with $215,000.

Among horses running Saturday outside the top 20 are Uh Oh Bango (23rd), Odysseus (24th), Super Saver (27th) and Pleasant Prince (28th).

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1. Eskendereya (Todd Pletcher, trainer; John Velazquez, jockey): Wood romp makes it clear this is horse to beat on Derby day ... Next start: Kentucky Derby (May 1, Churchill Downs, dirt) ... Derby future wager odds: 5-1.

2. Lookin At Lucky (Bob Baffert, Garrett Gomez): Overcame being squeezed at rail for third in Santa Anita Derby ... Has now run into trouble in last two starts ... Next start: Kentucky Derby ... Odds: 9-2.

3. Ice Box (Nick Zito, Jose Lezcano): Florida Derby winner worked 4 furlongs in 49.00 Saturday at Palm Meadows ... Next start: Kentucky Derby ... Odds: 19-1.

4. Sidney's Candy (John Sadler, Joe Talamo): Wire-to-wire winner of Santa Anita Derby gives diet maven Jenny Craig's colt a sweep of West Coast preps ... Derby will be first start on dirt ... Next start: Kentucky Derby ... Odds: 22-1.

5. Mission Impazible (Pletcher, Rajiv Maragh): Louisiana Derby winner another of Todd's squad of Derby-bound colts ... Next start: Kentucky Derby ... Odds: 9-2 (mutuel field).

6. Noble's Promise (Ken McPeek, Robby Albarado): Rebel runner-up could be favorite in Arkansas this weekend ... Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 Saturday at Oaklawn ... Next start: Arkansas Derby (Saturday, Oaklawn Park, dirt) ... Odds: 19-1.

7. Jackson Bend (Zito, Calvin Borel): Back on list after running distant second in Wood ... Second in last three starts, twice beaten by Eskendereya ... Owner Robert LaPenta also owns Ice Box ... Next start: Kentucky Derby ... Odds: 46-1.

8. Awesome Act (Jeremy Noseda, Julien Leparoux): Gotham winner had bad start in Wood, but still managed third ... Slow pace didn't help, either ... Next start: Kentucky Derby ... Odds: 13-1.

9. Dublin (D. Wayne Lukas, Corey Nakatani): Big chance to step up for Lukas' best Derby prospect in years ... Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.80 Sunday at Oaklawn ... Next start: Arkansas Derby ... Odds: 18-1.

10. American Lion (Eoin Harty, David Flores): Front-running Illinois Derby win over dirt encouraging sign after slow 2010 start ... Could be one of several Derby starters for WinStar Farm ... Odds: 9-2 (mutuel field)