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Square Eddie says, “Not so fast”

Papa Clem and Old Fashioned Arkansas Derby

After a courageous battle to the wire with Papa Clem in the Arkansas Derby, Old Fashioned had to settle for second place. Little did anybody know that race would be his final career start. The Saturday night of the Arkansas Derby, he was found to be a little “off” and X-rays revealed a slab fracture in his right knee that would require surgery. And so it goes that the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby is now not only off the Derby trail, but has been retired, as his veterinarian told his owner, Rick Porter, the horse would never be able to perform at the same level again.

With both Old Fashioned and The Pamplemousse off the Triple Crown radar, horses who have been floating on the bubble for graded earnings are now moving into contention. We will gladly welcome Dunkirk to the Derby fold, but wish a few others would get lost on their way to Louisville. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Kentucky Derby without a full field of twenty horses, and as a smaller field means a better chance for the good horses to run their race, I’m crossing my fingers some will just opt out. There does appear to be a light on the horizon: horses like Terrain, who misfired in his final Derby prep, are second-guessing their shot at the roses and are now gracefully stepping aside to let others with a better shot take their places. And now Mafaaz, the Polytrack specialist who had secured a spot in the Derby gates by winning the Kentucky Derby Challenge at Kempton Park, is realzing his eighth place in the Blue Grass Stakes doesn’t spell glory on the horizon and is also bowing out. So will we see a full field in the Kentucky Derby, or a smaller, more tight group of competitors?

With all the horses dropping like flies, there is one contender who’s been sitting on the sidelines all spring and is now ready to get back in the Derby picture. Remember Square Eddie, the runner-up in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last October, who was upset by The Pamplemousse in the Grade III San Rafael this February? Once thought to be a long way from Louisville after a shin injury put him out of commission, Square Eddie is now making a better-late-than-never return in his prep for the Kentucky Derby, the Coolmore Lexington Stakes this Saturday at Keeneland. While he has more than enough graded earnings to make it into the Derby, the Coolmore is being considered his last-minute warm-up for the big dance. He doesn’t need to win this prep for his connections to be satisfied, but he mustn’t embarrass himself.

Square EddieSquare Eddie won the 1 1/16 miles Grade I Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland over Terrain and Pioneerof the Nile last October, and will undoubtedly be the uncontested favorite for the Coolmore Lexington Stakes. His rivals include El Crespo, the only other graded stakes winner in the field, His Greatness, Omniscient, and Masala. Along with El Crespo, the only horses that could benefit from a win in this race and belatedly throw his name into the Derby pool would be His Greatness, who was third in the Illinois Derby, and possibly Parade Clown, who was fourth in the Lane’s End Stakes; every other horse here would have to have a lot of luck that some other Derby hopefuls would drop out in the coming weeks to have a shot at running for the roses. A couple of good lightly-raced horses who have yet to win graded earnings are Omniscient, featuring the same Jackson-Asmussen-Albarado connections as Curlin, and Hull, trained by Dale Romans. If these two don’t make it to the Kentucky Derby, it’s very likely they could try for the Preakness. 

The Coolmore Lexington is essentially the “Last Shot Stakes.” If you’re a horseman, and your horse hasn’t won enough graded earnings after this race, then you’re going to be watching the Twin Spires from the comfort of your living room. Many are doubting Square Eddie’s ability to come back after such a long layoff, win this race, then go on to run in the most grueling three-year-old race in the world two weeks later. Very few horses have won the Coolmore Lexington Stakes and then gone on to clench the Derby, but there is one that did just that exactly ten years ago. His name was Charismatic, and he went off as a 31-1 longshot for the Kentucky Derby; not only did he win the roses, but also the Preakness. So don’t count out Eddie yet, there’s still two weeks until the first Saturday in May, and for some, that’s just enough time to catch a break.

 Click here to view a compiled list of top graded stakes earners elligible for the Kentucky Derby.

The Grade III Coolmore Lexington Stakes will be broadcast live on TVG at approximately 5:40pm ET this Saturday.

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