Kentucky Derby Notebook

Irish Eyes Are Smiling For Denis of Cork

By John Scheinman
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 30, 2008

LOUISVILLE, April 29 -- Trainer David Carroll spent a part of Tuesday morning giving University of Louisville football coach Steve Kragthorpe a tour around his barn at Churchill Downs.

When it was time to go, Kragthorpe was approached by a local radio reporter and asked whom he liked to win Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

In his best imitation public service announcement voice, the coach said into the reporters' mike, "I'm Steve Kragthorpe, and my pick for the Derby is Denis of Cork."

Kragthorpe used to coach at the University of Tulsa, and Tulsa oil company owner and philanthropist William K. Warren Jr. continues to financially support his programs. Warren also owns the 3-year-old colt Denis of Cork, and that the coach was out at the Carroll barn was a good sign considering the day before the horse wasn't even in the Derby field.

When trainer Todd Pletcher announced Monday that Lexington Stakes winner Behindatthebar would not run in the Derby off of two weeks rest and instead would be pointed toward the Preakness, Denis of Cork moved up from 21st on the graded stakes earnings list -- otherwise known as nowhere -- and into the field.

Carroll, 48, a native of Kildalkey, Ireland (County Meath, not Cork), now living in Louisville, couldn't have been more ecstatic. In late December, the trainer had plotted a three-race path to the Derby through Arkansas that called for Denis of Cork, a $250,000 auction purchase, to appear in the Southwest Stakes in February, the Rebel the following month and then the Arkansas Derby on April 12.

After the colt won the Southwest, however, Warren, a strong adherent to Ragozin Sheets speed figures, said the numbers told him Denis of Cork would reach a peak effort in two starts rather than the three Carroll had planned.

Since the owner is the owner, Carroll had no choice but to skip the colt's scheduled run in the Rebel to train up to a new objective, the Illinois Derby on April 5.

On what appeared to be a speed-favoring track at Hawthorne that day, Denis of Cork never mounted a rally and ran a dull fifth, ruining Carroll's carefully conceived strategy.

"Numbers should never have played a big part in this," Carroll said on Tuesday. "Mr. Warren is a big believer in [them]. That was the consensus of our team, but you can make those numbers work any way you want."

By all accounts, Denis of Cork has worked impressively at Churchill recently. The Daily Racing Form called his 47.80-second four-furlong blowout Monday the "work of the day."

The colt won his first three starts and looked to be a serious Derby contender until the change of plans dulled his luster. Now he enters the race off a loss and with just four career starts, although Carroll insists, "he's as fit as I can get him."

"Preferably, I would like to come into the race with another start under his belt," Carroll said. "If we had stayed on track, we would have been unbeaten."

Derby Post Positions

The post position draw for the Kentucky Derby will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday in downtown Louisville and televised live by ESPN. . . . Laurel Park-based Bsharpsonata drew post position No. 10 for Friday's Grade I $500,000 Kentucky Oaks, while Eight Belles drew the outside post No. 12, strengthening the likelihood she will compete in the Kentucky Derby.

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