Famous trainers already prepping for Kentucky Derby

Although it is still 10 weeks away, three of the most prominent horse trainers in the world are getting their best three year old prospects ready for the upcoming Kentucky Derby which is scheduled for May 4, the first Saturday of that month.

And just because D. Wayne Lukas, Bob Baffert or Todd Pletcher are working with horses that cost their respective owner a ton of money to buy at the yearling sales two years ago doesn’t mean the horse will automatically run in the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of horse racing’s coveted Triple Crown.

Each prospective three-year-old horse must earn its way into the Derby by winning or placing high in the many Grade I races being run in the next two months at some of the more prominent race tracks around the country.

These big preliminary races generally offer up to a million dollars in purse money and are worth 50 points to the winning three-year old. When the week of the Derby nears, the 23 horses which have won the most money in their short careers and have accumulated the most points are invited to run in the Kentucky Derby.

The big trick facing the owners and trainers during this time before the big race is which preliminary races will they run in, usually determined by when and where they are scheduled to be run.

The size of the purse also must be taken into consideration along with the layout of that specific race track. Some horses prefer running on dirt as opposed to the newly-created synthetic-surfaced race tracks. And some horses prefer long home stretches as opposed to short ones after the final turn for the finish line.

Lukas, at 77 years old, could add another benchmark to his record-setting resume` by becoming the oldest trainer to win America’s most beloved race, eclipsing the late Charlie Willingham, who was 76 when Sunday Silence won the Derby in 1989, according to Jennie Rees of the Louisville Courier-Journal in a recent article.

Lukas’ next victory in a Triple Crown race would give him the all-time record at 14, breaking his tie with “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons. Two of his most promising Derby prospects are Oxbow, owned by new client Bluegrass Hall and Will Take Charge, owned by long-time client Willis Horton.

Oxbow most likely will race this weekend in the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Will Take Charge will race in either the Southwest Stakes this week or the Rebel Stakes March 16, both at Oaklawn Park at Hot Springs, Ark.

Another of Lukas’ Derby hopefuls is Titletown Five, named as a tribute to the Green Bay Packers and the number worn by its owner Paul Hornung, whose partners include Packers’ Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis and Packers’ executive committee member Ed Martin.

Pletcher is pinning his hopes on Shanghai Bobby, who is the early Kentucky Derby favorite because of his winnings which already exceed the $1.7 million mark. But Violence, Verrazano, Revolutionary, Overanalyze and Park City also could qualify for the Derby and make Pletcher proud.

Baffert is trying to keep his Derby prospects separated in the points races, and is expected to send them to Oaklawn Park where his horses swept all of the graded preps last year.

Power Broker, who finished fifth in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile event, should qualify for the Derby despite not having a published workout by Baffert since Nov. 20. Other candidates include Den’s Legacy and Flashback.

Some of the upcoming Grade I stakes races worth 50 points to the winner include the Risen Star at the New Orleans Fair Grounds and the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream this weekend, the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct March 2, the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa and San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on March 9.

KWICKIES…Houston Astros right-hander Lucas Harrell was named as the starting pitcher for Friday’s Grapefruit League exhibition opener against the Philadelphia Phillies at Clearwater, Fla. Bud Norris—the Astros’ highest-paid player this season—will start Saturday at home at Osceola County Stadium against the New York Mets.

The Houston Texans will focus on obtaining an outside wide receiver to take some of the defensive pressure off All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson next season. The team plans to use the April draft that will have the best receivers to choose from the group of Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson, Baylor’s Terrance Williams, Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton, California’s Kevin Allen and West Virginia’s Tavon Austin. The Texans were $5.6 million under the salary cap last week and will probably use some of that money to sign some inexpensive free agents.

Danica Patrick became the first woman in NASCAR history to win the pole position in Sunday’s Daytona 500 after a qualifying lap of 196.434 mph. The only other driver to top 196 mph in the qualifying was Jeff Gordon. Patrick told reporters after her accomplishment what she felt about winning the pole position. “Pride,” she said. “I’m proud of all the hard work that goes into making a pole-winning car, especially the attention to detail the guys on the team put in over the winter.”

The Lamar men’s basketball team rallied from 18 points down to tie the visiting McNeese State Cowboys Saturday with 3:20 left in the Southland Conference game only to go back to their old ways and suffer a turnover and three missed jumpers and lost 69-62. The Cards SLC record slipped to 1-12 with their overall mark an embarrassing 3-22. The Big Red now is three games out of eighth place (and the final playoff spot) with only five games remaining. They may need some Divine Intervention to make the upcoming SLC playoffs.

Things appear quite rosy for the Lamar baseball team which swept a season-opening four-game series at Vincent-Beck Stadium in Beaumont from Northern Kentucky, winning 7-6 Friday on a walk-off two-run base-knock by Iowa Western Community College transfer Sam Bumpers, sweeping a double-header Saturday 10-5 and 5-3 and then thrashing the visitors 14-4 Sunday to start the 2013 season at 4-0. Bumpers led the attack against Northern Kentucky by going 9-for-16 (.563) with eight runs-batted-in and scored four runs in his debut as the Cardinals’ shortstop. Defensively Bumpers was perfect in the infield, handling seven grounders flawlessly and recording five putouts.

Orange’s professional boxer Cody Richard kept his perfect record intact Saturday night by recording his sixth knockout. Richard floored Steve Trumble at Evangeline Downs Casino in Opelousas, La. and now boasts a sparking 12-0 record since turning pro.

JUST BETWEEN US…For the second weekend in a row Houston Astros’ new owner Jim Crane slipped away from spring training for a fun time with his golf clubs. This time he didn’t have to travel as far as his Pebble Beach excursion two weekends ago when he finished tied for third place in the Pro-Am. Sunday Crane ventured to his exclusive Floridian Yacht and Golf Club in Palm City, Fla. to play in a foursome with Tiger Woods, President Barack Obama and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, but didn’t come out a winner because the President chose Tiger as his teammate, so Crane was stuck with Kirk and they got clobbered. After the golf match Crane hopped into his private jet and flew back to Houston in time to watch the NBA All-Star game at the Toyota Center and witnessed the West win for the third time in a row over the East 143-138. LA Clippers star Chris Paul was named the game’s Most Valuable Player. Now if Crane would only put the same focus on his baseball team as he does looking for celebrity golf games, the Astros might not lose 100 games this season.