by Victor Ryan
The story of the road to the 2005 Kentucky Derby has not been about a horse, but rather a man from Brooklyn. Two-time Derby winning trainer Nick Zito is poised to do this year what to many seems almost inconceivable-that is have five starters, or exactly one-quarter of the maximum field of 20, in this year's Run for the Roses.
Zito's assault on the 2005 Kentucky Derby will be led by Bellamy Road, who won the Wood Memorial April 9 by an eye-popping 17 ½ lengths. Bellamy Road, who is owned by New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, languished over the winter before being sent to Zito's barn. The win in the Wood was only Bellamy Road's second start for Zito, and it promptly pushed the son of Concerto to the role of favorite in the third and final 2005 Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool, which closed April 10.
"Boy, he was unbelievable (in the Wood)," Zito said after the race. "He just kept going. I hope he can stay this way for four weeks, because if he does he will have a good shot in Kentucky."
In fact, three of the top four betting choices in the future wager pool for the 2005 Kentucky Derby hail from the Zito barn. They include Tampa Bay Derby winner Sun King, the 10-1 second choice; and Florida Derby winner High Fly at 13-1. Zito's other potential 2005 Kentucky Derby starters are Noble Causeway, who finished second to his stablemate in the Florida Derby last time out, and Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Andromeda's Hero. Sun King and Noble Causeway are both slated for one more prep race, likely the April 16 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, before shipping to Churchill Downs for the 2005 Kentucky Derby.
The leading contender among horses not trained by Zito appears to be Consolidator, the impressive winner of the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita in his previous start. He hails from the D. Wayne Lukas barn and is owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, who have previously won the Kentucky Derby with horses trained by both Lukas and Zito. Consolidator is scheduled to meet Sun King in the Blue Grass.
Oaklawn Park in Arkansas gained instant credibility last year when Smarty Jones followed his campaign there with a win in the Kentucky Derby. This year, another top contender has emerged at Oaklawn in Greater Good. He has won both the Rebel and Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, as did Smarty Jones last year, and will try to sweep the track's major 3-year-old stakes April 16 in the Arkansas Derby. Greater Good has been somewhat under the radar thus far in the Triple Crown season, but it's hard to argue with five wins in seven career starts and a running style that seems perfectly suited for the 1 ¼-mile journey of the Kentucky Derby.
The April 9 Santa Anita Derby, the final West Coast prep for the 2005 Kentucky Derby, produced a new shooter in Buzzards Bay. Trained by Jeff Mullins, Buzzards Bay shook up the racing world with a 30-1 shocker in the Santa Anita Derby and must now be given a chance to win the big one as well. Previously, the Florida-bred son of Marco Bay finished third in the El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows in which he had a lung infection and bled. Prior to that he was 10th in the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.
The "wise guy" horse this year could very well end up being Bandini. The son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus carries a regal pedigree and the top connections of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez, last year's Eclipse Award-winning jockey. Bandini, who was a $500,000 yearling purchase, has not started since finishing second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park in February. He's also slated to run in the Blue Grass and a strong performance there could get the wise guys on the Churchill Downs backstretch buzzing.
Other contenders on track for the 2005 Kentucky Derby are Louisiana Derby winner High Limit for trainer Bobby Frankel; Breeders Cup Juvenile winner Wilko; and Rockport Harbor, who is trained by John Servis, the same man who guided Smarty Jones to a win in the Kentucky Derby last year.