Injury in LaPenta’s favor

Published 3:51 am Monday, April 26, 2010

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Robert LaPenta has been on a crusade of sorts in recent weeks, saying the graded stakes earnings system used to help determine the Kentucky Derby field needed an overhaul.

The decision by trainer Todd Pletcher to pull likely favorite Eskendereya out of the race with a leg injury may have LaPenta changing his mind.

The Derby is limited to 20 starters, with preference given to those with the most graded stakes money.

Though LaPenta has one Derby starter in Florida Derby winner Ice Box, Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial runner-up Jackson Bend found himself 22nd on the earnings list and on the outside of the Derby looking in.

Eskendereya’s injury put Homeboykris — 21st on the list — in the field and with Pletcher wavering on the availability of Interactif, meaning Jackson Bend could be in the race after all.

“That’s why I tell (LaPenta), ’never say never,”’ said Nick Zito, who trains both LaPenta horses.

LaPenta has suggested placing more emphasis on the money horses win during the 3-year-old campaign. While trainers Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher understand LaPenta’s concern, they feel the Derby field has a way of shaking itself out.

Both trainers said they’ve never had a horse they felt was good enough miss the Derby based on a lack of graded money.

“I think the system works,” Baffert said. “I’ve never seen it keep a really good horse out.”

Jackson Bend, a distant second to Eskendereya in both Derby preps, put together a blistering four-furlong work last Thursday, covering the distance in 47.8 seconds. Zito hardly thinks the horse is a simple field-filler.

“The last two races he was second to the favorite,” he said. “Why shouldn’t he get in the Derby? Come on.”