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Derby Watch: Wild weekend muddies Derby picture

Take everything you thought you knew about this year's Kentucky Derby trail and toss it out the window because that's pretty much all one can do after a weekend filled with upsets and lost battles of attrition.

When it was announced Thursday afternoon that Santa Anita Derby favorite Premier Pegasus was sidelined because of a hairline fracture in his left cannon bone, it set off a string of events that was the equivalent of loading this year's contenders into a martini shaker and tossing them around until the contents were so unsettled no sense could be made of the ingredients.

In the next 24 hours, Grade I winner Jaycito would be declared out of the Santa Anita Derby with a bruised right hoof. And To Honor and Serve also had his Derby aspirations dashed with a suspensory injury.

Then the races themselves started.

Most people thought the only question for previously unbeaten Uncle Mo in Saturday's Grade I Wood Memorial would be his margin of victory as he was facing a bunch that was widely regarded as Grade III quality at best.

Instead, the reigning 2-year-old champion couldn't find his patented acceleration and was passed by winner Toby's Corner and Arthur's Tale in the stretch, thus throwing the entire Derby picture into a tailspin.

A common theory after the Wood was that Uncle Mo's softball schedule in 2011 had come back to bite him, and that his written-especially-for-him seasonal debut in the Timely Writer didn't give him the fitness he needed to stretch out to 11⁄8 miles for the first time.

Then there is the question of whether the supposed distance limitations in his pedigree reared up in final sixteenth of a mile. It was pointed out that Secretariat also finished third in the 1973 Wood Memorial before sweeping the Triple Crown, but it goes without saying that Uncle Mo has tons more to do before mentioning Secretariat and him in the same breath.

Trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Mike Repole are going to have to answer those questions and more about Uncle Mo over the next three weeks. The good news for them is pretty much everyone else in the sophomore class has chunks of uncertainty surrounding them as well.

The quality of horses in California had been considered suspect by some this season and the results of the Santa Anita Derby didn't do much to dismiss that notion.

Midnight Interlude, an impressive maiden winner on March 20, showed a lot of gameness in the way he had to alter course slightly in the middle of his stretch and still go up to nail Comma to the Top at the wire.

After breaking his maiden in gate-to-wire fashion, the son of War Chant proved he could sit off the pace and relax as he rated midpack for most of the Santa Anita Derby.

Anytime a horse makes that kind of a jump in class is impressive but the absence of the two big hitters from that race makes the Santa Anita Derby results as questionable as the entire Derby trail right now.

Derby Watch

1. Dialed In: Pending the results of the Arkansas Derby and Blue Grass Stakes this coming Saturday, Dialed In could be the only top contender coming into the Kentucky Derby without suffering some kind of major setback in his last outing. He's grown up in a hurry and we know he can handle a route of ground. That's good enough to top this group right now.

2. The Factor: Has a chance to go into the first Saturday of May as the favorite if he continues his progression in the 11⁄8-mile Arkansas Derby. Put in his final serious move for that outing on Sunday, going 6 furlongs in 1:12.20 at Santa Anita Park.

3. Uncle Mo: Pletcher said the son of Indian Charlie was physically sound after grabbing a quarter at the start of the Wood but would do blood work on the colt Tuesday. "That is our standard when we have a horse that doesn't perform to our expectations," Pletcher said in a statement. Uncle Mo is slated to ship to Louisville on April 18.

4. Santiva: The likely favorite for the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes worked 5 furlongs at Palm Meadows in 1:00 on Saturday, fastest of 12 moves at the distance.

5. Mucho Macho Man: Was none the worse for wear in his first move since running third in the Louisiana Derby as he sizzled five furlongs in :58.20 at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. "He's feeling good. It's been two weeks since he ran," said trainer Kathy Ritvo. "He was really good. He was full of energy."

6. Toby's Corner: Trainer Graham Motion, who also conditions Vinery Spiral Stakes winner Animal Kingdom, credited the addition of blinkers for part of the reason behind Toby's Corner's jump up in form in the Wood Memorial. The chestnut colt is going the right way at the right time but it's difficult to know what to really make of his talents as he was beaten 41/4 lengths by Uncle Mo's stablemate Stay Thirsty in the Gotham Stakes.

7. Shackleford: His place on the graded stakes list was looking more solid Saturday morning with both To Honor and Serve and Premier Pegasus off the trail, but the upset winners of the weekend's preps left him pretty much in the same spot, 18th.

8. Soldat: With some of the potential early speed now gone, there might be an opportunity for the son of War Front to get a clearer trip and avoid getting too much dirt in his face come Derby day.

9. Pants On Fire: Jockey Rosie Napravnik said this week if she could pick one horse that would be the easiest to ride in a big race, Pants On Fire would be it due to his cool nature. "He's just so simple and he's really got a lot of heart," Napravnik said of her Louisiana Derby winning-mount.

10. Midnight Interlude: Trainer Bob Baffert admitted to being surprised with how big this colt ran in his first stakes try. "I was hoping he would show me something, but you never know. You hold your breath and you're sitting on pins and needles," he said.

11. Jaycito: The goal is now to try and get him ready for the Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 23. "He's not favoring it today so that's a good sign," Baffert said about Jaycito's bruised right hoof.

12. Brethren: The Illinois Derby results didn't flatter him as Watch Me Go, who beat him in the Tampa Bay Derby, was sixth behind race winner Joe Vann, who is not Triple Crown nominated. Still, he is indeed better than his last start and he continues to work well. His latest move was a bullet five-furlong breeze in :59 at Palm Meadows on Saturday.

The next dozen: Silver Medallion, Twice the Appeal, Stay Thirsty, Astrology, Animal Kingdom, Elite Alex, Caleb's Posse, Flashpoint, Nehro, Arthur's Tale, Mr. Commons, Archarcharch.

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