`OPEN' STATUS NOT NECESSARILY BAD FOR JOCKEYS; MCCARRON, OTHER TOP RIDERS COULD END UP WITH QUALITY DERBY MOUNTS.
He thought he was going to ride General Challenge in the Santa Anita Derby. He was shunted onto High Wire Act. General Challenge won Saturday's race. High Wire Act finished last.
As a result, Chris McCarron is still looking for a horse for the May 1 Kentucky Derby, while Gary Stevens has one of the favorites in General Challenge.
But don't feel too sorry for McCarron.
``I have eternal hope,'' the Hall of Famer said Thursday morning at Santa Anita.
And he should. McCarron knows better than anybody that sometimes a jockey is better off without a commitment at this stage of the game, with the last major Derby preps coming up Saturday at Keeneland (the Blue Grass Stakes), Oaklawn Park (the Arkansas Derby) and Aqueduct (the Wood Memorial).
Five years ago, McCarron was ``open,'' in the jockeys' vernacular, after his Santa Anita Derby horse ran up the track. His agent, Scotty McClellan, arranged for McCarron to ride Go for Gin, abandoned by Jerry Bailey before the Kentucky Derby. McCarron won his second Derby as Go for Gin led virtually from gate to wire on a sloppy track.
Two years earlier, he was open for the Preakness after Dr Devious bombed in the Derby, but McCarron showed up at Pimlico to ride in another race. A track publicist told him Pine Bluff needed a rider. McCarron ran to a phone and called Pine Bluff trainer Tom Bohannon. McCarron won his second Preakness as Pine Bluff ran down Alydeed and former Pine Bluff rider Craig Perret.
``I don't know why I even paid you for that one,'' McCarron kidded his agent.
Of the past 10 horses to win Triple Crown races, only two had been with the same rider since the start of the year. So good things often come to those who wait, and especially to McCarron and the handful of jockeys with his credentials.
Stevens is one of them. He's the No. 1 rider for two-time Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert. Last week, when Stevens became available to ride General Challenge, Baffert impolitely broke an oral commitment to McCarron.
In the argument that ensued, Baffert shoved McClellan.
``This gets intense,'' said Tony Matos, Kent Desormeaux's agent, of the jockeying for Derby mounts.
Among Santa Anita jockeys, only Stevens (General Challenge) and David Flores (Prime Timber) have Derby mounts secured. But others need not panic, this being a year when the Derby is seen as wide open, meaning that some promising horses will need riders.
Desormeaux: The rider of '98 Derby-Preakness winner Real Quiet has 7-2 third choice Certain in the Arkansas Derby but has made no further commitment.
Corey Nakatani: Contractually bound to Desert Hero, third in the Santa Anita Derby but a question mark for Churchill Downs, he rides Saint's Honor in Arkansas and is believed to be the alternate when Bailey gets off Nick Zito-trained Stephen Got Even and/or Wondertross.
Alex Solis: Second in the Derby with Captain Bodgit ('97) and Victory Gallop ('98), he'll ride Answer Lively for the first time in Arkansas, and the '98 2-year-old champion might be Solis' best chance.
As for McCarron, he'll be aboard Dubai-trained long shot Prado's Landing in the Blue Grass while waiting for something better to come along.
It probably will.
Weekend favorites: Wondertross (Bailey), Vicar (Shane Sellers), Cat Thief (Mike Smith) and Menifee (Pat Day) in the Blue Grass; Answer Lively (Solis) and Ecton Park (Stevens) in Arkansas; and Adonis (Jorge Chavez) and Badge (Shaun Bridgmohan) in the Wood.
Krone's retirement: Julie Krone, the first woman jockey to win 3,000 races or a Triple Crown event, cited ``a constellation of reasons'' for announcing Thursday in New York that she'll retire April 18.
``I'm on top, I'm 35 years old, I don't want to get hurt anymore, and I've got nothing left to prove,'' said Krone, who rode Colonial Affair to win the '93 Belmont Stakes.
In truth, she hadn't been close to the top since severely fracturing her right ankle in a '93 fall at Saratoga.
But racing owes Krone a small debt: She was the subject of some of the sport's most positive publicity in the past decade.
At Santa Anita: Baffert-trained Classic Cat carries a race-high 122 pounds, Budroyale 119, in Sunday's San Bernardino Handicap.
Full disclosure? Some bettors thought Baffert should have revealed before Saturday's Santa Anita Derby that runner-up Prime Timber had to be treated for a foot bruise on Friday.
Look at it from the trainer's point of view: If he discloses the injury, driving bettors away, and the horse wins, a lot of fans are angry. If he discloses the injury and the horse breaks down in the race - even if it's unrelated to the bruise - it's an animal-welfare scandal.
A trainer should tell the truth if he's asked about an injury. But he can't be expected to volunteer the information.
A WEEK AT THE RACES
Santa Anita leaders: Jockeys (through Wednesday): David Flores and Alex Solis, 61 wins; Chris McCarron and Laffit Pincay, 47; Kent Desormeaux, 43. Trainers: Bob Baffert, 38; Vladimir Cerin, Bobby Frankel and Ron McAnally, 17; Richard Mandella, 16.Handicapper helper: It's common knowledge that Gary Stevens is Baffert's No. 1 jockey. What does that mean to bettors? It means Stevens-Baffert horses are bet so heavily their average return is just $1.20 on $2 win bets at Santa Anita. Flores-Baffert backers are getting $2.30 and Desormeaux-Baffert fans are getting $2.90.On the stakes schedule: At Santa Anita: Saturday, $75,000 La Puente Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 mile on turf; Sunday, $150,000 San Bernardino Handicap, 4-year-olds and up, 1 -1/8 miles. At Golden Gate Fields: Saturday, $150,000 Miss America Handicap, fillies and mares 3 and up, 1 mile on turf. At Keeneland: Saturday, $750,000 Blue Grass, 3-year-olds, 1-1/8 miles; Sunday, $100,000 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Stakes, 3-year-olds and up, 7 furlongs. At Oaklawn Park: today, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap, fillies and mares 3 and up, 1 1/16 miles; Saturday, $500,000 Arkansas Derby, 3-year-olds, 1-1/8 miles. At Aqueduct: Saturday, $600,000 Wood Memorial, 3-year-olds, 1-1/8 miles. At Hialeah: Saturday, $200,000 Black Helen Handicap, fillies and mares 3 and up, 1-1/8 miles on turf.Mileposts: Nearly a month after Santa Anita turned down the 2000 Breeders' Cup to pursue its renovations, a spokesman for the event said a site has yet to be chosen. ``We're planning to announce something (in April),'' Jim Gluckson said. Gluckson wouldn't enumerate the possibilities or say if Hollywood Park is one of them. Churchill Downs - which had been considered the likely site - is negotiating to purchase the Inglewood track. . . . Santa Anita has secured Arcadia City Council approval to begin round-the-clock construction the day after the April 19 close of the meet. But track management promised horsemen that all the hammering construction won't disrupt training. . . . Reraise was an easy winner under Corey Nakatani in Thursday's Count Fleet Handicap at Oaklawn. It was the sprint champion's '99 debut. . . . Orville N Wilbur's, with Laffit Pincay subbing for Nakatani, won his first start in 11 months in Santa Anita's allowance feature.
- Kevin Modesti
Box: A WEEK AT THE RACES (See text)