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Stewart returns with another Derby long shot

Thursday, May 01, 2014 - Updated: 8:06 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Trainer Dallas Stewart flew under the radar in last year's Kentucky Derby, surprising many experts when Golden Soul rallied from far back to get second at 34-1.

Stewart will look to beat the odds again Saturday, this time with Commanding Curve at 50-1 on the morning line.

His record is only 1 for 6, and he landed post No. 17 in the 20-horse field.

Stewart sees nothing but upside for a horse who was has run twice this year in stakes at the Fair Grounds.

He was sixth in the Risen Star and most recently rallied to get third in the Louisiana Derby after being impeded at the start.

"He ran pretty good in the Risen Star, got beat eight lengths coming off a maiden win and a layoff," Stewart said. "Then the Louisiana Derby, and here we are. Hopefully, we've got him tight enough and fit enough for a mile-and-a-quarter on Saturday."

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HOP TO IT: Hoppertunity could knock for Bob Baffert in the Derby, giving the Hall of Fame trainer a fourth victory in the Run for the Roses.

The colt with the unusual name has also lifted the spirits of a couple trying to conceive their first child.

Hoppertunity earned his way into the Derby with a win in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park and a second-place finish behind California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby.

He started out with another unusual name, Anyway U Way.

"I was getting ready to run him and I really didn't like that name," Baffert said Wednesday.

So he had a horse with no name.

Baffert's wife, Jill, is a friend of Kathleen Hopper, a designer cookie maker in Pasadena, California. At that time, Kathleen and Chad Hopper were trying to have a baby.

"We were all excited for them," Baffert said. "But it didn't take and they were pretty sad. Kathleen said, 'Well, we missed another Hoppertunity."'

The Bafferts seized on the name, and colt was off to the races.

"It was an uplift for them," Baffert said. "They feel like they're part of the horse. As soon as I named him, he started to come around."

After running fifth in his debut in January, Hoppertunity won his next race at Santa Anita with Kathleen Hopper there to root him on.

Now comes the biggest test, the 1 1/4-mile Derby. Baffert feels Hoppertunity has a chance if he is in contention at the top of the stretch.

"He's a good horse, and he can handle a lot of pressure," Baffert said. "He's not going to freak out. It's not going to bother him, being in with a lot of horses. I feel confident if he's in the top four turning for home, he'll be really competitive."

Baffert also sends out Chitu, the Sunland Derby winner, who has been battling a foot fungus that requires special care and shoeing by a blacksmith.

Hoppertunity is the 6-1 second choice; Chitu is 20-1.

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BUSY HORSE: Medal Count faces a very rigorous schedule.

The Derby will be his third race in less than a month. Most runners in the field have had at least three weeks rest. Orb had a 34-day break before winning last year's Derby.

Medal Count, 20-1 on the morning line, is a throwback to an era when horses made more starts over longer seasons. Cannonade ran twice in one week in winning the 1974 Derby.

Medal Count's last two efforts came on the synthetic track at Keeneland. He captured the Transylvania Stakes on April 4, a race originally scheduled for the turf. He followed that with a fast-finishing second in the Blue Grass Stakes eight days later.

Trainer Dale Romans feels the stout son of the late Dynaformer has the pedigree to handle the workload. And he's sorry to see the bloodline end.

Dynaformer passed away two years ago. He was best known as the sire of 2006 Derby winner Barbaro.

"I think he was a very good sire," Romans said. "If we could get a good Dynaformer colt like this into the breeding shed, I think it would be important for the future of racing. Those are good, rugged, hearty horses."

Barbaro suffered a catastrophic breakdown in the Preakness that led to his death after a fight for survival.

"It's just a shame what happened with Barbaro, that he couldn't get to the breeding shed with those bloodlines," Romans said.

With a Derby win, Medal Count might carry on the family tradition.

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GOOD FORECAST: Derby week got off a stormy start Monday and Tuesday. Things look brighter the rest of the way, especially for race day.

Saturday's forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures in the upper 60s.

     

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