LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Assuming he emerges from his Kentucky Derby trip in sound condition, the next outing for Wicked Strong probably will be next month’s Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown.
“If he comes out well, I think that’ll be our next look,” said Don Little Jr., who runs the Beverly-based Centennial Farms.
“After the Wood Memorial we were debating this [race] or the Peter Pan and the Belmont.”
Wicked Strong, which faced a challenge coming out of the No. 20 post position and was hung up in traffic down the stretch to finish fourth, is believed to be more suited for the longer distance and would benefit from more room.
“We have a lot to look forward to with this horse,” Little said. “He has a lot of talent.”
For Derby devotees and racing officials, the least-desired outcome Saturday would have been a victory by Tapiture, the 35-1 shot trained by Steve Asmussen, who has been under fire for his alleged cruelty to horses, prompting investigations in Kentucky and New York.
Asmussen, whose 6,760 victories top the active list, emphatically denied charges by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who spent four months on an undercover expose of his operation, which PETA said included administering drugs for non-therapeutic purposes and having a jockey use an electrical shock on mounts.
“The most bothersome thing about this is for anyone to think that I am not a good caretaker,” Asmussen told NBC’s Bob Costas. “That would be the first thing on my résumé.”
Asmussen, who never has had a Derby winner, was at center stage on Friday after his filly, Untapable, easily won the Kentucky Oaks.
Though Asmussen avoided answering questions about the allegations, Untapable owner Ron Winchell, who is keeping all of his horses with Asmussen, said he’d seen no sign of mistreatment.
“I’m comfortable with everything I’ve experienced,” Winchell said. “If I felt otherwise we wouldn’t be standing here today.”
Will Untapable be entered in the Preakness Stakes after her impressive 4-length victory in the Oaks?
Not if her stablemate Tapiture, who finished a well-beaten 15th, is.
“It would be a very wise decision for us to keep them apart,” Asmussen said.
While the filly may well be the best 3-year-old in the land, it’s far from certain whether she’s in the same class as Rachel Alexandra, who won the Oaks by more than 20 lengths in 2009 and went on to claim the Preakness after Asmussen took over as her trainer. But she’s clearly faster than her male counterpart.
“I think Tapiture would have to speed up to catch her,” Asmussen reckoned.
A frightening mishap in Saturday’s third race, when three jockeys fell off their mounts after horses clipped heels at the 7/16ths pole, turned out better than feared.
Megan Fadlovich (Grand Slam Kid) sustained a possible knee fracture but returned to Churchill Downs to watch the Derby.
Although Marcelino Pedroza Jr. (Ranger Regiment) had complained of lower back pain, CAT scans showed no breaks.
And James Graham (Swift Humor) walked back to the jockey’s room.
All three horses were unhurt and were walked back to their barns. The race, which was won by Masochistic with Victor Espinoza up, included four Derby jockeys — Espinoza (on favored California Chrome), Joe Rocco Jr. (Vinceremos), Corey Lanerie (Harry’s Holiday), and Jose Ortiz (Samraat).
The Big Board, the monster $12 million video screen developed by Panasonic, made its Derby debut. The world’s largest 4K ultra high-def creation is larger than three basketball courts (15,224 square feet), weighs as much as 147 thoroughbreds (178,273 pounds), can display 281 trillion color combinations, and can withstand a Category 1 hurricane . . . Saturday’s weather, which was ideal for the wearing of seersucker and flowered hats and the sipping of juleps, was a delightful change from last year, when rain fell for much of the day and made the track sloppy. At post time, the temperature was 70 degrees and the sky was blue.John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.