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Post Time: Weekend racing notebook

By Gene Kershner

Some thoughts on the horse racing scene over morning coffee… 

With the bombings in Boston on Marathon Monday, high profile sporting events are sure to be on high alert and the folks running the Kentucky Derby have already taken action. Churchill Downs released new security measures on Thursday in a press release, including increased gate screenings, Do's and Don'ts lists and a catchy new phrase "See Something, Say Something," prompting fans to report any   unusual activity. 

It doesn’t appear that any of the horses lining up for tomorrow's Lexington Stakes (worth 20 points to the winner) are gearing efforts towards the Kentucky Derby. It looks to be more of a springboard to the Preakness possibly, but who knows, once an owner gets a whiff of Derby fever. The horse currently sitting in 20th place on the point leaderboard, Charming Kitten, has 20 points. My  handicap of the race can be found at ThoroFan's Handicappers' Corner this week. 

Speaking of Charming Kitten, should he get in, that would make five Derby starters for super trainer Todd Pletcher. He started five horses in the 2007 Run for the Roses (finishing in the 6,8,9, 18 and 20 spots).  A month and a half ago it appeared he and California-based trainer Bob Baffert would have close to half of the field, but it looks as though Baffert will have only one entry, Govenor Charlie, the Sunland Derby winner.

While I was initially critical of the Illinois Derby being left out of the Derby points qualifying races, organizers at Hawthorne Race Course have made the most of the slight, by moving the date back to this weekend. By moving the date back a few weeks, they created a scenario where the race has become a prep race for the Preakness, which is four weeks out.  The race has attracted some decent horses including Departing (7-2), Pletcher's Abraham (8-1) and Dale Romans' Dewey Square (8-1) in a full field of 14.

The Daily Racing Form reported yesterday that Fort Erie management is looking to move the Prince of Wales, the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown, from its traditional Sunday spot to a Tuesday afternoon on July 30. While they may attract the better riders from Woodbine, who are off on Tuesdays, the weekend players who typically will dive into the Fort Erie pool in the half million dollar race, may not be so inclined on a Tuesday night at 7 p.m. It's a risky move, but Fort Erie management is counting on it being a slow night (i.e., Saratoga is dark) in the racing world.

If you missed it last weekend, Wes Welker, the newest member of the Denver Broncos and notorious Bills killer, saddled a horse named Undrafted in last weekend's Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at  Keeneland. He finished next to last after setting the pace early on. It was the first time the colt, purchased by Welker as a $50,000 yearling, finished out of the money.  

Both Woodbine and Finger Lakes open this weekend, a sure sign that spring has arrived. The $1 million Queen's Plate has been moved back from its traditional weekend; typically run the last weekend in June.  I have to believe the issues over the winter at Fort Erie may have had something to do with pushing back the race date for the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. It is scheduled for Sunday July 7 in Toronto.

Finger Lakes will open its 162-day meet on Saturday afternoon with a nine-race card. The biggest race on the Finger Lakes calendar is the $150,000 New York Derby, set for June 1 in Canandaigua. 

Major league baseball didn't do the Triple Crown any favors, scheduling an afternoon home game for the Baltimore Orioles smack dab in the middle of the Preakness card. The Orioles are scheduled to play the Rays at 4:05 p.m. on May 18.  

Older horses make the Derby trail take a back seat on Saturday evening when the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic will be run at Charles Town in West Virginia. The big purse has attracted top horses such as Game on Dude and Ron the Greek, as well as last year's CT Classic champion, Caixa Eletronica and the Big Cap runner-up Clubhouse Ride

Two weeks to the Derby,next weekend we'll feature our Degrees of Separation post which will start segregating the horses into pretenders and contenders. 

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace.

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