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Derby Birthday Bash Being Held

April 30, 1999

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Serious horse players and casual fans, party goers and party givers, will help celebrate the 125th Kentucky Derby at grand old Churchill Downs.

Many will barely get a glimpse of the race, but they will be there Saturday when the pounding hooves of 20 3-year-old thoroughbreds beat out ``Happy Birthday″ to an American institution.

The objects of their affection or scorn _ the reason they’ll go home ``flush″ or without the rent money _ include Worldly Manner (an ``ex-patriot″ American colt representing Arab sheiks), a couple of fillies (Excellent Meeting and Three Ring) and a pair of geldings (General Challenge and Valhol).

``There’s nothing like winning the Kentucky Derby ... for horseman at least,″ said Arthur Hancock III, who will try to win a third Derby as co-owner of Menifee. ``It’s hard to put into words.″

A victory by the Excellent Meeting, General Challenge or Prime Timber would make trainer Bob Baffert the only person to win the Derby three straight years. He won with Silver Charm in 1997 and with Real Quiet.

Excellent Meeting, unbeaten in three starts this year, all against fillies, and General Challenge, the Santa Anita Derby winner, will run as a John and Betty Mabee-owned entry. Prime Timber, the Santa Anita Derby runner-up, is owned by Aaron and Marie Jones.

``We have a lot of horsepower, but we need a lot of luck a lot of luck,″ said Baffert, only the sixth person involved with a Derby horse to have a shot a third straight victory.″

Such Derby greats as trainer Plain Ben Jones (six Derby wins), owner-breeder Calumet Farm (eight wins) and jockeys Eddie Arcaro and Bill Hartack (five wins each) never had the opportunity.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won with Thunder Gulch (1995), was the last to take a shot, but he didn’t have much horsepower in 1997 when Deeds Not Words finished seventh.

Lukas will try to win his fourth Derby _ he also won with the filly Winning Colors in 1988 _ with Cat Thief and Charismatic, who will be his 34th and 35th starters in his 19th straight Derby. Cat Thief was third in the Florida Derby and second in the Blue Grass. Charismatic won the Lexington on April 18.

Three other trainers each will saddle two starters each: Saeed Suroor, Nick Zito and Elliott Walden.

Suroor trains Worldly Manner and Aljabr for Godolphin Racing Inc., managed by Sheik Mohammed al Maktoum, a member of the royal family of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Worldly Manner won three of four starts in the United States last year and was bought by Godolphin from the Mabees for $5 million after the colt won the Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 9.

Aljabr won twice in Britain and once in France in three starts last year. The Derby will be the first official start as 3-year-olds for the two colts, who ran in trial races in Dubai this spring.

There’s also a Middle Eastern tie to Desert Hero, a son of Sea Hero, the 1990 Derby winner. The colt, who has had only three starts, all this year, is owned by Prince Ahmed Salman of Saudi Arabia. He races as the Thoroughbred Corporation and has a home in Bradbury, Calif., near Santa Anita.

Zito, who won the Derby in 1991 with Strike the Gold and in 1994 with Go for Gin, will saddle Wood Memorial winner Adonis and Stephen Got Even, winner of the Gallery Furniture.com.

Walden will send out Blue Grass winner Menifee and Ecton Park, fourth in the Arkansas Derby, in his second Derby appearance. He finished second last year with Victory Gallop.

Also back for his second Derby is Carl Nafzger, trainer of Florida Derby winner Vicar, who won in 1990 with Unbridled.

A victory by Excellent Meeting or Three Ring, winner of filly stakes in her last two starts, would make her the third member of her sex to win the Derby. The others were Regret (1915), Genuine Risk (1980) and Winning Colors (1988).

General Challenge or Valhol would be the seventh gelding and the first since Clyde Van Dusen (1929) to win.

Valhol pulled a surprise by scoring his first victory in only this third start in the Arkansas Derby, then became a subject of controversy. The purse money was withheld and an investigation began into whether jockey Bill Patin possessed an electrical device during the April 10 race.

A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Little Rock. But last Tuesday an Arkansas judge ordered the purse distributed. Without the $300,000 first-place money, Valhol, owned by James Jackson, would not have had enough earnings to make the 20-horse field.

Willie Martinez will ride Valhol in the Derby.

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