Tall and angular, Cryptoclearance is by no means a picture horse. "He's a narrow little horse," says his trainer, Scotty Schulhofer, who, at 60, will saddle his first Derby starter on Saturday. "He can get through holes good, we hope." Schulhofer believes the 1¼-mile Derby distance will suit Cryptoclearance, who is a son of Fappiano and the Hoist the Flag mare Naval Orange. "I think the longer they go, the better he'll like it," he said. "I'm just happy to have a shot at the Derby. I always said I wouldn't come here unless I had a chance to win."
They all say that, of course—it's part of the catechism recited by every Derby trainer—but some do have a chance, and some don't. No More Flowers, for one, has at least an outside shot. He tired in Talinum's Flamingo, finishing fifth. But a month later he ran like a racehorse while chasing Bet Twice in the Fountain of Youth and earned his way to Kentucky in that blanket finish he shared with Crypto and Talinum in the Florida Derby.
"This horse has already passed the acid test by getting beat with just a bob of the head in the Florida Derby, and he's getting better with every race," Happy Alter, trainer of No More Flowers, said on Friday. The next day, No More Flowers finished a dull second in the one-mile Derby Trial at the Downs, the final Derby prep. He was beaten soundly by, yes, another Lukas-trained colt, On the Line, whose victory—his first in a stakes—earned him a start in the Derby.
As if the Derby mosaic weren't confusing enough after the duels in Florida and the races in Arkansas and California, along came Gulch in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 18 to muddle it further. Last summer, after winning four straight stakes for 2-year-olds, Gulch looked like everyone's Derby horse. But he lost four of his next five starts before his victory by a head over Gone West in the nine-furlong Wood. That race confirmed that Gulch, who had run on or close to the lead in his best races as a 2-year-old, had recently developed a new running style and had the ability to come from off the pace—a fact that again made him a worthy Derby prospect.
"Gulch ran so good, such a game race in the Wood," says Jolley. "And he came out of it so good."
Five days later, Gulch's stablemate, Leo Castelli, was racing past Alysheba in the stretch run of the Blue Grass, looking much the best in the race, when Alysheba ducked into him and almost dropped him. Leo Castelli finished a close third, but he was placed second on the disqualification of Alysheba, and was on his way to Louisville to join Gulch in the Derby. "He is just really getting tough, just really getting to the point where he can compete with these kind of horses," says Jolley.
So is War, who gave Lukas another Derby starter when he won the Blue Grass, the colt's second stakes victory in a row. "He's got tactical speed and he's strong and sound," says Lukas. "I don't think he has the charisma and pizzazz of a lot of the others, but he'll have something to say about the Derby."
If he does, it will be the best thing that has happened to his owner. Tommy Gentry, in a long while. The popular commercial breeder from Kentucky recently filed for bankruptcy, and War's earnings are being used to pay off Gentry's creditors.
War should have more to say about the Derby than Capote, the colt that Lukas has been touting all spring and grooming specially to win at Churchill Downs. In each of his two starts this year—in the Gotham and the Wood, both on muddy tracks at Aqueduct—he raced on or near the early pace before fading in the stretch to finish fourth. Lukas blames the mud for those poor performances. He has been sharply criticized for Capote's training schedule and second-guessed for taking him to the Derby after disappointing showings in his races this spring. But Lukas remains undeterred.
"The question is, have I got him tight enough to go a mile and a quarter next Saturday?" says Lukas. "Since the Wood, he has had the best four days of his life. I like him better than at any time I've been around him. He could be a tremendous surprise."