HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Whether trainer John Servis will have his first Kentucky Derby starter since winning the race in 2004 with Smarty Jones could be determined over the next nine days. His most advanced 3-year-old prospects are scheduled to see action in two key preps, with Adirondack King on deck for the Grade 2, $500,000 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, and Ill Conceived being pointed for the Grade 3, $500,000 Vinery Racing Spiral at Turfway on March 24.
Adirondack King has been based at Oaklawn since last month, when he shipped in from south Florida to run in the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest Stakes that ended up being split into divisions Feb. 20. He ran third to Secret Circle in the second and faster division. Adirondack King earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 91 for the Southwest effort, and Servis, 53, feels he has moved forward since the one-mile race at Oaklawn.
"I think he's doing very well," Servis said. "He's acclimated very nicely. He's actually put on some weight. He's filled out, he's training great.
"His biggest asset at this stage of the game, even thinking Kentucky Derby, is he's so push-button. He's on and off. You ask him, he's there. And then you take a little hold of him, and he just settles right down for you. And you kind of need that in the Derby, because there's so many horses and there's so many tactical moves going on that you really need a horse that you can start and stop and move. So right now, that's his biggest asset."
Adirondack King's performance Saturday in the Rebel, a 1 1/16-mile race that could draw 14, will dictate whether he advances towards the Kentucky Derby.
"I've got to see a big race from him," said Servis.
Adirondack King is out of the multiple Grade 1-winning mare Jostle, who was trained by Servis. Stewart Elliott, who was the regular rider on Smarty Jones, has the mount and will also ride Ill Conceived.
Ill Conceived, who missed by a head in the $75,000 Battaglia Memorial last out at Turfway, has a notable story behind his name. He races for a partnership managed by Will Schwartz.
"He owns a couple of nice mares," Servis said. "And one of the mares was going to Kentucky – was at a farm in Pennsylvania – and apparently the girl that has the farm had a horse going to Indiana to breed to Spanish Steps. They switched the mares. So the mare that was going to like a $40,000 stallion went to a [$2,000] stallion in Indiana. The only good thing about it is the stallion, Spanish Steps, is a full brother to Unbridled's Song. So, to make a long story short, they named the horse Ill Conceived. He's the Spanish Steps, and he's a nice colt.
"You can't make these stories up!"
Ill Conceived made his first start beyond a mile in the Battaglia and battled through the stretch to finish second to State of Play. For the effort, Ill Conceived earned a career-high Beyer Figure of 83. He is not an early nominee to the Triple Crown, so much will hinge on his effort March 24.
"I think this Spiral's going to tell us a lot," said Servis.
Joyful Victory heads Azeri
Joyful Victory was traveling from Fair Grounds to Oaklawn on Wednesday for an intended start in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri on Saturday. Trainer Larry Jones said Robby Albarado has the mount. Others expected include Ravi's Song, who arrived Monday; Absinthe Minded, winner of the last two filly and mare route stakes at Oaklawn; and Tiz Miz Sue, who is to be ridden by Joe Rocco Jr., said trainer Steve Hobby.
Kentucky Derby box at auction
A six-seat box at Churchill Downs for this year's Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks will be auctioned during Friday night's annual Racetrack Chaplaincy banquet at the Hot Springs Country Club. It is Box 322. Interested parties should contact Jerry Hissam, agent for Calvin Borel.
Also during the banquet, trainer Don Von Hemel will be honored with the Garth Patterson Award. In its second year, the award spotlights horsemanship and pays tribute to the late jockey, Patterson.
Also at the banquet, there will be auction items benefiting retired jockey E.J. Perrodin.