Trainer Michael Matz, winner of last year's Kentucky Derby with Barbaro, said yesterday that the stars weren't aligning to send his 3-year-old Chelokee to Churchill Downs for next week's Derby, so he was taking the horse out of consideration.
Tomorrow, Matz plans to ship the colt back to his barn at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. He will look to run Chelokee in the Preakness.
"I think we've basically kind of given up running in the Derby," Matz told the Churchill Downs press office. "As much as I'd like to go, I don't think he's going to be the way I came into the Derby last year."
It was highly questionable whether Chelokee would qualify for the Derby anyway. It appeared that his $100,000 in graded-stakes earnings would leave him short of making the 20-horse field.
But even last week, Matz had made it clear that he felt he needed no more hitches for the horse to make him feel comfortable about going to the Derby. At that point, Chelokee already had broken an abscess in his right front foot. Last weekend, a rein broke during a gallop, causing Chelokee to go around the track at Keeneland for roughly an extra mile.
Chelokee had been considered a threat if he had made it into the Derby. Most Derby watches had him in the top 10 after he finished third in the Florida Derby despite a troubled trip.
"He went awfully good today and I think I have everything solved, but I think I'm just kind of like a week away. . . . I'd love to be there more than anybody, but it just wasn't in the stars this year."