- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

LOUISVILLE, Ky. The fun has arrived.

Danthebluegrassman's late entry in tomorrow's 128th Kentucky Derby means Derby parties will be a little louder. A stable known for celebrating until sunrise reunited when owner Mike Pegram returned with another horse named for a local eccentric.

Danthebluegrassman is named for Dan Chandler, a local retired casino executive who wears a 1996 Kentucky basketball championship ring despite having no formal ties to the college. Pegram's Captain Steve, named for a Louisville policeman who got Pegram out of trouble when he took a gun through local airport security, finished eighth in 1999. Trainer Bob Baffert also ran Indian Charlie, named for a local tout who prints a gossip sheet, for third as the 1998 favorite.

Not that Pegram and Baffert haven't raised a mint julep in triumph. Real Quiet won the 1998 Derby and Preakness Stakes before missing the Triple Crown when he finished second in the Belmont Stakes.

This is not the "Slew Crew" of two blueblood couples who partied during Seattle Slew's 1977 Triple Crown championship. Pegram has never forgotten his Derby infield days. He drove with buddies from Indiana when the only sure thing was lots of drinking. Pegram is a Garth Brooks character in the song "Low Places," where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases the blues away.

Spend five minutes with Pegram and he's your best friend. Combine him with Baffert and it's Austin Powers impersonation time.

But some on the backstretch considered Baffert "Dr. Evil" on Wednesday when he unexpectedly entered Danthebluegrassman at the last minute. Windward Passage's removal from the 20-horse maximum field didn't come until minutes before the post position draw that left the colt's owners stunned when they were unable to take their seats. Some horsemen considered it bad form, another presumptive move by Baffert, whose wit sometimes rubs opponents wrong.

"There are some disappointed people," Proud Citizen trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. "I don't know if it can be handled better, but we owe it to the 21st horse [to provide] a better idea if they're getting in."

Baffert said he kept Danthebluegrassman's workouts quiet to avoid second-guessing if the colt wasn't entered. When Danthebluegrassman prepped well over Churchill Downs recently, Pegram was willing to gamble the $30,000 entrance fee on the 50-1 long shot, which finished last in the Santa Anita Derby on April6.

"Dan's not afraid to take a chance," Baffert said. "The horse was getting better, and we were excited. [In the Santa Anita], he got away from the gate back, behind horses on the inside, and the horse just emptied out. It was one bad race."

It seemed every cop in town had a few bucks on Captain Steve. Now Chandler is touting Danthebluegrassman.

"I want to call my friends in Las Vegas and say 'Don't bet more than you want to win' because anything can happen with 20 horses," Chandler said.

Baffert also will enter War Emblem, which was recently purchased for $1million and sent to the trainer. Baffert likened War Emblem to Cavonnier, which lost the 1996 Derby by a nose in Baffert's Triple Crown debut. War Emblem is 20-1 after winning the Illinois Derby on April6.

Meanwhile, the party was just starting when Baffert met a touring group from Virginia outside his barn yesterday. The laughs came often, especially when Baffert said he once raced in Virginia at Mountaineer Park.

Actually, Mountaineer Park is in Chester, W.Va. The crowd laughed. So did Baffert and Pegram. It won't be the last time.

Preakness possibles

Trainer Neil Drysdale plans to send Sunday Break to the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course on May18 after failing to enter the Derby. However, Drysdale is uncertain whether a confusing ranking system will permit the horse entry if more than the maximum 14 horses are in the field. Unlike the Derby field decided by graded stakes earnings, the Preakness has a three-tiered ranking system. While no horse has been excluded in recent years, a full field is probable given that there were 20 Derby runners. Pimlico officials also expect non-Derby runners Booklet, Cashel Castle, Crimson Hero, Easyfromthegitgo, Equality, Magic Weisner, Marasca and Mayakovsky.

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