Nobody waltzes on the way to the Kentucky Derby.
As fickle as the NCAA's Big Dance, the Derby Trail also is littered with upsets and also-rans. Luck is vital. So is a healthy horse.
And this year, it's all about the points.
Thursday, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer saw his bracket blow up when his Derby hopeful Hear the Ghost came up a little lame. A favorite for Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, Hear the Ghost already had secured a berth in the Kentucky Derby starting gates on May 4.
Instead, the gelding will be sidelined for at least 90 days.
According to co-owner Ted Aroney, x-rays revealed "the tiniest little line, maybe the beginning of a chip" in the horse's right front leg.
"This is the sixth time this has happened to me, having a horse get injured four or five weeks before the Kentucky Derby," Aroney told BloodHorse.com.
Hollendorfer immediately noticed Hear the Ghost's gait was off during a routine gallop Thursday. The injury won't require surgery, but it knocks out one of the Derby's likely top seeds.
It also makes Saturday's Santa Anita Derby wide open.
Under the new Kentucky Derby point system, this steppingstone becomes an instant springboard into the classic. A victory is worth 100 points with 40 for second place, 20 for third and 10 for fourth.
It's part of Showdown Saturday with other major preps on both coasts. At New York's Aqueduct, unbeaten Verrazano and Vyjack top a field of 10 in the $1 million Wood Memorial,which offers the same points as the Santa Anita Derby.
With Hear the Ghost sidelined, Flashback will be favored in the Santa Anita Derby. Flashback finished second to Hear the Ghost in the San Felipe Stakes on March 9.
Bob Baffert, who has won three Kentucky Derbies and six Santa Anita Derbies, trains the speedy Flashback, who already has 30 points and a new jockey. Garrett Gomez replaces Julien Leparoux. But they got a bad bounce at the post position draw; Flashback will start on the rail.
"Can you believe it?" said Baffert, who considers the No. 1 slot a distinct disadvantage. "But there's a lot of speed in the race. They'll sort themselves out."
The Hall of Famer has other hopefuls on the bubble. In the Santa Anita Derby, he'll send Power Broker and Super Ninety Nine (both with 10 points) to strengthen his Triple Crown hand.
Trainer Doug O'Neill, who won the 2012 Santa Anita Derby and two-thirds of the Triple Crown with I'll Have Another,returns with Goldencents. With 29 points, that colt is co-owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino.
Pitino, who has been texting with his trainer's team, will miss the Santa Anita Derby; he's busy coaching the Cardinals in Atlanta in the NCAA Final Four.
"It would be great to have Rick along for the ride," said Dennis O'Neill, Doug's brother and assistant. "Saturday's a big day for Coach, that's for sure."
SANTA ANITA DERBY
Distance: 11/8 miles on dirt
Where: Santa Anita Park, Arcadia
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV: NBCSN, 3 p.m. (Santa Anita Derby and Wood Memorial)
Field: In post-position order, with estimated odds and jockeys: Flashback, 9-5, Garrett Gomez; Power Broker, 5-1, Rafael Bejarano; Tiz a Minister, 6-1, Joe Talamo; Goldencents, 5-1, Kevin Krigger; Super Ninety Nine, 6-1, Martin Garcia; Summer Exclusive, 20-1, Edwin Maldonado; Storm Fighter, 20-1, Gary Stevens; Dirty Swagg, 50-1, Tyler Baze.
Call The Bee's Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her in Twitter @debarrington.