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Notebook: Kentucky Derby has a new look

| Friday, May 5, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

The Kentucky Derby has a new look -- other than the first-ever national sponsorship by Yum Brands. Former Derby-winning jockeys Jerry Bailey, Pat Day and Gary Stevens have retired. That leaves only four riders in the field who have won the Derby, Kent Desormeaux, who is on Sweetnorthernsaint; Patrick Valenzuela (Keyed Entry); Victor Espinoza (Sinister Minster) and Mike Smith (Flashy Bull).

  • The 20 jockeys in the race have a combined Derby record of 5-83. Corey Nakatani (A.P. Warrior) is 0-11. Alex Solis, who will ride 3-1 morning-line favorite Brother Derek, is 0-14. Nakatani, who finished seventh on A.P. Valentine in 2001, has never even placed in the money in the Derby. He plans to snap his slump, with some help from A.P. Warrior.

    "Look at him," he said. "That's about as good-looking a racehorse as you're going to see."

  • The owners of Lawyer Ron sold a partial interest in the Kentucky Derby starter on Thursday. The buyer was Our Legal Team, which is owned by Kentucky horseman Audrey Haisfield. Lawyer Ron, the Arkansas Derby champion, was owned by the estate of James T. Hines Jr., 69, who was found dead Feb. 21 in his indoor swimming pool in Utica, Ky., in what was ruled an accidental drowning. Lawyer Ron will wear the Hines' blue and white silks for the Derby.

  • The scene was oddly out of place, especially for the Churchill Downs backside. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito stood outside his barn, being interviewed by a lone reporter. One year ago, Zito entered five horses in the Derby and erected a makeshift fence to contain the constant media throng.

    "I didn't have a Derby horse, but you can't have everything," he said. "Given the law of averages, we'll be back. We'll keep trying. ... I'm grateful people still want to talk to me. I don't have a crowd like Bob (Baffert), but I will always have something to say."

    Zito will run a couple of horses in the undercards this weekend, including Andromeda's Hero, eighth in last year's 0-for-5 Derby. Zito also took some time to break down the big race. Like most, he expects a contentious pace.

    "After seeing the post positions," he said. "I don't see any way there's not (a fast pace)."

  • Balance is the favorite to today's 132nd running of the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks. The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-old fillies will have 14 runners. Balance, trained by David Hofmans and ridden by Victor Espinoza, has won four of seven lifetime starts. Todd Pletcher-trained Wait A While and Bushfire, conditioned by Eddie Kenneally, are the second choices at 5-1.

  • O.J. Simpson wandered the Churchill Downs backstretch yesterday, shaking hands, laughing and soaking up the pre-Kentucky Derby atmosphere. His pick for Saturday's race• Lawyer Ron, natch.

    "I love lawyers, I know all about lawyers," he said, mentioning the late Johnnie Cochran, who helped Simpson avoid murder charges in the 1994 deaths of his wife and her friend.

    "If there was a Lawyer Johnnie, Lord knows, I'd put my house on it," he said.

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