On the outside looking in -- but not for long

Beginning on Sept. 17 and lasting nearly seven months through last Saturday, there were 34 races in the United States and one in Dubai in which horses could earn points toward a berth in the Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs.

And now that they've all been run, the prospective 20-horse field has taken shape, though there are still several runners outside the top 20 whose connections want to get into the race.

In addition, as of Wednesday, not all riding assignments had been doled out, with trainers Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher, who both could have multiple entries, still mulling their options.

Entries for the Derby will be taken May 3, and if more than 20 horses are entered, the 20 with the most points are in the main body of the race. In addition, up to four also-eligibles will be allowed, and they would be listed in points order. They would have to get in before scratch time, which is the morning of May 5. After that, it's too late.

The composition of the field could change over the next two weeks since at least two horses in the top 20 on points are unlikely to run. Malagacy, ranked 13th after finishing fifth in the Arkansas Derby on Saturday, and Cloud Computing, 20th after finishing third in the Wood Memorial, both are far from certain to run, with trainer Chad Brown saying this week that he was "leaning towards passing" the race with the lightly raced Cloud Computing.

Another horse who has had a question mark by his name is Thunder Snow, the United Arab Emirates Derby winner, but officials at Churchill Downs are operating under the assumption that he is coming, to the point of planning to turn one of their barns into a required quarantine facility.

So, assuming Thunder Snow does indeed come and both Cloud Computing and Malagacy drop out, that would put Untrapped and Lookin At Lee, ranked 21st and 22nd, into the main body of the race. Both Untrapped, sixth in the Arkansas Derby, and Lookin At Lee, third in the Arkansas Derby, are trained by Asmussen, and both are intended runners if they get into the top 20, which is expected.

Those anticipated developments would leave Sonneteer, fourth in the Arkansas Derby, as the bubble horse, followed by Royal Mo, third in the Santa Anita Derby, and then Local Hero, most recently third in the Louisiana Derby. All three of those horses earned 30 points in their preps, but they are ranked in that order owing to the tiebreaker, earnings in non-restricted stakes races.

If Sonneteer gets in, Kent Desormeaux would ride him. If Royal Mo gets in, Gary Stevens has the mount.

A few riding assignments were firmed up based on the results of last weekend. Once Classic Empire rebounded with his victory in the Arkansas Derby, Julien Leparoux remained with him, opening spots on Irap and State of Honor, both of whom Leparoux had ridden in their most recent start. Irap, the winner of the Blue Grass Stakes under Leparoux, will return to Mario Gutierrez, and on Tuesday, trainer Mark Casse named Jose Lezcano to ride State of Honor, second in the Florida Derby in his last start.

Pletcher has John Velazquez for Florida Derby winner Always Dreaming and Jose Ortiz for Tapwrit, who was fifth most recently in the Blue Grass, but he has yet to name riders for Battalion Runner, the Wood runner-up, or Patch.

Tyler Gaffalione rode Patch to a second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, and it's not out of the question that he would retain the mount, though he also rode Fast and Accurate to a victory in the Spiral Stakes.

Always Dreaming and Patch are both scheduled to work Friday at Palm Beach Downs. Tapwrit is at Keeneland and is scheduled to work there Friday or Saturday, and Battalion Runner is set to work Friday or Saturday at Belmont Park. All are scheduled to travel to Churchill Downs early next week and have their final Derby works there.

Asmussen is also remaining flexible regarding riding assignments with Sunland Derby winner Hence and both Untrapped and Lookin At Lee.

Among the top jockeys yet to be confirmed on a Derby runner are Florent Geroux, Irad Ortiz Jr., and Flavien Prat. Geroux rides regularly for Asmussen, and Ortiz won the Belmont for Asmussen last year aboard Creator.