Rockport Harbor now struggling with a clot Problems continue. If he misses the Arkansas Derby, a backup race is at Keeneland April 23.

Posted: April 05, 2005

Rick Porter loves his horse. He knows he's biased but, Rockport Harbor's owner said, "I think he's the best three-year-old in the country. I haven't seen any stride like his in a long time."

But Rockport Harbor can't catch a break these days. After battling hoof problems for months, the colt from Philadelphia Park now is being treated for a blood clot in his neck that has slowed him less than five weeks before the Kentucky Derby.

The April 16 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., was supposed to be the colt's last prep before the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. But with that race in question, trainer John Servis yesterday nominated Rockport Harbor for the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 23.

Servis, who trained Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones last year, isn't ruling Rockport Harbor out for the Arkansas Derby. However, Porter said, "I think that would be a real magic trick if John gets him ready for that. But anything's possible."

Porter has been Servis' biggest owner for years. Servis trained top filly Jostle for Porter. But they've never teamed up with a Kentucky Derby horse.

"I've made it really clear to John: 'Don't worry about getting me to the [Kentucky] Derby. If the horse is ready, fine . . . but don't worry about me,' " Porter said. "Jostle's run wasn't very long. I'd like to have some fun and have a chance at a prolonged career with him. Everybody wants to run the Derby. But we're just going to have to play it by ear."

Porter said he did feel better about things yesterday afternoon after talking to Servis, who has been in Hot Springs since January. Porter also had a long conversation yesterday with Douglas Byars, a veterinarian based in Lexington, Ky., who flew to Hot Springs and gave Rockport Harbor a 90-minute examination and treatment on Sunday.

"I feel pretty confident that we've got a relatively mild case and one that's going in the right direction. He certainly doesn't expect it to be an ongoing problem that's going to take a lot of healing time," Porter said. "He was much, much better this afternoon than he was this morning. He didn't eat this morning, he's eating up now. He's getting back to his old frisky self."

If all goes well, the plan right now, Porter said, is for Rockport Harbor to jog a little tomorrow, get two strong gallops in on Thursday and Friday, then on Saturday give him a two-minute lick, which means letting him gallop a mile in two minutes. Of course, all that is extremely tentative.

"You hate to predict anything with old Rocky, but he's a fighter," Porter said of the horse that won all four starts as a 2-year-old, battled hoof problems for months, first being stepped on in November's Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct, leaving him with a gash that needed healing. Then he missed a week of training in February due to a bruised left front hoof.

He came back to run a strong second to Greater Good in the Rebel Stakes on March 19 at Oaklawn. After that race, Servis said he was never so happy to finish second in his life.

But getting him to Churchill Downs with only two 3-year-old prep races already was the bare minimum. Only one horse in the last 57 years has won the 1 1/4-mile Derby with only two 3-year-old prep races. Porter said they wouldn't consider running him in the Kentucky Derby without another race.

If he can get healthy, though, Byars, the veterinarian, did give him one bit of positive news from this weekend's ultrasound, Porter said.

Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com.

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