Trainer Chad Brown told the Thoroughbred Daily News that his star 3-year-old, Jack Christopher, may not be ready for the Kentucky Derby.

Jack Christopher-Derby questions
Champagne Stakes winner and frown-row Kentucky Derby prospect Jack Christopher is still at least two weeks away from returning after shin surgery, according to one report. (Image: Susie Raisher/Coglianese Photos)

If Jack Christopher can’t answer the bell for the prep season, this would remove one of the current front-rank horses from the May 7 Derby. He’s currently the co-second favorite with Smile Happy on Caesars-William Hill’s Derby Futures board at 20/1. Circa Sports lists him at 29/1, trailing only favorite Corniche (+1350), Smile Happy (22/1) and Rattle N Roll (24/1).

“He’s going to be up against it, that’s for sure,” Brown told TDN. “I don’t want to rule anything out until I put my hands on him, but he’s certainly behind. To get him to go a mile-and-a-quarter, I’m going to need to have something under his belt. We’ll see where he takes us and if he doesn’t make (the Derby), we have several other races we’d love to target with him.”

Brown told TDN that the son of Munnings is about two weeks away from joining his Florida string. The trainer planned running Jack Christopher in several of the Florida Derby preps.

A late Breeders’ Cup Juvenile scratch

The delay comes after Jack Christopher underwent surgery in the late fall on his left shin for a stress fracture. Dr. Larry Bramlage, one of the country’s preeminent equine surgeons, inserted a screw into Jack Christopher’s left shin.

That cost Jack Christopher his shot at the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he was the 9/5 favorite before Brown scratched him the day before the Nov. 5 race. Instead, Jack Christopher reposed to WinStar Farm for R&R.

“It’s been frustrating,’ Brown told TDN. “You hate to miss a race like the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, where he would have been the favorite. He was training so well. He’s a really talented horse. The Derby is not the be-all and end-all, but it would be lovely to have one of the top contenders.”

Jack Christopher’s Champagne popping eye-opening

Jack Christopher was indeed that. There are four juvenile Grade 1 races for Derby contenders and Jack Christopher captured one of those: the Champagne at Belmont Park. That’s a race that produced 10 Derby winners, more than any other juvenile race.

His 2 ¾-length Champagne score came a little more than a month after he blitzed a Saratoga maiden special weight field by 8 ¾ lengths. That victory as the 11/10 favorite came in his debut.

While Brown awaits Jack Christopher’s return, he contents himself prepping another Derby prospect: Zandon. The Upstart colt was last seen finishing second in the Grade 2 Remsen to Mo Donegal in a contested race Zandon’s connections protested, to no avail.

Brown told TDN that the Feb. 5 Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park or Feb. 19 Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds could be Zandon’s next outing.