Down the stretch they come!

April 30, 2002 8:46 AM
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The 128th Kentucky Derby is one of the most wide open in recent years. With no clear-cut favorite, seven to 10 contenders could make a big Run for the Roses.

What could emerge is a rivalry with Buddha and Medaglia d’Oro battling as they did in the Wood Memorial. Another Affirmed-Alydar match-up would be a great way to start the Triple Crown Series! In the meantime, here is the field, listed in descending order of expected morning line odds.

Harlan’s Holiday
Trainer: Ken McPeek
Jockey: Edgar Pardo

The expected morning line favorite looked good winning the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and the Florida Derby over Blue Burner. The bay son of Harlan has done everything right, but the knock against him is he hasn’t really beaten any of the top contenders. Plus his time in the Blue Grass was a tepid 1:51.51.

Buddha
Trainer: H. James Bond
Jockey: Pat Day

This one qualifies as the "now" horse with his big win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in his stakes debut. He has won all three of his starts at distances of seven furlongs, a mile and a sixteenth and a mile and eighth. He is in capable hands of jockey Pat Day, who won the Derby aboard Lil E Tee. Trainer H. James Bond saddles his first Derby starter.

BUDDHA ”” Rates a big chance in the Run for the Roses.

Medaglia d’Oro
Trainer: Bobby Frankel
Jockey: Laffit Pincay Jr.

There’s no telling how good this horse will be. He finished second, beaten a head by Buddha, in the Wood Memorial, and won the San Felipe Stakes by 2½ lengths in his stakes debut. The colt caught horseplayers’ attention with his stunning victory in the San Felipe at Santa Anita on St. Patrick’s Day, having come back twice in the stretch under the ageless Laffit Pincay.

Came Home
Trainer: Juan "Paco" Gonzalez
Jockey: Chris McCarron

This is another colt that has done nearly everything asked. He won the Santa Anita Derby by 21/4 lengths over Easy Grades, the San Rafael Stakes (GII), his first start around two turns, by three lengths, and the San Vicente Stakes by 4 lengths in his three-year-old debut. He and jockey Chris McCarron have teamed up for three straight victories this year in California.

Johannesburg
Trainer: Aidan P. O’Brien
Jockey: TBA

A few months ago, this was the future book favorite. But in his sole race this year, he finished second, beaten a short head by a 4-year-old filly in the seven furlong (turf) Gladness Stakes in Ireland. But as a 2-year-old, he went 7-for-7 and earned $1,004,758, and won four Group or Grade One races in four different countries. Should he win, he would become the first Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion to do so, as well as the first European-based horse to win the Derby.

Essence of Dubai
Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor
Jockey: David Flores

You can’t place too much stock in the UAE Derby win, even though it was contested at the Derby distance of a mile and a quarter. Nevertheless, Essence of Dubai is no stranger to U.S. tracks. He had a nice 2-year-old campaign in California, where he won the Grade 2 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita and finished a distant third behind the speedy officer in the Best Pal Stakes.

MYSTERY ”” Essence of Dubai (center).

Castle Gandolfo
Trainer: Aidan P. O’Brien
Jockey: Jerry Bailey

This one should be coupled to Johannesburg, and it might have the better ability. He won the Fosters-International Trial Stakes on April 6 at Lingfield Park in England, covering eight furlongs over the polytrack surafce in 1:36.52 while besting Aramram by 2½ lengths. He will be making his first appearance in the United States after winning three-of-five career starts abroad.

Saarland
Trainer: Shug McGaughey
Jockey: John Velazquez

Named for a patch of Europe once ruled by the grandson of Charlemagne (how’s that for obscure?), the beautifully bred son of 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled, out of the stakes-winning mare Versailles Treaty, has had only two starts this year. He finished fourth, beaten 3½ lengths by Buddha, in the Wood Memorial, and finished second, beaten 33/4 lengths by Mayakovsky in the Gotham Stakes.

Perfect Drift
Trainer: Murray Johnson
Jockey: Eddie Delahoussaye

He won the $500,000 Lane’s End Spiral Stakes by a neck over Azillion (Ire), and finished second to Request For Parole in the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes. As a 2-year-old, Perfect Drift broke his maiden by 2½ lengths, wire-to-wire, on Dec. 19 at Turfway Park.

PERFECT DRIFT ”” With jockey Eddie Delahoussaye aboard, the colt won the Grade 2 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.

War Emblem
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Victor Espinoza

A Bob Baffert trainee, this one could be here to ensure an honest pace for Medaglia d’Oro. He won the April 6 Illinois Derby in wire-to-wire fashion by 61/4-lengths over Repent, and won a non-classified allowance race at Sportsman’s Park by 103/4 lengths. The colt was shipped to new trainer Bob Baffert’s barn at Churchill on April 11 to begin preparations for Derby 128.

Private Emblem
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Donnie Meche

The extremely consistent Private Emblem has never finished out of the money and notched the most impressive win of his young career in the April 13 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he stalked the pace and drew off in the stretch drive to beat Wild Horses by 4½ lengths.

Easy Grades
Trainer: Ted West
Jockey: Jorge Chavez

The son of Honor Grades came on strong to finish second behind Came Home after a nightmare trip in the Santa Anita Derby, earning him a ticket to Louisville. In the race, part of the colt’s bridle was attached wrong, forcing jockey Gary Stevens to steer him primarily with his legs. Trained by Ted West, Easy Grades has one victory from four starts.

Blue Burner
Trainer: Bill Mott
Jockey: Corey Nakatani

The son of French Deputy is trained by Bill Mott, who is the all-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs. Mott has 499 career wins and a record 61 stakes victories under the track’s Twin Spires, but he has yet to win the Kentucky Derby. He finished fifth, beaten 5½ lengths by Buddha, in the Wood Memorial and finished second to Harlan’s Holiday in the Florida Derby.

Proud Citizen
Trainer: D. Wayne Lukas
Jockey: Mike Smith

This colt ensures that D. Wayne Lukas has a contender in the Derby. He won the Coolmore Lexington Stakes by 3½ lengths over Crimson Hero, marking his first victory since breaking his maiden five races previous. Lightly raced, Proud Citizen has raced only twice as a sophomore. His only other start was a seventh place finish in the Santa Anita Derby on April 6.

PROUD CITIZEN ”” Easy Lexington win.

Request for Parole
Trainer: Steve Margolis
Jockey: Robby Albarado

This son of Judge T C will take a slightly unorthodox route to the Kentucky Derby, simply training up to the race after finishing third in the Lane’s End Spiral Stakes under Pat Day on March 23. He also won the $100,000 John Battaglia Memorial Stakes by a nose over Perfect Drift on March 2 at Turfway Park, and the Frog Stakes over Perfect Drift.

Lusty Latin
Trainer: Jeff Mullins
Jockey: Glenn Corbett

This California-bred colt finished a well-beaten third to Came Home in the Santa Anita Derby, which followed a similar third-place effort to Yougottawin in the El Camino Derby at Golden Gate. Lusty’s sole win as a sophomore (out of four starts) came in the Rattlesnake Stakes at Turf Paradise at a distance of one mile.

Itsallinthechase
Trainer: Wilson Brown
Jockey: Eddie Martin

Chase finished ninth of 11, beaten 11½ lengths by Private Emblem, in the Arkansas Derby, after finishing third in the Louisiana Derby behind Repent and Easyfromthegitgo. He ran fifth in the Risen Star Stakes in his3-year-old debut. Well-seasoned with 14 starts, the son of Take Me Out has two wins and earnings of $192,160.

Ocean Sound
Trainer: James Cassidy
Jockey: Alex Solis

This Irish-bred colt has one win in eight starts, and has yet to hit the wire first in four stateside races. Yet, he’s not without ability. Ocean Sound ran third to Harlan’s Holiday (beaten by 4¾ lengths) in the Blue Grass Stakes, and was a close-up second to Windward Passage in the Rebel Stakes. He could be backed in the exotic bets.

Wild Horses
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Rene Douglas

Hoping to get past the "bridesmaid" role, Wild Horses finished second, beaten 4½ lengths by Private Emblem, in the Arkansas Derby on April 13, and finished second, beaten 21/4 lengths by Mr. Mellon, in the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park on March 23. As a sophomore, Wild Horses has three second-place finishes in four starts.

Windward Passage
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: TBA

The son of Captain Bodgit finished in a dead-heat for third with Bay Monster, beaten 53/4 lengths, in the Arkansas Derby on April 13, which followed a win in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park by one length over Ocean Sound. Owned by Team Valor Stables, Windward Passage has two victories, one second and three third-place finishes from seven starts.