Thursday, May 02, 2002

Local favorites running in Derby

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The road to the roses runs straight through the Tristate, as three local favorites head to the 128th Kentucky Derby's starting gate carrying more than just their jockeys.

        Harlan's Holiday, Request for Parole and Perfect Drift carry bragging rights for local “Derby preps,” as the races leading to Saturday'sTriple Crown jewel are called.

        So, if your system is to root for the home team, here's your roster:

        • Harlan's Holiday, the favorite, could carry River Downs' $200,000 Miller Genuine Draft Cradle Stakes back from relative obscurity to graded status.

        • Request for Parole and Perfect Drift could shoot Turfway Park's Lane's End Spiral Stakes right back to the top of the preps.

        Eric Wing, a spokesman for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said the channels to the Derby are diversifying.

        “What's happened in the last few years is the Big 4 has turned into the Big 7 or Big 8,” he said.

        Beyond the established major preps — the Wood Memorial, the Santa Anita Derby, the Blue Grass Stakes and the Arkansas Derby — the Illinois Derby increased

        its prestige this year. Internationally, the United Arab Emirates Derby has been one to watch.

        “And we're seeing races like the Spiral Stakes,” Mr. Wing said. “It's no fluke that we're seeing horses come out of the Spiral. It seems more in vogue now for a horse to jump straight from the Spiral to the Derby.”

        The only time a Spiral Stakes winner went on to win the Derby was 1992 with Lil E. Tee.

        The last horse to prep at River Downs and win the Derby was Spend a Buck in 1985. In 127 years, only one Ohio-bred horse has stepped into the winner's circle — Wintergreen in 1909.

        In the last 36 years, only five horses from the Buckeye State have even left the gate.

        But Ohio-bred Harlan's Holiday, a two-time winner at River Downs, completed his unlikely run to Derby favorite by dominating the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.

        If he wins the Derby, that could mean big things for the local Cradle Stakes, which the horse won in September.

        “It brings a lot of prestige to a race we have worked very hard to promote,” said River Downs publicity director John Engelhardt. “It should definitely make it a graded stakes race, which puts it up there with graded races on a national level.”

        Though the race is the longest continuously sponsored stakes in North America, it has not been graded since 1992.

        “Winning on Saturday could put us over the top,” Mr. Engelhardt said.

        One of the biggest local heroes — Repent — will not com pete.

        Repent is owned by Indian Hill residents Jerry and Feye Bach and touted by racing writers nationwide as the hands-down Derby favorite until an injury less than a month ago.

        But there will be plenty of contenders for Northern Kentuckians to cheer.

        Request for Parole and Perfect Drift both raced in Turfway Park's Spiral Stakes on March 23, the first time the race has been sponsored by the industry-leading Midway, Ky., stud farm, Lane's End.

        Track officials said they hoped Lane's End sponsorship would add a little more blue to the bloodlines on the Spiral Stakes track, and the effort this year turned two horses toward the Derby.

        In a nostril-to-nostril three-horse finish, Perfect Drift found glory and Request for Parole finished third.

        On Saturday, they'll race for the $905,000 top prize.

        “There's a lot of attention on the back side about Perfect Drift,” said Turfway president Bob Elliston. “He is bred for this distance. Request for Pa role is a gutty horse. He doesn't like horses getting past him. But he is more of a front-end horse.”

        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken on Wednesday issued a proclamation that Saturday will be “Harlan's Holiday Day,” in the Queen City.

        For good luck, Mr. Engelhardt says, he plans to bring a cradle full of roses and a six-pack of Miller Genuine Draft to the barn Saturday morning.


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