Saturday, May 04, 2002

A dream called the Derby

The (Louisville) Courier-Journal

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        LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The long wait will be over shortly after 6:04 p.m. Saturday. The potential payoff for meticulously raising foals, nurturing their development for more than a year, then carefully selecting races this spring with one overriding mission: this afternoon's 128th Kentucky Derby.

        Of the 36,500 foals born in North America three years ago, 18 have made the field, plus one born in Ireland. What would have been the 20th horse reminds us just how narrow and perilous is the road toward racing's Holy Grail at Churchill Downs. That's Wood Memorial winner and co-second choice Buddha, declared out of the Derby Friday morning with a bruised foot.

        It's survival of the fittest, if not necessarily the swiftest, and headed by what could be the highest-priced Kentucky Derby favorite. Harlan's Holiday already has made history for having the highest morning-line odds ever at 9-2. The wide-open nature of this field is such that the betting payoff should be substantial for anyone who can predict the winner and next few finishers.

        Kenny McPeek, trainer of Harlan's Holiday, is trying to become the first Churchill-based trainer to win the Derby since Lynn Whiting saddled Lil E. Tee in 1992. McPeek predicted victories in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass and was off by only a nose in the Fountain of Youth. His forecast this time?

        “I'll be shocked if he's not 1-2-3,” he said. “He's going to have a lot of bad luck to be less than third in my mind.”

        McPeek's Derby dream, formed while going to the races with his father as a youngster in Lexington, is shared throughout the world.

        Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum vowed four years ago that his family's Dubai-based Godolphin racing operation - which has won almost every other major race in the world - would win the Derby within four years. It's Year 4, with UAE Derby winner Essence of Dubai here to try to close the deal.

        Irish-based Coolmore, Godolphin's friendly rival in the world arena, is in its first Derby, bringing last year's European and American 2-year-old champion Johannesburg to try to replicate the magic that carried him to victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. For added measure, Coolmore has brought Castle Gandolfo.

        Derby dreamers range from big outfits (Private Emblem trainer Steve Asmussen, who leads the nation in victories) to the relatively small (Jeff Mullins, trainer of Lusty Latin). From those who see the Twin Spires every day (Steve Margolis, trainer of Request for Parole; Murray Johnson, trainer of Perfect Drift) to the far flung (trainer Saeed bin Suroor of Dubai; Aidan O'Brien of Ireland). From the young (27-year-old jockey Donnie Meche) to oldie-but-goodie (55-year-old Laffit Pincay).

        It's jockey Glenn Corbett, in from Iowa's Prairie Meadows for his first Derby. It's Pincay, in his 21st. It's Wilson Brown, a trainer from Cement, Okla., and Shug McGaughey, who grew up in Lexington's horse country and trains for American racing royalty, the Phipps family.

        It's four-time Derby winner D. Wayne Lukas and two-time victor Bob Baffert, who for weeks looked like they'd be on the sideline but are back in racing's biggest spectacle.

        Perhaps the horse who sums it all best is a long shot named It'sallinthechase - of a dream called the Derby.


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