Sunday, January 19, 2003

Time to rekindle those Kentucky Derby dreams

By Richard Rosenblatt
The Associated Press

It's the time of year when trainers hang over the rail, stopwatches in hand, with an eye on more than just the fastest workout of the day. They're searching for that elusive something in a horse that can carry him all the way to the Kentucky Derby.

"We're all looking for the spark in our athletes that might wind up being the fire that can take them 1 1/4 miles the first Saturday in May," said John Ward, who trained 2001 Derby winner Monarchos and has a top contender this year in Sky Mesa.

From California to Florida to New York, last year's promising juveniles are ready to take their first 3-year-old steps on the road to the Derby, the world's most glamorous horse race. Some will earn a trip to Churchill Downs on May 3, but most will stumble along the way for a variety of reasons.

With that goal in mind, the traditional prep races along the Triple Crown trail become even more compelling.

"It adds spring to your step and makes it fun to get up in the morning and do your job," said Ken McPeek, whose Derby favorite Harlan's Holiday finished seventh last year. The trainer won the Belmont Stakes with 70-1 shot Sarava.

Let the preps begin.

On Saturday, McPeek will send out two Derby hopefuls - Powerful Touch and Not for Profit - in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

"Now is the time to see how good they are. This is the first test," said McPeek, who plans to run another prospect, Ten Cents A Shine, in the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 15.

The West Coast has a prep, too - Saturday's Santa Catalina Stakes at Santa Anita, home base of Derby-crazed trainer Bob Baffert, who has three Derby winners in the last six years.

Baffert, of course, has a 3-year-old in the 1 1-16th-mile Santa Catalina: Domestic Dispute, who finished second in the Hollywood Futurity. So does four-time Derby winning trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who plans to send out unbeaten Scrimshaw.

Last week, another Lukas 3-year-old - Ozzie Cat - was second in the Golden Gate Derby.

Derby fever is back. The Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships said goodbye to many of last year's top 3-year-olds in October, including Baffert's Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem. But as always, there's a slew of new stars ready to enter the starting gate.

Picking them out is the tough part, although the early Derby favorites have been established.

Baffert's unbeaten Vindication tops the list because of his impressive victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Vindication worked a half-mile in an easy 49.60 at Santa Anita on Sunday, but Baffert has yet to decide when the colt will race next.

Ward's unbeaten Sky Mesa is next. The colt missed the BC Juvenile with an ankle injury, but has been training well in Florida and is a likely starter for the Fountain of Youth.

Toccet is high on the list, too. Trained by John Scanlan, Toccet won the Hollywood Futurity for his third straight stakes win since a ninth-place finish in the BC Juvenile. A winner in six of eight career races, Toccet is set to take on Sky Mesa in the Fountain of Youth.

The underlying allure of the prep races, however, is unearthing that "undiscovered jewel" of a 3-year-old who could wind up winning the whole thing.

At this time in 2001, for instance, Monarchos had yet to win a race. Last year, War Emblem was losing at the Fair Grounds under the care of Bobby Springer.

Here are a few others to watch:

- Bull Market, Kafwain: Both trained by Baffert, both capable of reaching the Derby. In the BC Juvenile, Kafwain was second, Bull Market fourth. Kafwain finished second in the Hollywood Futurity last month, but was DQ'd to fourth because of interference. Bull Market, though, hasn't worked since November.

- Whywhywhy: Trained and co-owned by Frenchman Patrick Biancone, Whywhywhy was a disappointing 10th in the BC Juvenile. But he's worked twice at Santa Anita, including a half-mile breeze in 47.20 Wednesday, and he, too, is headed to the Fountain of Youth.

- Hold That Tiger: Last seen finishing a solid third in the BC Juvenile, the Aidan O'Brien-trained colt is back in Europe and probably won't show up in the United States again until Derby week.

- Soto: Undefeated in three starts, including a victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November.

- Empire Maker: Finished third in the Remsen at Aqueduct in November for trainer Bobby Frankel. Training at Hollywood Park, with his 3-year-old debut set for the Sham Stakes on Feb. 7.

Added Edge: The Canadian 2-year-old champion is 4-for-4, including a win in the Nashua at Aqueduct in November.

Road to the Kentucky Derby

Key Kentucky Derby prep races:
Jan 1: Tropical Park Derby, Calder, 9F (Turf), Nothing To Loose
Jan. 18: Holy Bull, Gulfstream, 8 1/2F
Jan. 18: S.Catalina, Santa Anita, 8 1/2F
Jan. 25: Lecomte, FG, 8F
Feb. 1: San Vicente, Santa Anita, 7F
Feb. 15: F. of Youth, Gulfstream, 8 1/2F
March 1: San Rafael, Santa Anita, 8F
March 1: Battaglia, Turfway, 8 1/2F
March 8: El Camino, Golden Gate, 8 1/2F
March 9: La. Derby, Fair Grounds, 8 1/2F
March 15: Florida Derby, Gulfstream, 9F
March 16: Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay, 8 1/2F
March 16: San Felipe, Santa Anita, 8 1/2F
March 22: Spiral, Turfway, 9F
March 22: Rebel, Oaklawn, 8 1/2F
April 5: Illinois Derby, Sportsman's, 9F
April 5: Santa Anita, Santa Anita, 9F
April 12: Wood, Aqueduct, 9F
April 12: Blue Grass, Keeneland, 9F
April 12: Arkansas, Oaklawn, 9F
April 12: Calif. Derby, Bay Meadows, 9F
April 19: Lexington, Keeneland, 8 1/2F
May 3: Ky. Derby, CD, 10F
May 17: Preakness, Pim, 1 3/16mi.
June 7: Belmont, Bel, 12F

Offlee Wild wins Holy Bull Stakes

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Offlee Wild won the first big test for Triple Crown hopefuls Saturday, rallying to edge Powerful Touch by a head in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Offlee Wild, ridden by Mark Guidry, ran 1 1-16 miles in 1:43 and paid $56.80, $21.60 and $8.80. Powerful Touch returned $11.60 and $6.60, and Bham paid $3.80 to show.

"Holy cow! We won the Holy Bull," trainer T.V. Smith said. "He'd never been that distance before today, but I never doubted that he'd go long. I'm confident he'll go a lot farther than he ran today. He's the best horse I've ever trained."

Offlee Wild passed Bham near the eighth pole, and then Powerful Touch drew even with the leader. They were neck and neck the rest of the way, while Bham faded and finished three lengths back.

"He finished awfully game," Guidry said. "He broke sharp but the trainer told me not to rush him. He settled right away and was nice and relaxed. He had perfect position all the way.

"I got him turning for home and he dug in the rest of the way. I let him finish on his own."

Offlee Wild is a Kentucky-bred son of Wild Again, owned by Azalea Stables, LLC. He raced only three times as a 2-year-old, finishing first and second. He earned $35,785 last year and started his 3-year-old season with a victory worth $60,000.

The $100,000 Grade 3 race also was a prep for the Fountain of Youth Stakes on Feb. 15 and the Florida Derby on March 15. Supervisor.

Turfway Park

Even-money favorite Golden Marlin avenged her narrow loss to Wildcat Annie in the Gowell Stakes with an authoritative victory in the $50,000 Cincinnati Trophy Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

The win was the second of the day for trainer Greg Foley and fourth for leading rider Jason Lumpkins.

Golden Marlin won by 1 ½ lengths over a fast-losing Miss Mary Apples. Pampered Princess came on for third, while Wildcat Annie faded to fourth. Winning time was 1:18.01 for 6 ½ furlongs over a fast track.

"She was aggressive today," said Foley. "I didn't expect her to be that close early, but we knew (trainer) Bernie (Flint) has a quality filly (Wildcat Annie) with a lot of speed, and we didn't want her to get too far away from us."

"The 6 ½ furlongs helped her today," Lumpkins said. "My filly was very professional, and did it easily."

Golden Marlin improved her record to 2-1-1 in four starts for the Estate of Joe Famularo and W.D. Glass.

Next up is the $50,000 Valdale Stakes at 1 mile Feb. 22.

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Xavier 86, UMass 73

No. 16 Kentucky 88, No. 10 Notre Dame 73
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No. 18 Indiana 84, No. 8 Illinois 66
No. 15 Louisville 87, TCU 74
Miami 77, Ohio 65
No. 17 Maryland 87, No. 1 Duke 72
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