Prepping for the Kentucky Derby

Posted: April 12, 2002

Less than four weeks to go and there's still no clear favorite for the May 4 Kentucky Derby. Not to worry: Intrigue is what makes these Derby preps so much fun.

Take the Wood Memorial at Aqu-educt in New York, one of three major 1 1/8-mile preps tomorrow, along with the Blue Grass at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

There's so much uncertainty in the Wood that five of the eight 3-year-olds entered are listed at odds no higher than 9-2, with Medaglia d'Oro the favorite at 5-2. There's so much mystery that trainer H. James Bond is starting to believe in Buddha - his lightly raced colt set to join stakes company for the first time.

"This horse gives me a lot of good vibes," Bond said after yesterday's draw for the $750,000 Wood.

Buddha, at 4-1, will be making just his fourth career start but is coming off an eye-opening 9 1/2-length win in a 1 1/16th-mile allowance race March 16 at Gulfstream Park.

The $750,000 Blue Grass, which drew a field of six, features yet another rematch between Florida Derby winner Harlan's Holiday and Booklet.

The colts have developed an intense rivalry over the past year, dueling three times. Booklet has won twice.

At this point, however, Harlan's Holiday is considered the slight Kentucky Derby favorite, just ahead of Santa Anita Derby winner Came Home.

The Arkansas Derby drew a field of 11, with no top Derby contenders among them. Trainer Steve Asmussen probably has the standout 3-year-olds in the field in Private Emblem and Windward Passage. Mr. Mellon also should be considered.

Noteworthy

* Trainer Bob Baffert will have a chance to win his third Kentucky Derby, after all.

Baffert, who saddled Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm in 1997 and Real Quiet in 1998, will train Illinois Derby winner War Emblem.

* Fantom of the Opry, a horse who had 17 wins on the harness racing circuit and later carried a flag in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, died after he resisted attempts to pull him out of a burning barn in Franklin Township, N.J. The cause of the fire is unknown.

* Val Royal, last year's Breeders' Cup Mile champion, has been retired because of recurring tendon trouble. *

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