Horses that performed well last weekend on the Road to the Kentucky Derby moved up on the list of leading contenders compiled by senior correspondent Steve Haskin.
1 --Harlan's Holiday/Kenny McPeek; Harlan-Christmas in Aiken, by Affirmed
Doesn't have the aura of a typical Derby favorite, and certainly is not going to scare many horses away, but he's as solid a 3-year-old as you'll find. Now we want to see what he can do against a different group of horses.
2 -- Saarland/Shug McGaughey; Unbridled-Versailles Treaty, by Danzig
Will have some new opponents to deal with in the Wood Memorial. It is important that he turns in a sharp performance, and is closer at the wire than he was in the Gotham. Also, needs to kick in and sustain his run.
3 -- Repent/Kenny McPeek; Louis Quatorze-Baby Grace, by Cipayo
As a traditionalist, not sure we like the idea of him facing a weak group in the Illinois Derby as his final prep for the Kentucky Derby, four weeks out. But this might be the year tradition is put on hold. One thing, those extra sharp turns should help him change leads. Even if he wins at Sportsman's, we still won't know much more about him than we do now.
4 -- Essence of Dubai/Saeed bin Suroor; Pulpit-Epitome, by Summing
This ranking surely will raise some eyebrows, but if not in a year like this, then when? This horse finally fits the profile of a true Godolphin Derby horse. Like the way he came from far back with a long, sustained run. He's made tremendous strides in the past month and was getting stronger at the end of 1 1/4 miles. Detractors point out he ran almost two seconds slower than Street Cry. But for the glass-is-half-full rebuttal, how about that he ran the exact same time as Sakhee.
5 -- Perfect Drift/Murray Johnson; Dynaformer-Nice Gal, by Naskra
Liked this horse after his race in the Battaglia, and like him a lot more now. He has a long, flowing stride and seems to be on cruise control. He's handy and athletic, and Delahoussaye fits him like a glove.
6 -- Medaglia D'Oro/Bobby Frankel; El Prado-Cappucino Bay, by Bailjumper
You're basically taking a shot that this is an extraordinary horse, combined with the fact he's conditioned by the hottest trainer in the country. Still has to overcome having only 3 career starts, but Frankel's not concerned. We normally don't like a horse with only four career starts before the Derby, but we'll see what he does in the Wood before taking a firmer stand.
7 -- Sunday Break/Neil Drysdale; Forty Niner-Catequill, by Storm Cat
Hey, nothing surprises us anymore this year. So, we've got a Derby contender who changes leads four times, is pulled to the inside rail twice as if it were magnetized, and runs with his tongue flapping out of his mouth. So what? We threw the book away this year a long time ago.
8 -- Blue Burner/Bill Mott; French Deputy-Haiati, by Alydar
Whether he runs in the Blue Grass or Wood Memorial, he needs to keep showing improvement, and must be able to sustain his run. If he's right there at the wire, then he has to be considered a legitimate Derby threat. Because of his come-from-behind style, we imagine Mott will opt for the Wood rather than risk running into one of those typical Keeneland speed traps.
9 -- Came Home/Paco Gonzalez; Gone West-Nice Assay, by Clever Trick
Has had to overcome several obstacles already, but he's back working and on target for the Santa Anita Derby. Even more important than winning, he must look strong in the final furlong to suggest he can keep going. The race is coming up one of the weakest in memory, so he's being given a good chance to show that he can outrun his pedigree.
10 -- Johannesburg/Aidan O'Brien; Hennessy - Myth, by Ogygian
Worked sharply over the all-weather track at Lingfield, which is the first positive sign this year. If he's going to overcome having only one start prior to the Derby, he needs to be tested by a good horse and respond to the challenge. The Derby needs a horse of this magnitude this year, one who can reach out and capture the people's imagination.
11 -- Azillion/Bob Hess; Alzao-Olivia, by Ela-Mana-Mou
Demonstrated quickness and a good turn of foot shooting to the front along the rail, then showed a lot of heart to out-battle the tenacious Request for Parole for second. With his pedigree, he should be even stronger at 1 1/4 miles. Question now is, will his connections go for the Derby or aim for the Belmont?
12 -- Windward Passage/Steve Asmussen; Captain Bodgit-Storm Runner, by Miswaki
He looks and acts and is bred like a horse who will keep getting better the farther he goes. We like his action and professionalism. Now he gets McCarron. The low-keyed Asmussen is high on him as a Derby horse, and that says a lot about his ability and stamina.
13 -- Request for Parole/ Steve Margolis; Judge T C-Madison's Quest, by Deputy Minister
You have to admire this colt's courage and tenacity. He doesn't know what quit is. Pat Day took him out of his game in order to capitalize on the speed-biased track, and it's obvious he's better with something to run at. We don't know if he'll be as effective at 1 1/4 miles, but we do know he'll be battling to the end.
14 -- Mr. Mellon/Elliott Walden; Red Ransom-Mackie, by Summer Squall
We were extremely impressed with this colt. He just has that look you like to see in a racehorse, and pedigree-wise, there are few who can match him in the class and stamina department. He reminds us a lot of his dam's half-brother Sea Hero, and he does have that same high action, which you don't normally like to see. But it sure didn't hurt Sea Hero.
15 -- Buddha/James Bond; Unbridled's Song-Cahooters, by Storm Cat
If this colt had one more start, we'd really love him, but, with him walking around the track in his career debut last year, in which he had a breathing problem, he's really only had two legitimate races. Still, those two races were as impressive as any we've seen this year. There is no doubt in our mind that he has star written all over him. Just would like to see him change leads.
16 -- Castle Gandolfo/Aidan O'Brien; Gone West-Golden Oriole, by Northern Dancer
If you can't find anything in one shop you really like, then go shop somewhere else. We love the unknown factor here, and the possibility that just maybe we're looking at a legitimate Derby contender. If he handles the dirt, and he is bred for the dirt, then he has a lot to recommend him. If you're into games of chance, then he might prove to be a smart future book horse. Hey, it's only money.
17 -- Danthebluegrassman/Bob Baffert; Pioneering-Stay With Bruce, by Grey Dawn II
If Came Home is not at his best or isn't as effective at 1 1/8 miles, we can certainly see this colt winning the Santa Anita Derby. He was coming off a little layoff and apparently needed his last start, but still ran a game race despite his rider losing the whip. But as far as the Kentucky Derby is concerned, he really needs to show he can rate off the pace and kick home. His current running style won't get it done.Rest of Contenders