Bellamy Road, looms large in prepping for the Kentucky Derby.

Bellamy Road, looms large in prepping for the Kentucky Derby.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Who Can Slay the Goliaths?

It's that time of the week when things briefly quiet down before the second wave of workouts. With only Consolidator working under the cover of darkness, this is a good time to reflect on how the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) is shaping up so far.

The question many are asking is: Do you focus on the four horses who are coming off Derby prep demolitions – Bellamy Road, Afleet Alex, Bandini, and Greeley's Galaxy – or do you assume they have already run their big race and will regress on May 7? That would leave the door open to find the horse or horses who are most likely to move forward enough to catch up to the aforementioned Fab Four.

A week from Friday will be the final analysis column, based mainly on works, gallops, and overall physical appearance. But until then, let's see just where we stand.

Bellamy Road, who pioneered new frontiers in Derby preps with his breathtaking 17 1/2-length victory in the Wood Memorial (gr. I), will go from potential freak to definite freak if he can come anywhere near repeating that effort. From a physical standpoint, he certainly has the look of a freak the way he gallops with his neck arched and those long, sweeping strides. Some feel he will "bounce," while others feel he may be in a class by himself. The bottom line is that there is no way to know. This will be a gut-feeling decision.

Afleet Alex, an eight-length winner of the Arkansas Derby (gr. II), is riding into Louisville on the tail of two comets, and, unlike his predecessors Smarty Jones and Funny Cide, he likely will be a household name even before he runs in the Derby. This appealing son of Northern Afleet  has the personality and the talent to become a bona fide star, as well as several human interest stories surrounding him to keep journalists and editors in copy up to their ears. His work on Tuesday was brilliant, and there is no worry at all about his ability to handle every aspect of this track. If you're looking for the horse who packs a dynamite turn of foot, he is the one.

Bandini, who romped by six lengths in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), is one of the most beautiful horses you'll ever lay eyes on, but it's still too early to get a read on him from a physical standpoint, as he has had only two jogs, with a walk day in between, this week. I hope to watch him graze this afternoon while the weather is still good, and look forward to seeing him gallop tomorrow. All that I can relay about him right now from most of the people around him is that he can be a terror, especially if you bother him when he doesn't want to be bothered. He was acting pretty studdish coming off the track on Monday. Who knows how much improvement he still has left in him?

Greeley's Galaxy, a 9 1/2-length winner of the Illinois Derby (gr. II), is an attractive chestnut with a great deal of personality. He runs with his head and shoulders low to the ground and has a very long, efficient stride that generates of a lot of power. He does have the Apollo and Exterminator curses to deal with, however, having had only four career starts and none as a 2-year-old. His 84-year-old trainer, Warren Stute, is scheduled to arrive by charter jet, along with owner B. Wayne Hughes, this afternoon to watch the colt's work tomorrow. If there are 20 or more horses entered next week, he is out.

Speaking of runaway victories, Consolidator, who buried his San Felipe (gr. II) rivals by 6 1/2 lengths in a blistering 1:40 for the 1 1/16 miles, was out for a nice steady work this morning at 6 o'clock. Wayne Lukas got what he was looking for, as the son of Storm Cat went in splits of :12 2/5, :12, :12, :12 2/5, and :12 3/5. Lukas is convinced the Blue Grass, in which Consolidator was fifth, was a throw-out race. This horse never puts two big ones back-to-back, but he also never puts in two bad ones back-to-back, so he is more than capable of bouncing back with a big effort. And we are dealing with a trainer who is known for winning big ones in unlikely spots. Consolidator is a medium-sized, well-proportioned colt who has excellent tactical speed.

So, here are five horses who have proven they are capable of decimating their opposition on any given day. The question is, how likely is it that all five will be defeated?

One thing is for sure, there will be several overlooked horses who have proven their class in the best company.

Sun King was atop many of the experts' Top 10 list before his bizarre performance and ride over a quirky Keeneland track in the Blue Grass. He has been galloping very strongly each morning, and Nick Zito is confident everyone is going to see the old Sun King on Derby Day. Regardless, his odds will skyrocket.

The same can be said about Wilko, whom the speed gurus are convinced is too slow to win the Derby. That thinking can prove costly on Derby Day. The pace scenario should suit him; he has the pedigree, toughness, and tenacity; and he's already beaten Afeet Alex, Sun King, and Consolidator. He was only half fit in the Santa Anita Derby, and there's no reason why he shouldn't make giant strides off that race. Throw this mighty mite out at your own risk. He is scheduled to arrive Saturday.

And how about Greater Good as a forgotten horse? One uncharacteristic defeat in the Arkansas Derby, after washing out badly, and he no longer is being mentioned in the same breath as the others.

Then, there are the horses who have shown steady improvement, such as the one-two finishers in the Florida Derby I (gr. I) -- High Fly and Noble Causeway; Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Buzzards Bay; and Lane's End (gr. II) winner Flower Alley. Who knows how far they'll move forward? And you can't ignore a horse like Coolmore Lexington (gr. II) winner Coin Silver, who is improving dramatically at the right time. The speed numbers say High Limit is ready for a big effort, but will having only four career starts work against him? And how big a jump will Andromeda's Hero and Closing Argument take next time out? Will Giacomo be the next Invisible Ink, Casual Lies, Coax Me Chad type – lightly regarded horses who jump up and run their best race on Derby Day?

So, in a nutshell, this Derby looks like one of the toughest and most perplexing in a very long time because of the number of talented horses, many of whom have the exact same running style. Maybe it will come down to who is looking and training the best – it worked for Monarchos, Smarty Jones , and Real Quiet. How a horse works, gallops, looks, and acts leading up to the Derby often is an excellent indicator of how he'll perform.

The morning action will pick up again on Thursday with Sun King, Andromeda's Hero, Greater Good, and Greeley's Galaxy all scheduled to work.

By the way, two of the best-looking horses on the grounds are not running in the Derby, but could be worth watching in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). They are Wild Desert and A.P. Arrow. Wild Desert is a big, powerful bay who exudes a ton of class. Watching him bouncing along on his toes this morning, his muscles rippling, you couldn't help but wish he were in the Derby. His new trainer, Rick Dutrow, is working on some minor physical problems and should have him loaded for bear either in the Belmont or Queen's Plate. A.P. Arrow is a magnificent-looking chestnut, and Wayne Lukas already has the blanket of carnations draped over the horse's withers.