Haskin's Road to the Kentucky Derby (Cont.)

There are two ways of looking at Composure's victory in the Santa Anita Oaks. Those who feel the daughter of Touch Gold should stick with fillies can point to the incredibly slow fractions of the race, in which Elloluv crawled in :24 2/5, :48 2/5 and 1:11 4/5. Later on the card, the Tokyo City Handicap for older males was run in :22 1/5, :45 1/5, and 1:09 2/5. Despite the sluggish pace, Composure needed :06 4/5 to cover her final sixteenth.

Those who believe she's done enough to deserve a chance in the Derby can point out the fact that, being more of a mid-pack runner, the slow pace put her at a major disadvantage, and she had to sit right off Elloluv's flank the whole way. There's no doubt had Jerry Bailey elected to keep her a few lengths off the pace, she would have had a very tough time beating Elloluv, especially considering that she had her hands full anyway. This was an excellent race for her and showed she can step up when the circumstances are unfavorable. As for the final sixteenth, no one seemed to be coming home fast all day, and her final five-sixteenths was :31 2/5, compared to :33 1/5 in the Tokyo City. That, of course, can be attributed to the huge difference in the pace, but :31 2/5 is pretty respectable under any conditions, and the third and fourth quarters were run in a solid :23 2/5 and :24 3/5.

There is no doubt this is one tough, hard-knocking filly, who doesn't mind a good brawl. There has been a good deal of speculation whether Storm Flag Flying came again in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile or whether Composure tired late after having to make a long, sustained move to take the lead. Either way, it was an excellent performance against an exceptional filly, and gave her a solid foundation for the arduous task ahead.

As for Composure's all-important next start, it will be interesting to see if Baffert continues to parallel her schedule with the one he used to get Excellent Meeting to the Kentucky Derby in 1999. With the exception of the Hollywood Starlet, which Excellent Meeting won, while Composure finished second, both fillies won the Oak Leaf Stakes, finished second to a superstar in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, won the Las Virgenes, and won the Santa Anita Oaks in a hard-fought battle, running the 1 1/16 miles in identical time of 1:43 1/5. Excellent Meeting then used the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn as her prep for the Derby.

Following the Fantasy, Baffert gave Excellent Meeting three bullet works at Churchill Downs, none farther than 5 furlongs. The fact that Excellent Meeting turned in a fantastic performance in the Derby, coming from 18th to finish 5th, beaten only 2 1/4 lengths, could mean that Baffert pretty much has his schedule already mapped out for him if he wishes to continue the pattern.

In Saturday's El Camino Real Derby, the first three finishers all got something beneficial out of the race. Ocean Terrace proved himself to be a very professional horse. Coming off only two sprints, he sat in perfect position the whole way, changed leads on cue, and ran straight and strong down the stretch. He's shown on three occasions that he doesn't like to be passed in the stretch. What he does have against him is the fact that he'll have to go into the Kentucky Derby off only four career starts, and we all know no horse has won the Derby with four starts since Exterminator in 1918. But we also should mention that less than 20 horses have attempted it. In any event, this is an exciting new addition to the Derby trail.

Second-place finisher Ministers Wild Cat was more focused in the stretch this time, but he did try to lug in a couple of times and still has to work on that. Breaking from the outside, he lost a good deal of ground on the first turn and was three wide on the second turn. The winner, however, was only one to two paths inside him on both turns. This colt obviously has ability, and he'll need to show more improvement in his next start. If he does, the timing is right for him to peak at just the right time.

Ten Most Wanted improved off his fourth in the Sham Stakes, hanging tough along the inside after pressing the pace the whole way. He's a big, long-striding colt and still has a good deal of room for further improvement. This is a very interesting year in a way, because there are so many horses who are just beginning to come into their own. It also makes for a more confusing Derby picture. Just a quick mention also of Winning Stripes, who launched a big move out in the middle of the track and closed fast through the stretch to finish fourth, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths. Because the first four finishers all ran solid races, finishing within a couple of lengths of each other, there really isn't much to learn about the race, regarding how these horses stack up right now against the top Derby contenders.

For down the road, keep a close eye on Dynever, who was brilliant breaking his maiden at Gulfstream in his first two-turn race. The son of Dynaformer was also very impressive in his career debut going seven furlongs. This was only his second career start, so the Derby is really out of the picture. But with this colt's powerful pedigree top to bottom we could be looking at a real live dark horse for the Belmont Stakes.

In Dubai, Godolphin's Inamorato scored an easy wire-to-wire victory in a nine-furlong prep for the UAE Derby. If he wins the 1 1/4-mile UAE Derby as impressively, that will add even more confusion to the Derby picture, as he'll have only three career starts before the Kentucky Derby.