Steve Haskin's Derby Watch -- Week 13 (4/17)

1 --Harlan's Holiday/Kenny McPeek; Harlan-Christmas in Aiken, by Affirmed

The "Old Man River" of this year's 3-year-olds, he just keeps rollin' along. The Blue Grass was slow, but the track was dead and, for him, better slow than fast. He needed to leave more in the tank, so this was a perfect "prep." Only question now is who he's been beating in Florida, as second- and third-place Florida Derby finishers have come back to run poorly.

2 --Essence of Dubai/Saeed bin Suroor; Pulpit-Epitome, by Summing

With all the questions still left unanswered, and the inexperience of many of the leading contenders, we still feel this is a good year to go a different route. And this colt was running through the wire in the UAE Derby. Don't like the 6-week layoff, but with him having a 1 1/4-mile race already, it could negate that.

3 -- Buddha/James Bond; Unbridled's Song-Cahooters, by Storm Cat

Classic battle between talent and experience in the Derby. Showed remarkable courage winning the Wood, out-battling a phyically imposing rival, while running into a stiff headwind. No doubt he is an exceptional racehorse. Training bullets at Payson Park has no doubt made him fitter than his four races would indicate.

4 -- Medaglia D'Oro/Bobby Frankel; El Prado-Cappucino Bay, by Bailjumper

Another with the four-start question mark. He is such a big, powerful-looking colt, he'd be the type to overcome it, and he did run huge in the Wood, in between horses. We just would like to see what he's capable of without the lead. He did show a hint of it at the quarter pole in the Santa Anita Derby.

5 -- Sunday Break/Neil Drysdale; Forty Niner-Catequill, by Storm Cat

He tired in the Wood Memorial having run 1 1/8 miles two weeks earlier, but he probably got very little out of that race. Could certainly move forward off the Wood if he can handle three distance races in five weeks. Raced widest of all in the Wood and rated nicely. His coat looked spectacular in the paddock.

6 -- Came Home/Paco Gonzalez; Gone West-Nice Assay, by Clever Trick

He's created quite a wide chasm between his supporters and detractors. He still has to make a huge leap forward on Derby Day. If he has one thing in his favor it's that he no doubt was dead-short in the Santa Anita Derby, and really showed his courage battling as hard as he did. It's just great to have him in the Derby.

7 --Saarland/Shug McGaughey; Unbridled-Versailles Treaty, by Danzig

Talk about a wide chasm, some still love his chances, others give him no shot. He didn't go backwards in the Wood, but he didn't answer any questions either. We were hoping to see a little more zip in the stretch, but the stiff wind didn't help him. And his splits of :24 4/5, :23, :23 2/5, :24 3/5, and :13 1/5 were counter-productive to his best style. That :46 2/5 from the half to the three-quarters was way too fast for a stretch runner. If the Derby sets up for him, and he's allowed to drop out of it and get those big strides going at the right time, it wouldn't surprise us to see him run a big race.

8 -- Perfect Drift/Murray Johnson; Dynaformer-Nice Gal, by Naskra

He will no doubt be the forgotten horse, not having run in six weeks and training at the Churchill Training Center until Derby Day. History warns us to be wary of such a long layoff, but we really do like everything about this horse as an individual. Breezed 5 furlongs in 1:02 2/5 in the mud.

9 -- Private Emblem/Steve Asmussen; Our Emblem-Merion Miss, by Halo

He sure did a number on the Arkansas Derby field, and now must be taken seriously on May 4, especially being trained by Asmussen, for whom we have tremendous respect. He ran much better than we thought he would, but did get a perfect trip and didn't run very fast. His final eighth in :12 3/5, however, was solid enough.

10 -- Easy Grades/Ted West; Honor Grades-Itsoeasy, by Easy Goer

Whether you believe his faulty bridle was responsible for his defeat or not, it's time to look ahead. He did tire, but we cannot see a horse with his pedigree not relishing the 1 1/4 miles. So, assuming he tired for the reasons Gary Stevens stated, look for big improvement in the Derby.

11 -- Castle Gandolfo/Aidan O'Brien; Gone West-Golden Oriole, by Northern Dancer

Another invader worth taking a chance on, especially with Jerry Bailey riding. We really don't care for the single prep against mediocre opponents at Lingfield, but he did look good enough going 1 1/4 miles last year to suggest he might make his presence felt. You're taking a shot with him, but he should be a big price.

12 -- War Emblem/Bob Baffert; Our Emblem-Sweetest Lady, by Lord at War

There won't be much glory for his new connections should he win, but at least the Derby trophy would complete the set. This is a grand-looking colt, but he picks up 12 pounds and would need another uncontested lead. It is possible he may get it, as we feel Medaglia d'Oro will take back this time.

13 -- Wild Horses/Todd Pletcher; Saint Ballado-Waltzing with Deb, by Robyn Dancer

Took a major step forward in the Arkansas Derby, not by finishing second, but by rating off the pace, while stuck in traffic the whole way. He got involved in a brief shoving match, then still was able to draw clear of the pack in the final furlong. Obviously a horse on the improve.

14 -- Windward Passage/Steve Asmussen; Captain Bodgit-Storm Runner, by Miswaki

He still has some kinks to work out, but with his pedigree, he might be one of those horses you see coming late in the Derby. He did make a good run on the far turn, but got fanned 8-wide turning for home. Seemed to be going nowhere in the stretch, but found another push late to dead-heat for third.

15 -- Request for Parole/ Steve Margolis; Judge T C-Madison's Quest, by Deputy Minister

Really would have liked to seen him in the Blue Grass, but Margolis obviously felt it was too much. Just don't know how fit and tough he'll be coming off a 6-week layoff. Consistent, hard-trying horse, but he'll have his work cut out for him on Derby Day.

16 -- Johannesburg/Aidan O'Brien; Hennessy - Myth, by Ogygian

If he wins the Derby, you can tear up the book on how to prepare a horse for the race. When O'Brien is quoted as saying, "There's only so many horses you can run in the Guineas," it sounds like he's coming because he doesn't know what else to do with him. Not only has he had one seven-furlong race, but he only was asked to run for one of those seven furlongs. But we're glad he's coming. The more interesting the better.

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