Harlan's Holiday, working toward the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.

Harlan's Holiday, working toward the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Steve Haskin's Derby Watch -- Week 12 (4/10)

On the eve of his Toyota Blue Grass Stakes date, Harlan's Holiday remains at the top of the leading contenders' list.

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

He is one horse who doesn't have to win the Blue Grass Stakes, but must show that same kick around the turn and be in the picture at the wire. He's not a strong favorite, as Derby favorites go, but at least he has earned the role.

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

Huge test coming up in the Wood Memorial. With a 1:09 4/5 three-quarters in the Gotham under his belt, he should be close to a peak performance. If he is motoring at the end, he'll be ready to peak on Derby Day.

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

The more questions we're confronted with in this country, the more we turn to him for answers. We realize he still has a lot to prove, but he's winning and heading in the right direction. Could be Godolphin's year.

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

We're still wary about his lack of experience, but he's a big, strong colt and Frankel raves about him. Drilled a sharp 6 furlongs in 1:12 2/5. He was getting stronger at end of San Felipe, and should keep improving. But U S S Tinosa's performance in Santa Anita Derby didn't enhance San Felipe form.

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

His talent obviously is carrying him a long way. We didn't like his final 3 furlongs in :38 4/5 or the slow final time, but he no doubt was a short horse and should move forward. The 1 1/4 miles still bothers us, but just glad to have him.

6 -- Blue Burner/Bill Mott; French Deputy-Haiati, by Alydar

No one's really talking about him too much, but he's on an excellent pattern heading toward the Derby. If he's coming on in the final eighth of the Wood, then Mott could very well be sitting on his first Derby victory. But it's imperative he's closer at the wire than the eighth pole to show he wants that extra furlong.

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

Whether or not his faulty bridle contributed to his defeat, this was a big step forward for this vastly improving gelding, who has been amazing his trainer how quickly he's progressing. And you sure can't knock his pedigree. Gary Stevens insists he had little or no control over him, so we have to believe he was capable of a lot better, setting him up for a big effort on May 4.

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

We'd like him better if he wasn't trying to win the Derby off a 6-week layoff, which hasn't been done since 1956. He also won't be training at Churchill Downs, so we'll be in the dark as to how he's coming up to the race.

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

We still don't know if this colt is for real or just over-hyped. His last race was so bizarre we learned very little about him. But he has won three in a row, he's a super-looking horse, he has the pedigree, and Drysdale is thrilled with the way he's coming up to the Wood.

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

He's still strictly an unknown quantity, but he's at least won on dirt now, and we were impressed with his action and the way he was striding out strongly at the end of 1 1/4 miles in last year's Criterium de Saint-Cloud over heavy ground that doesn't suit him.

11 -- Azillion/Bob Hess; Alzao-Olivia, by Ela-Mana-Mou

Hess really has no idea if this colt fits in the Derby picture, so he'll let the Blue Grass Stakes decide. A victory or a big effort will send him to Louisville, otherwise he'll look to the Belmont. We like the way he's been improving, and the turn of foot he showed in the Spiral. It'll be interesting to see if he can show that kick sitting behind likely fast pace in Blue Grass. If he does, then he should be major threat in the Derby.

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

He's improved big-time since arriving at Oaklawn Park and should take a lot of beating in the Arkansas Derby. If he can put in the same kind of run as in the Rebel and keep pouring it on this time, he'll have to be considered a legitimate Derby contender.

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

Would really love his chances if he had one more race under his belt. But as we've said, he's the most impressive 3-year-old we've seen this year. He just has to prove his class, and the Wood will be a big step up for him. There's also the danger of him regressing off his last start, in which he received a monster speed figure. But we'll know soon enough what we're dealing with.

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

Change of plans to go straight to the Derby puts him in the same boat as Perfect Drift, as he'll have to go in off a six-week layoff. He's proven himself to be a tough, versatile, consistent colt who is always going to give you a battle.

15-- Mr. Mellon/Elliott Walden; Red Ransom-Mackie, by Summer Squall

If he moves forward off the Rushaway Stakes, then he should take a lot of beating in the Arkansas Derby. He has a lot to recommend him, and if he isn't up to the test now, he most assuredly will be in the near future. You'll be hearing a lot from this colt.

16 -- Lusty Latin/Jeff Mullins; El Prado-Scarlet Ann, by Afleet

Before we get too excited about him, remember he was gobbling up all that ground through a very slow final quarter mile. But to his credit, he did take a beating at the start and he did have to go eight wide. Some sharp operations have made offers for him. He's sure come a long way; would be a great Cinderella story

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

If he comes, we'd expect it was due to an owner's decision. He's set up perfectly for a run at the 2,000 Guineas, but doesn't appear anywhere near ready to be competitive in the Kentucky Derby. No longer unbeaten, he no longer has that aura of invincibility.

18 -- Booklet/John Ward; Notebook-Crafty Bobbie, by Bob's Dusty

We still have major reservations about the Derby, but he sure has a good shot to win the Blue Grass Stakes if he's not put to pressure. He had every right to finish up the track in the Florida Derby, but still hung on for fourth. We sure wouldn't want to be the one to try to outrun him this time, especially at speed-favoring Keeneland.

Rest of Contenders