The Kentucky Derby picture may not be getting any clearer, but at least all the combatants are lined up for their final engagement to determine who goes on to the big battle.
Those heading directly for Churchill are the first three finishers in the Santa Anita Derby, Came Home (Chris McCarron), Easy Grades (possibly Gary Stevens), and Lusty Latin (G.W. Corbett); the first and third-place finishers of the Lane's End Spiral Stakes, Perfect Drift (Eddie Delahoussaye) and Request for Parole (no rider); UAE Derby winner Essence of Dubai (possibly Frankie Dettori); Coolmore's Castle Gandolfo (no rider) and possibly Johannesburg (Mick Kinane); and the German-bred Flying Dash, the flying and dashing winner of the Transylvania Stakes.
The most intriguing race this weekend is Saturday's Wood Memorial, a race almost impossible to handicap with any conviction. But it's a race which has lured an all-star lineup of jockeys, headed by Jerry Bailey, Gary Stevens, Pat Day. John Velazquez, Laffit Pincay, and Mike Smith, and an equally impressive group of trainers, including Bobby Frankel, Bill Mott, Neil Drysdale, Shug McGaughey, Todd Pletcher, Jim Bond, and Nick Zito. Expected are Saarland (Velazquez), Blue Burner (Bailey), Medaglia d'Oro (Pincay), Sunday Break (Stevens), Buddha (Day), Nokoma (Smith), and Iwin (no rider). Shipping in from England is Laissezaller, who will be saddled by regular trainer Amanda Perrett, then turned over to Bill Mott after the race. The son of End Sweep is coming off two second-place finishes (disqualified to third in his most recent start) at 1 1/4 miles on the dirt at Lingfield against older horses.
At Keeneland, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes will attract a small field. As of Tuesday, the expected starters are Harlan's Holiday (Edgar Prado), Booklet (Jorge Chavez), Azillion (Corey Nakatani), Ocean Sound (Eddie Delahoussaye), and possibly Bob's Image (no rider) and Straight Gin (no rider). Trainer Bob Hess said Tuesday that if Azillion wins or proves he's good enough at this time, he'll continue on to the Kentucky Derby. Otherwise, he'll go the Lone Star Derby, Belmont Stakes route.
Unlike the Blue Grass, the Arkansas Derby will draw a field of 12 or 13. And this one looks to be completely up for grabs. Expected to run are the Steve Asmussen pair of Windward Passage (Chris McCarron) and Private Emblem (Donnie Meche); Mr. Mellon (Larry Melancon); Wild Horses (Rene Douglas), Holdthehelm (no rider), Dusty Spike (no rider) It'sallinthechase (Gerard Melancon), the Wayne Lukas-trained Gold Dollar (Jose Santos), One Tuff Fox (Eddie Martin), Outstander (Mark Johnston), Bay Monster (Tony Lovato), Dial a Hero (no rider), and Guppie's Secret (possibly Calvin Borel).
Looking ahead to the Lexington Stakes, we have Officer (Victor Espinoza), who is considered a possibility, Easyfromthegitgo (Donnie Meche), Tails of the Crypt (Emille Ramsammy), Ethan Man (Pat Day), and possibly Clergy, American Style, and Essayons, although several of those could go in the Derby Trial Stakes a week later, a race which could attract the unbeaten Cashel Castle and Mayakovsky. An outside possibility for the Lexington Stakes is the Transylvania winner Flying Dash, the German-bred who has yet to run on the dirt, but is being pointed for the Kentucky Derby by owner Fusao Sekiguchi (of Fusaichi Pegasus fame) and trainer Neil Drysdale. He'll most likely make his dirt debut in the Derby.