Steve Haskin's Derby Watch--Week 9 (3/20)

Steve Haskin's list of leading contenders was shuffled following last weekend's prep races, with two Ken McPeek trained horses emerging on top.

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

McPeek couldn't have written a more perfect script for the Florida Derby. Has now demonstrated enough attributes to be considered a legitimate Derby favorite. A real pro who does everything the right way, and he just keeps getting better and more professional with every race.

2 -- Repent/Kenny McPeek; Louis Quatorze-Baby Grace, by Cipayo

With Harlan's Holiday taking the more traditional Blue Grass Stakes route, he'll head to Sportsman's Park the week before for the Illinois Derby. Still has some things to learn, but he's a tenacious, gifted athlete.

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

Loved his race in the Gotham. Excellent sharpener, sitting right behind some torrid fractions and still unleashing a strong move on the turn. Running 6 furlongs in 1:09 4/5 is really going to help him come Derby Day.

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

So, what exactly are we dealing with here? Normally would discard a horse with his lack of experience, but what he did in the San Felipe was remarkable. Even more amazing was that he was getting stronger at the end.

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

Whether it was the blinkers or not, you had to love the way he turned it on around the far turn; the only horse from far back to make any impact. He still has to show he can sustain his move, but this was a big step forward.

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

Just another of the many talented question marks surrounding this year's Derby. Frankly, no one has any idea what is going to show up on May 4, and that includes O'Brien, who said they're just hoping for a good effort. First we have to see who they can get to run against him at Lingfield.

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

We give him just a slight edge over Request for Parole based on distance pedigree. Still improving, and his last race was a huge step in right direction. Picking up big pounds for Spiral, but gets Eddie Delahoussaye.

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

You have to admire his toughness and consistency. And he has shown he can compete with Harlan's Holiday and Repent. Gets Pat Day for Spiral Stakes, and once again should be right there, regardless of who ships in. Liking him more with each race.

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

It's not exactly going to take a monster effort to win the Santa Anita Derby this year, and if he makes the race, he'll be a solid favorite, despite the obstacles he's had to face. In a year like this, maybe extraordinary talent will be sufficient. Let's just get him to Kentucky and we'll worry about whether he can get 1 1/4 miles after that.

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

With Nokoma's poor effort in the Florida Derby, and Mayakovsky having stamina issues, Coolmore has latched on to this guy as their newest Derby hopeful. And frankly, he's got an excellent shot, based on his pedigree, class, and having run big already at 1 1/4 miles over the left-handed Saint-Cloud course last fall. We've been wondering all year why he wasn't being considered for the Run for the Roses.

11 -- Easyfromthegitgo/Steve Asmussen; Dehere-Montera, by Easy Goer

With a major changing of the guard taking place this past weekend, he's looking better and better. He took his step backward in the Risen Star, and now should keep improving. Blue Grass likely will be next.

12 -- USS Tinosa/Jerry Hollendorfer; Foxhound-Angel Puss, by Wolf Power

Couldn't get a real gauge on how well he ran in San Felipe, but he is consistent and always puts in his run. Ran his best race at 1 1/8 miles and he should be one of those who will relish the longer distances. All of a sudden, becomes one of the favorites for the Santa Anita Derby.

13 -- Equality/Graham Motion; Mt. Livermore-Equilibrate, by Gone West

Pedigree seems more geared to 8 and 9 furlongs, but there's an awful lot to like about his Tampa Bay Derby win, especially the way he cruised by Politcal Attack with the jock up in saddle and never moving his hands. Has a paddling motion and doesn't come out of his turns smoothly, but more than makes up for that with talent.

14 -- Mayakovsky/Patrick Biancone; Matty G-Joy to Raise, by Raise a Man

Magnificent-looking horse with a very attractive head and a ton of natural ability. Running a mile in 1:34 4/5 off 6 1/2-month layoff was a huge effort, especially drifting out badly. Enigma in that he's bred close up to get a mile tops, but he's not built like a sprinter at all and he somehow has a 1.40 DI. Big question is whether he can come back and duplicate this race in Wood.

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

We haven't seen a 3-year-old this year who combines more raw ability and physical presence than this colt. Still must be tested for class, but he looked awesome winning a Gulfstream allowance race, and his closing fractions and final time were sensational. This was his second straight monster performance, so he obviously is not just a one-hit wonder. Only problem is lack of racing experience.

16 -- Danthebluegrassman/Bob Baffert; Pioneering-Stay With Bruce, by Grey Dawn II

Hard to believe, but he's Baffert's last chance to make the Derby, unless something unforeseen happens. He's a hard-knocking colt who will win his share of stakes, but he needs to be able to relax off the pace, something he hasn't shown he wants to do. He'll have earn his trip to Louisville in the Santa Anita Derby, and we feel he has a big chance to win, having needed his last after some time off.

17 -- Siphonic/David Hofmans; Siphon-Cherokee Crossing, by Cherokee Colony

Frankly, we have no idea what to do with him, and we don't think Hofmans does either, If he checks out clean and stays on the Derby trail, he'll likely head East for the Wood Memorial or Blue Grass. You don't like hear a trainer and jockey use phrases like "rubber-legged" and "had nothing left" at this stage of the game.

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

Probably won't start until April 13, likely in the Wood Memorial, which gives him a huge gap between races, and will make it more difficult to have him battle-hardened for the Kentucky Derby. But if Drysdale does go the Derby route, he'll obviously feel he has a chance, and if Drysdale feels he has a chance, then he has a chance.