Steve Haskin's Derby Report: Top Trainers Ready to Play Ace in the Hole Cards

After Friday's Sham Stakes and Saturday's Whirlaway, we should have a few new stars emerge on the Derby scene. Then comes the Fountain of Youth and Risen Star next weekend, and just like that we're off and running full speed toward Louisville. The question is: is there still time for an unknown, late-developing 3-year-old to play catch-up and make it to the Derby with a legitimate shot? The answer is yes.

And if you think some of the big-name trainers have already emptied all their barrels you're in for a big surprise. In this special Derby Report, we're going to toss a bunch of names at you to store away in the back of your mind. These are the 50-1 and 100-1 shots in the future books, and now is the time to go after them if you're looking for a chance to make a killing.

Just remember, at this time last year Congaree had had only one career start, and that was a 6th-place finish in September of 2000. He wouldn't break his maiden until Feb. 28. Of course, he didn't win the Derby, but he did win the Wood Memorial, beating the eventual Derby winner, and did run a helluva race at Churchill Downs. Also, in 2000, the first two finishers in the Derby, Fusaichi Pegasus and Aptitude, had won only a maiden race at this time, while last year's winner Monarchos had won only a maiden race on Feb. 2. So, there's still hope for a lot of good horses out there.

Haven't heard a word out of Neil Drysdale so far? Well, remember the names Sunday Break and Battler Bob. Sunday Break, a son of Forty Niner, from a super female family, looked like a world beater breaking his maiden on Jan. 21 by 4 1/2 lengths in 1:23 for seven furlongs in his third start, and is more advanced right now than was Fusaichi Pegasus, who had only two starts and had never been beyond six furlongs. Drysdale's other colt, Battler Bob, is still a maiden in three starts, but has three seconds, and has been beaten a total of 1 1/2 lengths by three talented colts. He's entered in a one-mile maiden race on Saturday, with Gary Stevens up, and if he can get that first win out of the way, he could be on to bigger and better things.

In that same maiden race, Bob Baffert has two colts whom he has always been high on. Strive definitely is one to keep a close eye on. The son of Deputy Minister has turned in two monster stretch runs in two-turn maiden races only to come up short, finishing third and second. Despite a 5.00 dosage index, this colt has more than enough stamina on both sides. He's been working up a storm since his last race and is going to take a lot of beating in here. If you're looking for a Baffert horse at a monster price, get down on this colt now while you can.

Baffert's other colt, Six G's, has underachieved in his three starts, taking in some heavy money in his first two races. In his last race, he was beaten 7 1/2 lengths and finished well behind Battler Bob. But he's worth giving one more chance, based on pedigree alone. One of the last Strike the Gold's in this country, Six G's has run far better races than his sire did before he popped up and broke his maiden. Like Strive, his works indicate a horse who might be ready to show some big improvement. Also note, both colts get blinkers for this race.

Not to leave Wayne Lukas out of the mix, the Hall of Fame trainer will saddle the well-bred Distinction in the same maiden race. The $4.2 million yearling purchase woke up with a super third-place finish back on Dec. 30, in which he set a very strong pace, then hung on determinedly in the stretch to be beaten less than a length, with Strive second and Sham Stakes starter Hot Contest first. Before that, the son of Seattle Slew had thrown in three horrendous efforts before running a decent sixth, beaten less than 5 lengths. Following the Dec. 30 race, Lukas decided to drop him back from 1 1/16 miles to the San Miguel Stakes at 6 furlongs, throwing this maiden in with the fastest 3-year-olds in Southern California. He battled through a scorching :21 2/5 opening quarter before calling it a day. Who knows what he's going to do on Saturday?

If you think Easyfromthegitgo is all Steve Asmussen is sitting on down in New Orleans, think again. He recently finished second and third in a mile and 40-yard allowance race with two very promising colts, Windward Passage, like Battler Bob owned by Team Valor, and the family-owned Forty Nine Deeds. Windward Passage, a son of Team Valor's Captain Bodgit, looks to be a real live one who is improving with every race and who sports an excellent 1 1/4-mile pedigree. This was his first start in three months, and he was victimized by a very slow pace set by the winner, Laser Zone, who looks to be a talented colt in his own right. Forty Nine Deeds was victimized even more, trailing by 7 lengths before unleashing a powerful run to pull alongside Laser Zone and Windward Passage at the eighth pole. The son of Alydeed has a mouth-watering 1.81 DI, and his dam, Abrade, is a full-sister to Forty Niner. This is also the family of Swale and 2,000 Guineas winner Shadeed, giving the colt an interesting cross to Shadeed, the sire of Alydeed. Not many people know about this colt, who is only going to keep improving, so definitely keep him in the back of your mind...or in the front for that matter.

Although Elliott Walden had to be disappointed with the effort in the Hutcheson Stakes by Axis, he does have two other colts who bear watching. Speed Hunter, another son of Alydeed, is coming off an impressive 7-furlong allowance win at Gulfstream in a sharp 1:23 3/5, while Quest Star, a son of Broad Brush, out of a Manila mare, finished a game second in a mile and 70-yard allowance race at Gulfstream on Feb. 6 in only his third career start. Like the others, both these colts have good scope for improvement. The winner of that Feb. 6 race was the Mark Hennig-trained Personal Reward, a son of Personal Hope, whom Hennig saddled to a fourth-place finish in the 1993 Kentucky Derby. This was the colt's second straight victory after a pair of fourth-place finishes.

Another top trainer with a potential star ready to burst on the scene is Frank Brothers, who has the undefeated Clergy, winner of two sprints at Fair Grounds. With nothing to run him in at Fair Grounds, Brothers is looking at the one-mile Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. Brothers is the last trainer to try to make the Derby just for the sake of being there, so be aware that everything will have to go 100 percent with this colt for Brothers to even begin thinking roses. Owned by longtime Claiborne Farm partner Adele Dilschneider, Clergy is a son of Pulpit, who took Brothers on an exciting ride to the Derby in 1997.

So, there you have several new names, all trained by top-class horsemen, who still have a good shot to make a name for themselves on the Derby trail. While any of them has the pedigree and talent to make up for lost time, pay particular attention to Sunday Break, Strive, Windward Passage, and Forty Nine Deeds.