Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos makes his 2002 debut Saturday.

Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos makes his 2002 debut Saturday.

Mike Corrado

Monarchos Makes 2002 Debut at Gulf Saturday

John Oxley's Monarchos, winner of last year's Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby, will begin his 2002 campaign Saturday in a $40,000 allowance/optional claiming event. The 1 1/16-mile race will be run as the sixth race on Gulfstream's 12-race card.

Trainer John Ward is using this race as a prep for the $500,000 Donn Handicap on Feb. 9. Monarchos will go off as the overwhelming favorite in the four-horse field. The 4-year-old son of Maria's Mon has been working steadily at Gulfstream, coming off a series of five-furlong works. In his final drill, he breezed his five panels in a sharp 1:01 4/5.

"He's ready," assistant trainer Yvonne Azeff said. "It was either run him or get a very large butterfly net. That's how good he's feeling. He looks unbelievable. He's filled out and has really matured a lot mentally. But that didn't stop him from savaging the pony this morning. Some things don't change. I'm excited about the race; I hope he comes back like everybody anticipates, because we need a big horse in racing."

Jorge Chavez, Monarchos' regular rider, will be aboard under 120 pounds. Monarchos has not run since finishing a well-beaten third in the Belmont Stakes. Following the race, a hairline fracture was discovered in his right knee.

Monarchos certainly likes Gulfstream, having won all three of his starts there last winter, including a spectacular victory in the Florida Derby.