Saarland entered the Derby picture with this Remsen victory.

Saarland entered the Derby picture with this Remsen victory.

Kentucky Derby 2002: A Triple Shot of Shug

Three more weeks and the journey to the 2002 Kentucky Derby officially will commence. Those who have not stepped foot on a racetrack in competition by then will have the curse of Apollo hanging over their head. This year will mark the 120th anniversary of the last horse to win the Run for the Roses without having started as a 2-year-old.

Even this late in the year, there still are big doings, with Saturday's Hollywood Futurity likely to showcase several live Derby candidates. And on racetracks from coast to coast, new faces are popping onto the scene who could be quite visible in the upcoming months.

The one trainer who seems to be establishing his niche in this year's Derby picture is Shug McGaughey. With Saarland, Maybry's Boy, and D'Coach, it's as if McGaughey is standing at the quarter pole with a slingshot and launching some speeding projectiles down the Aqueduct stretch.

First it was the Dehere colt D'Coach, who came from fifth, eight lengths back at the quarter pole, to break his maiden going away by 3 lengths. Then it was Maybry's Boy who came rocketing from eighth at the top of the stretch to win by 6 lengths in a seven-furlong maiden race. Then, a week later, Saarland came from seventh at the top of the stretch (and fifth at the eighth pole) to win the mile and an eighth Remsen Stakes in the final jumps. On Dec. 7 and 8, McGaughey brought back D'Coach and Maybry's Boy in one-mile and six-furlong allowance races, respectively, and while neither won, they did prove their victories were no fluke, nor were their dynamite stretch runs.

In fact, we have to admit we were quite taken with D'Coach, who was in against a highly touted speedster named Soul of the Tiger, coming off a brilliant 7 1/4-length maiden victory at the Meadowlands. We'll start by saying that if you liked Dehere, you should love D'Coach, who reminded us of his sire in his action and the explosiveness of his kick. In Friday's allowance race, Soul of the Tiger had things his own way on the front end while D'Coach was back in sixth, a dozen lengths off the lead. It appeared as if he had no shot to hit the board. But when Edgar Prado gave him his head, D'Coach took off and began gobbling up ground with a stride very reminsicent of his sire. He turned the corner beautifully, but was still a good eight lengths back, as Soul of the Tiger bounded well clear of the field, opening a seven-length lead at the eighth pole.

D'Coach was all business as he lowered his head and just flew by the rest of the field. He began chopping into Soul of the Tiger's lead with every stride, but ran out of ground, finishing a length back. He closed his last quarter in:23 4/5 in a performance that brought back memories of Dehere's breathtaking stretch run in the Saratoga Special. D'Coach was purchased as a yearling at Keeneland September for $44,000 by John Perrotta, who happened to be the racing manager for Dehere's owner Robert Brennan.

No one knows how far Dehere would have gone. The champion 2-year-old of 1993 did win the Fountain of Youth before being injured, and is out of a Secretariat mare. But it is D'Coach's female family that assures he will relish a mile and a quarter. His dam Catatonic won the grade I Hempstead at Belmont Park. Her sire, the grade I-winning Big Spruce, just started getting going at a mile and a quarter. Big Spruce's sire is the major stamina influence Herbager, and D'Coach's other maternal great-grandsire, Graustark, is another of the elite stamina influences. If dosage means anything to you, this colt's DI is a mouth-watering 1.00, with a marvelously balanced profile of 2-5-12-4-3. Of course, D'Coach still has a ways to go before establishing himself as a top-class Derby contender, but, so far, you have to be impressed with what he's shown. And to add to his credentials, the colt he defeated so convincingly in his maiden score, River Gambler, is a full brother to champion Boston Harbor who came back to break his maiden impressively in his next start.

The day after D'Coach's race, Maybry's Boy turned in a similar effort. Dropping back from seven to six furlongs, the son of Broad Brush exploded from last in the five-horse field. As in D'Coach's race, the leader – in this case Spin Zone – opened up a 5 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole. Maybry's Boy came charging down the stretch, but just missed by a nose, while closing his final quarter in an eye-popping :23 2/5. Maybry's Boy, whom we discussed earlier, is an attractive gray, and a little bigger and stronger than D'Coach. He, like D'Coach, has a super disposition, and as Tenney said, "You wouldn't know they're around the barn."

So, McGaughey now heads into 2002 with three colts who have the style and the pedigree to develop into Derby contenders. Ironically, none of the three is owned by Ogden or Ogden Mills Phipps, although Saarland runs in the colors of Ogden's daughter Cynthia, who sports the family's Wheatley Stable purple and yellow silks. If you believe the time is right for the conservative McGaughey, as it was for the conservative Neil Dysdale and John Ward, then have fun following these three colts.

At Hollywood Park this past weekend, the Toffan-McCaffery-Gonzalez team sent out yet another runner when their Smokester colt Earl of Danby rated nicely off a rapid pace, then drew away to break his maiden at first asking by four widening lengths. With a final quarter in a sharp :24 3/5, he completed the six furlongs in 1:10 1/5.

In upcoming weeks, we'll be discussing several other youngsters to watch, including the Team Valor pair of Onthedeanslist, whom they purchased following his track-record-breaking victory at the Meadowlands in his career debut, and Battler Bob, a $425,000 2-year-old auction purchase who finished a solid second to Cottonwood Cowboy in his first career start. The horse Onthedeanslist defeated – Max's Buddy – came back and broke his maiden by 6 lengths on the turf at Hollywood Park Sunday. Then there is the exciting Midwest sensation Cashel Castle, who has won all three of his starts – at Arlington, Hawthorne, and Hoosier Park – by a combined 19 1/2 lengths, including an eight-length romp in the six-furlong Hoosier Juvenile on Nov. 24. And he did it coming from off the pace in fast times. His owner, Sandbar Farm, has already turned down several lucrative offers for the son of Silver Ghost.

In Northern Califoria, there is Cappuchino, winner of three of his four starts for Jerry Hollendorfer, including a victory in the six-furlong Golden Bear Stakes at Golden Gate on Nov. 24. At Calder on Saturday, O'Rocky, a son of Birdonthewire, won the What a Pleasure Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths at odds of 22-1. But it must be noted that his time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:47, compared to the 1:45 3/5 turned in by the 2-year-old filly Ms Brooski in the Three Ring Stakes the race before. Earlier on the card, Absolutely, by Pentelicus, broke his maiden wire-to-wire by 6 1/4 lengths in 1:25 2/5 for the seven furlongs.

Saturday's Hollywood Futurity looks like a very competitive race, with Siphonic heading a strong field that could consist of three Bob Baffert colts – Hawk's Top Gun, Mountain Rage, and Popular, a colt who really impressed us in the Hollywood Prevue Stakes. There is also the fast and tough Fonz's, winner of the Prevue; Arlington Futurity winner Publication, who was a fast-closing fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile; the Bobby Frankel-trained Labamta Babe, a solid third in the Hollywood Prevue; and Yougottawanna, who upset heavily favored Officer in the Cal Cup Juvenile.