2002 Kentucky Derby: Steve Haskin Looks Ahead

Derby fever, in November? Heck, why not. The Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner is tucked away somewhere in Ireland, and until word surfaces from the usually tight-lipped Coolmore people, he will remain out of sight in winter hibernation. Whether or not a full-grown grizzly bear is going to emerge next year, and whether he's going to come back here looking for more easy pickins we won't know for a while.

For now, we have plenty to look forward to on all three major fronts. There is the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct and the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs, both on Nov. 24, then the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 15.

It's going to take something extraordinary to take the Eclipse Award away from Johannesburg, but then again, the Eclipse key hasn't fit the Kentucky Derby lock for over 20 years. So, for now, let's forget Johannesburg, whose pedigree, although strong in many ways, does not exactly shout mile and a quarter.

The Remsen and the Kentucky Jockey Club should showcase several top-class colts with Derby pedigrees, but it is the Hollywood Futurity that is the most intriguing. From what we've seen so far, there is no more legitimate Derby horse than Siphonic, an extremely talented and good-looking son of Siphon who has turned in three terrific efforts, and looks like a colt who will only get better. What he did in the Breeders' Futurity off only one sprint was remarkable. And his race in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was excellent, considering he was stuck down on the rail the whole way, and still was able to put away a pair of brilliant undefeated colts in Officer and Came Home before tiring a bit in the final furlong.

He has stamina throughout his pedigree, and all six sires in his third and fourth generation on his dam's side are either classic winners or the sire of classic winners. And he's in capable hands with classic-winning trainer Dave Hofmans and jockey Jerry Bailey. If he runs in the Hollywood Futurity, he could very well be favored over Officer. While we like Siphonic for the long haul, this may very well be a great spot for all of you who have not deserted the Officer bandwagon.

Despite Officer's two defeats, we still firmly believe this is an exceptional colt with a world of talent. Because of an abundance of speed in his tail female family, there definitely are major concerns about his ability to get a mile and a quarter in early May. But for now, we're looking for a huge effort in the Hollywood Futurity. You have to remember, this is a colt who had never been tested in his life before the Breeders' Cup. Everything came so easy for him, it made it all the more difficult to cope with stiff challenges from both sides after fighting on the lead the whole way. In this race and in the subsequent Cal Cup Juvenile, he had a short lead turning for home, but began backing up as soon as he was hit with the whip, something that was foreign to him after his five strolls in the park.

His defeat in the Cal Cup in our opinion was not as important as the unbelievable move he made, from 11th to first through quarters in :23 and :23 3/5. Cal-breds or no Cal-breds, a move like that has to take its toll on a 2-year-old, especially one who had traveled 12,000 miles in less than a month and who was coming off a tough race against the best juveniles in the world the week before. Trainer Bob Baffert wanted to find out right away just what he had and whether he could settle off the pace and make one run. In that respect, he succeeded. Now, he has time to make any necessary adjustments for the Hollywood Futurity. Officer was reported to have lost his air in the Juvenile when he displaced his palate, and may have lost it again in the Cal Cup after such a powerful, sustained run. We just want to see what he can do when allowed to relax and run his race. If he gets the kind of trip he likes on Dec. 15, there is no reason why he can't return to top form.

Another promising colt to watch is Striking Song, who was very impressive breaking his maiden at Santa Anita Oct. 8, and who has worked brilliantly since that race. The son of Unbridled's Song, out of a Groovy mare, is trained by Bob Hess.

Remsen Stakes

No more than six or seven are expected for the 1 1/8-mile race, which will be highlighted by a return match between the two sons of Gulch – Listen Here and Monthir – who slugged it out in the Oct. 26 Nashua Stakes. Both colts have good, solid pedigrees top and bottom and unlimited futures. Listen Here, trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Jerry Bailey, is undefeated in three starts, and looks to be the consummate pro, doing everything the right way. He has excellent tactical speed, a good closing punch, and a willingness to duke it out. He appears to be a bit more advanced than Monthir, a colt we feel still has a good deal of improving left to do. He was extremely impressive breaking his maiden by six lengths, and ran a gutsy race in the Nashua, hanging on tenaciously when challenged by Listen Here. Trainer Mark Hennig feels he's still green and has to learn to put horses away. He's still not 100 percent focused, but that will change with experience. His pedigree is a little more geared to stamina than Listen Here, and he should keep getting better as the distances stretch out. He's a good-looking, promising colt and definitely is one you want to keep your eye on next year.

The Remsen should also attract Shug McGaughey's grand-looking colt Saarland, who has enormous potential, but so far hasn't been able to be competitive against the top 2-year-olds. He stumbled at the start of the Champagne and bled in the race, but didn't do much running in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. By Unbridled out of Versailles Treaty, you won't find a better pedigree. It's just a matter of time before this big colt gets his act together. The two turns of the Remsen definitely will be a big help. Another colt to watch for next year is the Todd Pletcher-trained Nokoma. The son of Pulpit broke his maiden in his second start after stretching out to 1 1/16 miles. He's probably not ready to handle experienced stakes horses like these, but all he has to do is show enough to make the big leap into his 3-year-old campaign.

Wayne Lukas may send the regally bred Storm Cat colt Major Storm back in the Remsen following his 14-length beating in the Nashua. Lukas' Seattle Slew colt Gold Dollar finished third in the Iroquois, beaten 4 1/2 lengths at 9-1.

Mott has another son of Gulch worth watching. Center, bred in New York and out of a Storm Bird mare, broke his maiden going a mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 4 with Bailey aboard.

Kentucky Jockey Club

The 1 1/16-mile race will be headed by Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Repent, a son of Preakness winner Louis Quatorze, whose female family is made up predominantly of Argentinean, French, and British influences. With a dosage index of 1.50, distance obviously will be no problem for this late-running colt. Trainer Kenny McPeek also has Iroquois winner Harlan's Holiday, who could run here with his stablemate or go up to New York for the Remsen. That's not all from McPeek. His Notable Editor, by Editor's Note, woke up after three poor efforts, breaking maiden at Keeneland by 2 3/4 lengths going 1 1/16 miles on Oct. 11. And Who's the Hero broke his maiden for a $30,000 claiming tag by 10 3/4 lengths on Nov. 11.


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