Favorite for Derby may begin to grow out of Blue Grass

April 09, 1993|By Bill Finley | Bill Finley,New York Daily News

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Corby, an unknown, has won one race of consequence, the San Rafael. This year, that's all it takes. Corby, an unknown with a stakes victory, is the consensus favorite for the May 1 Kentucky Derby.

Which, in a spring when there often has been no telling the best from the rest, makes him only slightly different than everyone else. Between now and Derby Day, Corby must do something more; he needs to be legitimized. For him and eight others, that may happen tomorrow at Keeneland, where Corby is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the $500,000 Blue Grass Stakes, by far the best Derby prep race run this year.

In a year when 19 graded stakes races run so far for 3-year-olds have been won by 19 different horses, someone finally may step forward and show he deserves to be No. 1.

"I don't think anyone disagrees; the favorite for the Kentucky Derby is going to come out of this," said Jerry Bailey, the rider of Blue Grass starter and Champagne winner Sea Hero. "It's by far the best group we've seen this year."

Bailey is only partly right. A bad horse could win the Blue Grass and still be dismissed three weeks from now at Churchill Downs, but that's not likely to happen. In Corby, Dixieland Heat and Prairie Bayou, the 1 1/8-mile race has three quality horses who easily could emerge as the one to beat in Louisville. Living Vicariously, Lykatill Hil, Sea Hero and Wallenda are all decent horses with a chance. Halostrada and Pawpaw Hank do not belong.

Corby appeared to be nothing more than a good grass horse at 2, but stumbled into a dirt race when his first start of 1993 was taken off the turf. He won that by five lengths and was on his way to a San Rafael victory that stamped him as California's best.

"He was kind of nervous last year, so we went slow and easy with him," trainer John Sadler said. "We spaced his races, took our time and that seems to have helped. We thought right along he could run on both surfaces and we always intended to switch him back for these big races."

There is no faulting Dixieland Heat's record, only his competition. Undefeated in five career starts, he never has raced outside of Louisiana and must prove himself against a field of this quality.

"This horse gives you a lot of confidence," trainer Gerald Romero said. "He does everything right and he's not a horse you have to worry about. I'd rather be undefeated than beaten. All horses are beatable, but he's good right now and I don't think we've seen the best of him."

Prairie Bayou emerged from stakes races over the winter track at Aqueduct to win the Jim Beam. But even that was against a suspect field, and many feel that Prairie Bayou is in the same position as Dixieland Heat.

Two other factors to watch tomorrow will be the weather and the pace. Showers are forecast and a sloppy track is a distinct possibility. The Blue Grass also shapes up as a race with little early speed. Pawpaw Hank likely will go to the front in slow early fractions, but he probably doesn't have the ability to last.

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