Derby favorites' list: Shifting sands

March 15, 1994|By Joseph Durso | Joseph Durso,N.Y. Times News Service

HALLANDALE, Fla. -- Bill Mott broke a record for trainers at Gulfstream Park yesterday when he saddled his 32nd winner of the meeting, Dahlia's Dreamer.

But the horse he really wanted to see win was Lahint, who ran 10th in the Florida Derby two days ago just when people were touting him as a major candidate on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

"He had his shot," Mott said, making no excuses for Lahint. "It was the first time he faced horses who could really run. Maybe he got a little discouraged."

If Lahint got discouraged, he had good reason. He finished 24 lengths behind Holy Bull, who took the lead and never looked back.

This was the same Holy Bull who had trouble breathing in the homestretch of the Fountain of Youth Stakes three weeks earlier and struggled home in last place. But now, breathing and running freely, he won the Florida Derby by 5 3/4 lengths and raced to the top of the list of candidates on the twisting road to Louisville.

The rankings on the road change almost every time they run a big race for 3-year-old colts someplace. After the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November, the California star Brocco was considered the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

After the Fountain of Youth Stakes, the New Jersey star Dehere was anointed. Then Dehere cracked his right hind ankle bone and withdrew for six months of treatment and rest. And when his rival Holy Bull bounced back to dominate the Florida Derby, it was Holy Bull's turn to lead the parade.

That is, he will lead it at least until Sunday, when Brocco makes his delayed 1994 debut in the San Felipe Stakes at a mile and one-sixteenth at Santa Anita.

The debut was delayed because his training schedule was disrupted by some minor aches and pains, and heavy rains in California in January made it difficult for a horse in training to regroup.

So, Holy Bull now has won six races out of seven starts leading all the way. Well, almost. Patton got half a length in front of him in the stretch of the Hutcheson Stakes, but Holy Bull rallied and put him away. Still, the question remains: Can he win a race any other way?

"I think so," replied his owner and trainer, Jimmy Croll. "He likes to get out front and run. But I didn't plan the Florida Derby that way. There was lots of speed in the race. I told Mike Smith before the race that, if he got hooked by somebody, he should take Holy Bull back a bit and save ground, and after that it's your call. But nobody challenged him, so he just kept rolling."

Holy Bull kept rolling right in the direction of Kentucky, where he will appear at Keeneland on April 16 in the $500,000 Blue Grass Stakes. It is a mile and an eighth long, and just 70 miles down the road from Louisville, where the next race is the main event: the Kentucky Derby on May 7.

Ride the Rails, who beat Dehere in February and ran second to Holy Bull on Saturday, will take his route to Kentucky through Oaklawn, where he will run in the Arkansas Derby at a mile and an eighth on April 23.

And Go for Gin, who probably outranked Holy Bull until he ran fourth in the Florida Derby, will take the northern route to Kentucky when he runs in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct at a mile and an eighth on April 16, the same day Holy Bull performs in the Blue Grass.

By then, Brocco and Valiant Nature and Tabasco Cat will have staged the big western shootout on April 9 when they meet in the Santa Anita Derby, also at a mile and an eighth, also for $500,000.

Can any of them go the extra furlong and win at a mile and a quarter at Churchill Downs?

None of them has tried it yet, and no blood lines can guarantee it. But Holy Bull seems to do what some other winning horses do: He outruns even his own pedigree.

Bill Mott? Well, he broke the record for trainers at Gulfstream Park when Dahlia's Dreamer won the ninth race, giving Mott 32 winners in 60 days and breaking the record set in 1987 by the late Tom Kelley. But Mott would still rather win one big one on May 7.

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