`Holiday' settles in, pulls away in Florida

Fierce pace helps

Booklet ends up 4th

March 17, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Harlan's Holiday delivered the first defining performance of the year by a 3-year-old yesterday in the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

He ran a flawless race in winning by 3 1/2 lengths and declared to all the racing world that maybe, just maybe, the road to the Kentucky Derby will twist with interest and turn with intrigue, after all. Until today, the Derby trail resembled a dull, straight road to nowhere.

Harlan's Holiday and his jockey, Edgar Prado, took advantage of a record pace - a brutal duel between Booklet and Smooth Jazz - to rocket into the lead midway around the far turn and draw off straight and true to the wire.

An Ohio-bred son of Harlan purchased for $97,000 as a yearling, Harlan's Holiday has never finished worse than second. Of nine races, he has won five and placed in four.

"He's a horse who seems to be getting better and better and better," said Ken McPeek, his trainer. "I still think he's got a little peaking to do."

McPeek trains two, and maybe three, of the top Derby contenders. Repent, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, captured the Louisiana Derby last weekend at the Fair Grounds. McPeek also wants to nominate Take Charge Lady, his speedy filly, to the Triple Crown.

Repent, a closer, was considered McPeek's No. 1 Derby hope - until yesterday.

"Harlan's Holiday may have an advantage because of his tactical speed," McPeek said. "With the race he ran today, he could be the better horse."

Prado steered Harlan's Holiday, the 8-5 favorite, comfortably to the rail when Booklet and Smooth Jazz sizzled in their own race on the front end.

With Smooth Jazz attached like a sidecar, Booklet zipped through the first quarter-mile in 22.47 seconds and the half-mile in 45.36 seconds.

The time for the quarter-mile tied the Florida Derby record set by Holy Bull in 1994 and matched by Lil's Lad in 1998. The smoking half-mile demolished the mark of 46 seconds shared by three horses.

Racing so fast so early cost the front-runners any chance of winning. Harlan's Holiday bided his time down the backstretch and then, entering the far turn, began gaining with every stride.

He cruised past the leaders on the turn all alone. Only Blue Burner, who went off at 8-1, saved face with a respectable rally for second.

"The pace set up beautiful for us," said Prado, the former Maryland star now firmly established as one of the best riders in the country. "At the top of the stretch, I knew we were in good shape. I was never worried about any of the horses behind me."

Peekskill, at 96-1 the longest shot in the race, claimed third, 6 3/4 lengths behind Blue Burner. Booklet held on for fourth, followed by Monthir, D'Coach, Nokoma, High Star, Puck, Smooth Jazz and Personal Reward.

Harlan's Holiday paid $5.40 to win and headed a $44.80 exacta, $1,355 trifecta and $6,133.80 superfecta. He completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1 minute 48.80 seconds, the fourth-fastest Florida Derby in the past 20 years.

Jorge Chavez, the rider of Booklet, the 3-1 second choice, was angry with Mark Guidry, Smooth Jazz's jockey, for his hot early pursuit.

"It's hard to win a race, or ride a race, when someone else is riding your horse on purpose," Chavez said. "He should have ridden his horse, not mine."

Guidry said his instructions from Smooth Jazz's trainer, Todd Pletcher, were to make the lead.

Pletcher took over the colt's training only two weeks ago after Michael Tabor, one of his clients, bought Smooth Jazz from Tony Dutrow, the Maryland trainer.

Fading pathetically to next-to-last, Smooth Jazz probably wished he were back in Dutrow's barn.

Smooth Jazz might have been sent to the front as a "rabbit" for his new stablemate, the late-running Nokoma. But the smoking pace didn't help Nokoma, who, in the words of his jockey, John Velazquez, "didn't have anything."

John Ward Jr., Booklet's trainer, took the tactic in stride.

"He was too keen. He went out there too fast," Ward said of Booklet. "We'll go to Keeneland and the Blue Grass and teach him to relax a little bit."

McPeek said Harlan's Holiday would run next in the Illinois Derby, Blue Grass Stakes or Wood Memorial Stakes. The Kentucky Derby is May 4 at Churchill Downs.

NOTE: Ethan Man, one of the best young sprinters in the country, drew away to win the $150,000 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream. A son of Glitterman trained by Pat Byrne, the bay colt scored by three lengths as the 3-5 favorite, completing the seven furlongs in 1 minute 22.29 seconds.

The second and third betting choices, Listen Here and Governor Hickel, finished second and third, respectively. The exacta paid $6.40, the trifecta $10.60. Ethan Man paid $3.40 to win.

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