Working overtime to figure race odds

Favorite could be sent off at highest price in history

Kentucky Derby notebook

April 29, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Mike Battaglia has set the morning-line odds for the Kentucky Derby since 1975. And he has never seen anything like this.

"I think this is the most evenly matched Derby field I've ever seen," he said. "I think it's going to be a heck of a Derby."

Also, he said, it might produce the highest-priced favorite in the history of the race. In the 127 runnings of the Derby, the coupled entry of Excellent Meeting and General Challenge in 1999 was the highest-priced favorite at 4.80-1, or 7-to-2 on the toteboard.

Battaglia said he might make Harlan's Holiday the 5-1 favorite in the morning line.

"And he might not even be favored," Battaglia said. "Buddha could be, or Johannesburg, or Came Home, or Medaglia d'Oro. I've never seen that in the Derby."

Waiting for spots

With the connections of 25 horses wanting to run in the Derby, a race limited to 20, a couple of good horses need defections to make the starting gate. The 25 are ranked by earnings in graded stakes. The five who could be excluded, in order of earnings, are Windward Passage, USS Tinosa, Sunday Break, Straight Gin and Red Masque.

Mayakovsky remains among the 20, but is not likely to run. He was scratched from the Derby Trial on Saturday because of muddy conditions at Churchill Downs. If Mayakovsky doesn't run in the Derby, Windward Passage would crack the lineup.

Choosing his words

The Todd Pletcher-trained Wild Horses, who earned a Derby berth with his second-place finish in the Arkansas Derby, breezed five furlongs in 1 minute, 1.20 seconds yesterday at Churchill Downs.

Afterward, John Fort of Peachtree Stable, which owns the Saint Ballado colt, explained how he named him.

"A lot of people think I named him for the Rolling Stones' song of the same name, but that isn't true," Fort said. "I'm afraid I wasn't much of a rocker.

"Actually, the name comes from the final lines in the novel Treasure Island, which my dad used to read to me at bedtime when I was 7 or 8 years old. One of the characters in the book states that wild horses couldn't get him to go back to Treasure Island as they are sailing away, and the phrase always stuck with me."

Getting down to work

It'sallinthechase, third in the Louisiana Derby, also breezed yesterday, completing five furlongs in 1 minute, 1.60 seconds.

Nearly half of the prospective field is scheduled for workouts this morning: Blue Burner, Came Home, Easy Grades, Lusty Latin, Medaglia d'Oro, Private Emblem, Proud Citizen, Saarland and Windward Passage.

Buddha breezed six sloppy furlongs in 1 minute, 13.42 seconds at Belmont Park's training track. Calling it a "superb" work, H. James Bond, his trainer, said the Wood Memorial winner would be vanned to Louisville overnight tonight.

Out and in doubt

Godolphin Racing's Tempera, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and 2001 champion 2-year-old filly, will not run Friday in the Kentucky Oaks. She's had a fever and has been lethargic. Imperial Gesture will now be Godolphin's lone representative in the Oaks.

Belterra's participation in the Oaks is also in doubt. Owned by Marylander Bob Manfuso, Belterra underwent surgery to correct a breathing problem and missed training after her third-place finish April 6 in the Ashland Stakes.

"She will gallop in the morning," her trainer, Carl Nafzger, said yesterday, "and I will talk more about her after she gallops."

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