Prep wins haven't converted doubters

Upcoming races may clear picture

Horse Racing

March 19, 2007|By Bob Mieszerski | Bob Mieszerski,LOS ANGELES TIMES

The $500,000 Lane's End Stakes, which will be run Saturday at Kentucky's Turfway Park, is the significant prep for the Kentucky Derby this weekend.

The race is also the first steppingstone to the Derby that will be run on a synthetic surface this year. Turfway has Polytrack, as does Keeneland, the home of the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes, one of the last and more important preps for the world's most famous race.

One of the 3-year-olds pointing for the Blue Grass, which will be run April 14, is Street Sense, the 2-year-old champion of 2006 who won a thrilling - and fast - Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs in his return on Saturday.

Using the same rail rally he had when running away with the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs, Street Sense prevailed by a nose over Any Given Saturday in track record time (1 minute, 43.11 seconds for 1 1/16 miles) in probably the best Derby prep run anywhere this year.

Some have dismissed Street Sense as a legitimate Derby contender for two reasons. First, he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last fall, and no Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has taken the Derby. Second, he will have only two preps leading into the May 5 Derby, and many so-called experts believe a horse needs at least three.

Curlin will also have doubters because he didn't run as a 2-year-old, but the son of Smart Strike looked every bit a serious Derby candidate the way he won the Rebel on Saturday at Oaklawn Park.

Purchased for a figure reported to be in excess of $3 million after he defeated maidens by daylight in his sprint debut at Gulfstream Park in Florida. Curlin has two wins by a combined margin of more than 18 lengths and showed he isn't a need-to-lead type in winning the Rebel from off the pace.

Cobalt Blue, who is owned by Merv Griffin, has more to prove. He won in the San Felipe on Saturday at Santa Anita, but had everything in his favor. His chore will get tougher wherever he surfaces next - whether it be the Illinois Derby on April 7 at Hawthorne or the Arkansas Derby a week later at Oaklawn.

Bob Mieszerski writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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