12/22/2009 12:00AM

3-year-old muscle in these 4 barns

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Barbara D. Livingston
Lookin at Lucky is one of a handful of potential Derby horses in Bob Baffert's barn. Eoin Harty, Jerry Hollendorfer, and John Sadler also have several good ones.

ARCADIA, Calif. - If there is strength in numbers, trainers like Bob Baffert, Eoin Harty, Jerry Hollendorfer, and John Sadler have been hitting the weight room. Led by the Baffert-trained Lookin at Lucky, the likely Eclipse Award winner as champion 2-year-old male, many of the West Coast's best prospects for next spring's Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are concentrated in those barns.

The road to Churchill Downs can have many twists and turns, but Santa Anita, which opens on Saturday, has a dynamic stakes program for both males and females that offers a clear path to those classics. In fact, from last week's CashCall Futurity through the Santa Anita Derby on April 3, there is more than $2 million in all-important graded stakes money available to Derby prospects on the Southern California circuit. Baffert has made the most of the California trail to the Derby in recent years. Since 1996, he has won the Santa Anita Derby five times, including this past year with Pioneerof the Nile.

He is sitting in a good spot yet again. Last Saturday, Baffert won four 2-year-old races at Hollywood Park, including with Lookin at Lucky in the CashCall Futurity. But Lookin at Lucky is not a cinch to run in the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 3. After an extended vacation, Lookin at Lucky might have his preps for the May 1 Kentucky Derby at either Oaklawn Park or Aqueduct, Baffert said.

Regardless, Baffert will be well represented at Santa Anita. Among his other top prospects is Tiz Chrome, a recent private purchase who was a dazzling four-length winner of the Stuka Stakes last Saturday at Hollywood Park. Tiz Chrome is expected to make his next start in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Vicente Stakes on Feb. 15.

"He's a pretty serious horse," Baffert said.

Baffert also has high hopes for Clutch Player and Quiet Invader, both of whom were stylish winners against maidens last weekend, and Conveyance, who was a runaway winner against allowance horses at Hollywood Park.

"I've got a lot of nice horses," he said. "I've got to keep them spread out. There's a lot of derbies out there."

Sadler's Derby prospects are led by Sidney's Candy, who is nearing a return after showing great promise last summer at Del Mar.

"I think he's our number one contender," Sadler said. "He's turned into a big, beautiful horse."

Twirling Candy, a fast maiden winner at Hollywood Park, and the comebacking Dave in Dixie also rate high in Sadler's barn.

Hollendorfer, the longtime Northern California kingpin, is now firmly established in Southern California, and has seen the quality of his stakes horses rise. His best Derby prospect might be Lion's Story, who is nearing a return after being sidelined with shin troubles following a win at Del Mar on Aug. 1.

"I think he'll get ready pretty quick," said Dan Ward, Hollendorfer's local assistant. "He's not a big, heavy horse."

Harty decided to bypass the CashCall Futurity with American Lion, the Hollywood Prevue winner, to await the Santa Anita meeting.

"That was a very tough spot for an inexperienced horse," Harty said.

Harty's other top prospects - Beach Rock, Brave Prospect, Screaming Destiny, and Victory With Honor - are maidens who will be seen early in the meet. Screaming Destiny and Victory With Honour are entered in the final race opening day.

New to the local scene this winter is Kenny McPeek, who is giving Noble's Promise a brief freshening following his second-place finish in the CashCall Futurity.

Other Derby prospects worth following are Caracortado, a two-time winner at Hollywood Park for trainer Mike Machowsky, and Hawaiian Springs, who rallied furiously to win his debut at Hollywood for trainer Kathy Walsh.

The leading local contender for the April 30 Kentucky Oaks is Blind Luck, who crushed her rivals in last weekend's Hollywood Starlet.

Hollendorfer, who trains Blind Luck, has a deep bench with his fillies. His other Oaks prospects include the unbeaten She's Funomenal, who won the Ifyoucouldseemenow Stakes at Hollywood Park, and Five Silver Stars, a newcomer to this circuit who won by 10 lengths at Prairie Meadows in August.

Sadler's top filly may be Crisp, who rallied to beat maidens on Dec. 10 after trying to blow the final turn. Despite a moderate Beyer Speed Figure of 73, "the phone's been ringing off the hook for her," Sadler said. She is not for sale. Sadler also has Switch, a Quiet American filly who was a first-out winner on Dec. 13.