04/15/2008 12:00AM

Cash the only concerns for Atoned, Tomcito

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LAS VEGAS - Keeneland's Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington Stakes this Saturday is the final prep for the Kentucky Derby, but it takes on added significance this year because it is the last chance for two Derby hopefuls - Atoned and Tomcito - to get enough graded stakes earnings to make it into the top 20. Eight 3-year-olds are expected to contest the Lexington at 1 1/16 miles, but the race is critical for Atoned and Tomcito.

Atoned finished fourth in the Illinois Derby April 5, and has been training smartly at Keeneland since that race and is bred for the Derby distance. By Repent (the best son of Preakness winner Louis Quatorze), he is out of the Icecapade mare Amidst and he has the RF (Rasmussen Factor) as he is inbred 5x4 to the remarkable broodmare Shenanigans, through her sons On to Glory (Bold Lad) and Icecapade (Nearctic). Also the dam of stakes winner Buckfinder (Buckpasser), Shenanigans will forever be remembered as the dam of Ruffian (Reviewer). Inbreeding to a superior producer like Shenanigans more often than not results in a Thoroughbred of quality. Shenanigans also produced Laughter (Bold Ruler), the dam of stakes winner and sire Private Terms, and Laughing Look, the dam of Coronado's Quest. This is the female family of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus. Atoned is also a half-brother to Major Wager, the dam of recent Bay Shore Stakes winner J Be K.

Tomcito, who has the rare distinction of racing - and winning - at the Kentucky Derby distance as well as the Belmont Stakes distance as a 2-year-old in Peru, finished third in the Florida Derby, his first start in this country and as a 3-year-old. While he was beaten 12 1/2 lengths by runaway winner Big Brown, Tomcito obviously needed that outing, and a better showing in the Lexington would propel him into the Derby, where his stamina-rich pedigree could really do some damage.

If Tomcito does win the Derby, he would make it back-to-back victories by the young stallion Street Cry, whose first crop included last year's Derby winner, Street Sense. In addition, Tomcito has Eastern Echo, Theatrical, Alleged, and Grey Dawn II up close in his pedigree, and his tail-female (dam, dam's dam, dam's granddam, etc.) family traces to Bourtai, one of racing's most influential broodmares. Prominent runners descending from Bourtai include champions Bayou, Shuvee, Slew o' Gold, Sacahuista, and Talking Picture, and stakes winners Big Spruce, Manta, Batteur, Thirty Six Red, Corrazona, Selari, Dike, Cabildo, Raging Fever, and Stormin Fever.

The other six probables in the Lexington are all by speed influences, and while they should handle the Lexington's 1 1/16 miles, the Derby distance is beyond their range. The field is expected to include Behindatthebar (Forest Wildcat), Big Glen (Cactus Ridge), Racecar Rhapsody (Tale of the Cat), Red Sandy (Yes It's True), Salute the Sarge (Forest Wildcat), and Samba Rooster (Songandaprayer).

At the distance, Salute the Sarge is a serious threat. Accomplished at 2, he won the Best Pal and Hollywood Juvenile Championship stakes and also was second in the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes. This year, Salute the Sarge won the San Miguel Stakes and he is a half-brother to stakes winners Chelokee and Mymich.

Monba is the real deal

Monba was among my top five 3-year-olds at the beginning of the year, but after a disastrous trip in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, where he was stepped on leaving a big gash in his leg, he needed throat surgery and seemed like a longshot to even make the Derby. After winning the Blue Grass Stakes last weekend, he is one of a handful of Derby runners who are really bred to love 1 1/4 miles. He undoubtedly has the talent and pedigree to win the Derby, but I am concerned that he will only have had one real race this year before the Derby.

Make no mistake, Monba is not just a Polytrack horse.

Monba already has a victory over the Churchill Downs strip, and despite a troubled trip, he finished a rallying fourth last year in the CashCall Futurity behind Colonel John on Hollywood's Cushion Track. Monba is by the late Maria's Mon, a champion at 2 who sired 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos in his first crop. Monba also comes from an impeccable female family cultivated by Alice Chandler and Hal Price Headley that traces to Alcibiades, a champion at 2 and 3 and considered one of the foundation mares of the last century. Monba's dam, Hamba, is by stamina influence Easy Goer and is a half-sister to four stakes winners: Secret Hello, Silent Account, Hadif, and By Your Leave. Monba's fifth dam is Hipparete, a daughter of Alcibiades and a full sister to 2-year-old champion Menow, the sire of Horse of the Year Tom Fool (the sire of Buckpasser).

If he can overcome the lack of seasoning, Monba is a major player in this year's Derby.