04/04/2008 11:00PM

Colonel John proves best of West


ARCADIA, Calif. - Colonel John asserted his position as the best of the West Coast's Kentucky Derby prospects on Saturday, when he overcame traffic on the final turn and roared down the stretch to take the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby.

A massive crowd track officials estimated at more than 50,000 took in the 71st Santa Anita Derby, which was run under cool, overcast conditions. But there was nothing cloudy about the performance of Colonel John, who proved much best and now heads to Churchill Downs as the likely third choice, behind Big Brown and Pyro, in the Derby on May 3.

Colonel John ($7.20) used long, powerful strides to reel in Bob Black Jack, who turned in a sensational performance racing at a distance likely beyond his optimum. Colonel John won by a half-length, with Coast Guard a length behind Bob Black Jack in third. Yankee Bravo was fourth and was followed, in order, by El Gato Malo, On the Virg, Shore Do, Meetingwithdestiny, Polonius, Rosso Corsa, and Signature Move.

Colonel John completed 1 1/8 miles on the synthetic surface in 1:48.16. The early fractions of 23.33 seconds, 47.57, 1:11.64, and 1:35.50 all belonged to Coast Guard, who led until Bob Black Jack took the lead passing the eighth pole.

The most impressive aspect of Colonel John's performance was that he was shuffled back from sixth to ninth on the final turn before closing furiously to win under jockey Corey Nakatani, who regained the mount when Garrett Gomez elected to ride Court Vision on Saturday in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

"I bided my time," Nakatani said. "When I called on him, he made his run."

Colonel John, a son of Tiznow, has 4 wins and 2 seconds in 6 starts. Eoin Harty trains Colonel John for the WinStar Farm of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt, who also bred Colonel John.

Every race for Colonel John has been on a synthetic surface in California. Harty said Colonel John would have two works at Santa Anita, then go to Churchill Downs 12 days out. "Then he'll have one work, and I'll pray," Harty said.

The disappointment in the race was El Gato Malo, who who was sent off the 9-5 favorite to Colonel John's 5-2. El Gato Malo, shuffled back to 10th early, made a powerful move on the far turn, but flattened out.

"Disappointing," said his jockey David Flores. "He didn't finish."

The loss also was heartbreaking for Bob Black Jack's trainer, James Kasparoff, who looked near tears walking off the track.

"Tough beat," Kasparoff said. "He just got beat by a better horse."