10/01/2008 12:00AM

Darley well stocked with contenders


If you subscribe to the theory that there is strength in numbers, then nobody is stronger with 2-year-olds than Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Darley Stable.

Entering the final round of prep races for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile - to be run Oct. 25 at Santa Anita - Darley has no fewer than four legitimate prospects for the race and is likely to add an additional major player before the big race.

Coronet of a Baron, Regal Ransom, Girolamo, and Majestic Blue give Darley four very solid Juvenile candidates. When Darley's deal to buy all the assets of Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable closes - which is likely to happen by mid-October - Darley will add Del Mar Futurity winner Midshipman to the fold. Another prospect, Desert Party, is dealing with filling in a leg and is likely to miss the Juvenile, barring a quicker-than-expected recovery.

"These are exciting times," said Jim Bell, president of Darley USA. "We're fortunate to have a few that have shown they want to be racehorses."

Coronet of a Baron, a son of Pure Prize trained by Eoin Harty, will train up to the Juvenile after having had a hard race when beaten a nose by Midshipman in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. Coronet of a Baron was a debut winner at Arlington Park and finished third but was elevated to second by the stewards in the Grade 2 Best Pal at Del Mar in August.

Darley decided to ship the impressive debut winner Regal Ransom, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, from New York to California for Sunday's Grade 1, $250,000 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita. Regal Ransom, a son of Distorted Humor was a debut winner at Saratoga on Aug. 25, beating next-out winners Brave Victory and Royal Vindication. He was being pointed to the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 4 before Desert Party was diagnosed with his problem.

Majestic Blue is being pointed to the Lane's End, with Girolamo, the fourth-place finisher in the Belmont Futurity, expected to run back in the Champagne at Belmont Oct. 4.

"In all honesty, we're trying to find out as much as anybody really where these colts stack up," Bell said. "I think this is kind of like the Final Four in basketball: You get past the next round and see who's eligible to move forward. At that point in time, Sheikh Mohammed will have some views on really how he'd like to see this group move forward."

Success in the final round of preps doesn't necessarily guarantee a spot in the Juvenile. Five years ago, Darley's Ruler's Court won the Norfolk by 14 lengths but was kept out of the Juvenile to aim for a 3-year-old season, one he missed due to injury.

"I think the philosophy is still the same," Bell said. "We are trying to develop and identify young stock that we feel can be the type of horse or horses that can participate in the UAE Derby and from there use that as a springboard to the Kentucky Derby."

Though Regal Ransom won his debut on dirt, he spent most of the summer training over the Polytrack at the Greentree facility owned by Sheikh Mohammed adjacent to Saratoga.

"He trained freakishly on it up there, but he's run freakish on dirt," McLaughlin said. "On all [speed] figures, he's our fastest 2-year-old."

That's saying a lot considering McLaughlin trains Majestic Blue and Girolamo for Darley as well as Charitable Man for William Warren. Charitable Man, a son of Lemon Drop Kid, won his debut by 11 1/2 lengths at Saratoga before winning the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont. He is being pointed straight to the Juvenile, McLaughlin said.

This weekend, the focus in the juvenile division will be on the Norfolk, where Midshipman, trained by Bob Baffert, will attempt to stretch out from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles. Midshipman is a son of 1995 Juvenile winner Unbridled's Song.

"You don't know until you try, but I don't see any doubts about him going long," Baffert said. "He's still green. The talent's there, he's really improving."

The Champagne is expected to draw the top four finishers from the Hopeful, including Vineyard Haven, Cribnote, Munnings, and Break Water Edison as well as Girolamo and Gone Astray. Bobby Frankel, who trains and is the majority owner of Hopeful winner Vineyard Haven, has not decided yet whether he wants to run Vineyard Haven over Santa Anita's synthetic surface in the Juvenile.

Run Away and Hide, who has won all three of his starts, including the Saratoga Special, missed some training time due to a foot bruise and will most likely have to train up to the Juvenile, trainer Ronny Werner said. Run Away and Hide returned to the work tab Wednesday, working four furlongs in 49.60 seconds at Churchill Downs.