Updated on 09/17/2011 11:21PM

Deep, promising group at 4


LAS VEGAS - As usual, the 3-year-olds are getting all the headlines on their way to the Triple Crown, but the older male division this year is promising to be a corker.

Although Afleet Alex has been retired to stud, many of last year's 3-year-olds who make up the core of this year's older runners are returning, and some have already served notice that they will be a force at 4.

High Limit won last year's Louisiana Derby in just his third start, and after finishing second in the Blue Grass Stakes, he finished last of 20 in the Kentucky Derby. He did show his customary early speed in the Preakness but faded to fifth. Two months later, he was third in the Leonard Richards, and then trainer Bobby Frankel tried him on turf, where he was fourth in the Hall of Fame Stakes and seventh in the Del Mar Derby. Away since September, a fresh and in-form High Limit won the San Pasqual Handicap on Jan. 7 over Buckland Manor and Spellbinder, who won last weekend's San Antonio Handicap. Last Saturday, High Limit ran his best race yet, winning the Strub Stakes by 4 1/2 lengths.

Giacomo, last year's Kentucky Derby winner, raced well to finish third in the Strub, which was his first effort since he was seventh in the Belmont Stakes. A healthy Giacomo adds much luster to a very good group of older horses.

High Limit is by the underrated sire Maria's Mon, a champion at 2 who was injured before the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Maria's Mon returned at 3 but was never the same, and his first crop yielded Monarchos, who won the 2001 Kentucky Derby.

High Limit is out of the unraced mare Known Romance (Known Fact) and descends from the good female family of Intentional Move. High Limit's second dam is a half-sister to stakes winners Gold Mover and Dance Teacher. But the most important aspect of High Limit's pedigree is that Known Romance carries the Rasmussen Factor (inbreeding to a superior female within five generations through different individuals) to the blue hen producer Tamerett through Tamerett's sons Known Fact and Tentam. Tamerett's significant influence on the breed is mostly seen through her daughter Secrettame, the dam of Gone West.

Last year's juvenile champion, Stevie Wonderboy, who recently suffered a condylar fracture and is out of the Derby, is also an example of the RF, since he is inbred to the coveted broodmare Weekend Surprise through her sons A.P. Indy and Summer Squall. Keyed Entry, who defeated First Samurai and set a track record in the Hutcheson Stakes, is yet another RF. He is inbred to Tartan Farm's exceptional broodmare Grand Splendor.

Nick Zito had an army of 3-year-olds for last year's Kentucky Derby, headed by Bellamy Road, whose brilliant performance in the Wood Memorial made him the Derby favorite. Bellamy Road was injured in the Derby, however, and finished out of the money. He showed that the Wood Memorial was no fluke, however, when he returned from a three-month layoff and finished second to Flower Alley in the 1 1/4-mile Travers. He was reinjured prepping for the Breeders' Cup Classic, but is scheduled to return this year.

Todd Pletcher's most accomplished older runners are Travers Stakes winner Flower Alley and Magna Graduate, but two of his 4-year-old colts who were sidelined last year, Harlington and Bandini, could live up to their vast potential.

Harlington was on the Derby trail last year, but an injury prevented him from competing in any of the Triple Crown races. He looked very sharp off a long layoff when he won an allowance at Aqueduct last fall, and was scheduled to make his 4-year-old debut in an optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream Park on Wednesday.

From the last crop of Unbridled and out of champion racemare and outstanding broodmare Serena's Song, Harlington is bred to be a major factor as an older runner, and it is safe to say that we have not seen his best yet.

Bandini won the Blue Grass Stakes last year but came out of the Kentucky Derby with an ankle chip. He is training in Florida and is not far from a race. From the first crop of Fusaichi Pegasus, Bandini is out of stakes-placed Divine Dixie, and his second dam is Santa Anita Oaks winner Hail Atlantis, who is the dam of Stormy Atlantic. Bandini's fourth dam is 1965 co-Horse of the Year and champion 2-year-old filly Moccasin, who was undefeated in eight starts at 2.

Other older horses who have returned or are set to return this year are last year's sprint champion, Lost in the Fog, and Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Silver Train, as well as Commentator, Borrego, Magna Graduate, Andromeda's Hero, Pies Prospect, Suave, Perfect Drift, Rockport Harbor, Sir Shackleton, Congrats, Imperialism, and Wilko.