05/01/2003 11:00PM

Derby runner profile: Indian Express

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STRENGTHS: Utah-bred was a bargain-priced ($4,500) yearling purchase, and he has outrun everyone's expectations in just four career starts. Smoked the opposition down in Panama in his first two outings as a 2-year-old, proving himself worthy of a chance at better. Indian Express hasn't disappointed since joining the Derby-winning Baffert barn, with respectable performances in both of his starts this year. Moved forward with a very game effort in the Santa Anita Derby in his first try at a route to earn his ticket to Louisville. There is plenty of upside left to his development as he makes his third start of year, and the effort against a more seasoned competitor like Buddy Gill holds promise that Indian Express has the heart to be a champion.

WEAKNESSES: Skeptics will be quick to say that he doesn't have enough foundation to go the classic distance and that the Santa Anita Derby was not a particularly strong race compared to other Derby preps. In addition, Indian Express's forward running style may bring more pressure than an inexperienced horse can handle.

STRATEGY: Hasn't had many opportunities to vary his running style so he is likely to try the same tactics that earned him his right to challenge for the roses, namely gun for the lead and fight it out till the finish.

VALUE: Coming from the Baffert barn, Indian Express may draw more attention at the windows than a horse of his type usually would, but the higher-profile runners are likely to cast a long shadow on his odds. Anything more than 20-1 should be considered an overlay.

PEDIGREE PROFILE

SIRE LINE: Indian Charlie was one of last year's most exciting freshman stallions, and in addition to Indian Express, who was second in the Santa Anita Derby, he is also the sire of Eugene's Third Son, second in this year's Arkansas Derby. Indian Charlie won the Santa Anita Derby and finished third as the favorite in the 1998 Derby, his last race. Indian Charlie is the best offspring of In Excess, one of the premier sires of speed standing in California. Male-tail sire line of Caro, who sired the 1988 Derby winner, Winning Colors.

FEMALE FAMILY: Liba's Choice is a half-sister to multiple Group 1 stakes winner Heartlight No. One, and to Soul Light, the dam of Super Derby winner Soul of the Matter. Afternoon Deelites also comes from this family.

PEDIGREE PATTERN: Indian Express gets speed from Indian Charlie, and some stamina from Halo (Hail to Reason) and Tell (Round Table). The probable pacesetter but unlikely to last 1 1/4 miles, especially if pressured by Funny Cide and Peace Rules.

- Pedigree profile by Lauren Stich