04/07/2002 11:00PM

Everyone may want him soon


LEXINGTON, Ky. - John Toffan discovered gold in Canada to pave his way into Thoroughbred racing. He and partner Trudy McCaffery made another discovery when they tried to sell one of the colts they bred and own. They couldn't do it.

In November of 1999, they had a weanling in the Keeneland sale. He failed to make his reserve, was bought back for $650,000, and came home. Buyers thought enough of his dam, Nice Assay, to buy her at the same sale for $1.7 million but no one wanted the Gone West colt.

The following September, at Keeneland's fall yearling sale, he was on the block once again but failed to make his reserve, was bought back for $300,000, and came home. In March of last year, he was offered a third time, at Barretts 2-year-old sale, failed to meet his reserve, was bought back for $145,000, and came home.

Toffan and McCaffery decided to race him themselves, and only one name was suitable. Came Home developed rapidly for trainer Paco Gonzalez, and won his first start by eight lengths. He won the Hollywood Juvenile in his second start by four lengths, then went to Saratoga to capture the important Hopeful Stakes. Will Farish, the breeder and U.S. ambassador to England, and a partner, John Goodman of Texas, bought a half-interest following the Hopeful in the colt nobody wanted.

Came Home took another major step forward Saturday with his authoritative victory as the 11-10 favorite in the Santa Anita Derby. Always prominent under Chris McCarron, he finished well to score by more than two lengths and earn a berth in the Kentucky Derby. He has won six of seven starts, and his consistency makes him a top prospect at Churchill Downs, even though his winning time of 1:50.02 was moderate.

Easy Grades, who finished second, also turned in a fine performance to earn a berth in the Kentucky Derby, despite trouble with his bridle that surely compromised his chances. Mayakovsky, the Gotham winner, was the victim of poor racing luck. He stumbled badly out of the gate, and though he recovered quickly, the effort was expensive and he ran out of fuel. His people have decided to approach him as a miler for the immediate future and he may make an appearance in the Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Filly a powerful force

While the 3-year-old colts were continuing to look competitive at Santa Anita last weekend, Take Charge Lady wrote a new chapter in her domination of the 3-year-old filly division by winning Keeneland's $500,000 Ashland Stakes by more than four lengths. A Dehere filly, Take Charge Lady is undefeated this season in three starts, all stakes, which she has won by a combined margin of almost 18 lengths. She is probably the most exciting 3-year-old in the United States at this time, but while her connections have not ruled out the Kentucky Derby, they seem to have settled on the Kentucky Oaks for her next start.

"The Kentucky Derby looks like a big field," trainer Ken McPeek advised, "and I'm not anxious to have her go up against a big field of colts with all the bumping that is likely to take place. If she were to run the same kind of race in the Kentucky Oaks that she did in the Ashland, we would consider trying her against the colts in the Preakness."

McPeek is inclined to blame himself for Repent's defeat in Saturday's Illinois Derby. The trainer opened up Repent's blinkers, going from a three-quarter cup to a half-cup. In retrospect, he felt that Repent needs closed blinkers to focus on the job at hand. In any event, the colt will miss the Derby because of an ankle chip.

McPeek continues to feel confident about the Florida Derby winner, Harlan's Holiday, who will be favored here Saturday in the $750,000 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. He hopes to become the first trainer to bring off the Blue Grass-Ashland double since Plain Ben Jones did it in 1948 with Coaltown and Bewitch.