04/07/2008 11:00PM

Flurry of Derby preps revealed much

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LAS VEGAS - The results of last weekend's three Derby preps answered many questions about this year's group of 3-year-olds.

While War Pass displayed his speedy juvenile form in the Wood Memorial, his distance-challenged pedigree had him struggling late, and he ran his final three-eighths of the nine-furlong race in a painfully slow 40.85 seconds. War Pass, a colt of immense quality, could be a champion sprinter-miler. I'd love to see trainer Nick Zito target him for the Metropolitan Handicap, and, of course, the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

Tale of Ekati barely defeated an exhausted War Pass in the Wood, and he will not be at his best at the 1 1/4-mile Derby distance. By a speed influence, Tale of the Cat (by Storm Cat), he has class that comes from a truly stunning tail-female family. His dam, who is by champion Sunday Silence, is a half-sister to champion Sky Beauty and also to the unraced Our Country Place, who produced three full siblings: a Breeders' Cup Distaff winner, Pleasant Home; a multiple stakes winner, Country Hideaway; and Matlacha Pass, who produced Grade 1 winner Pine Island. Tale of Ekati's second dam is multiple stakes winner Maplejinsky, and his third dam is a champion sprinter, Gold Beauty.

To me, the big disappointment in the Wood was the third-place finisher, Court Vision, who got the perfect setup but couldn't even run down a weary War Pass. Bred to appreciate classic distances, he should love the long Churchill Downs stretch and will get another perfect pace scenario, but he may get only a minor award. Being by Gulch and out of a Storm Bird mare (who is a full sister to a Preakness winner, Summer Squall), he has what I call a HT2 (hidden turf top and bottom) pedigree, and trainer Bill Mott should eventually try him on turf.

Speed parade at Hawthorne

Because of its date on the calendar, its nine-furlong distance, and lucrative pot, the Illinois Derby is an attractive Kentucky Derby prep, but a ridiculous speed bias turned this year's running into a carousel, where the first three finishers ran one-two-three all the way around the track. The previously undefeated Denis of Cork, considered among this year's very best 3-year-olds, and the promising Atoned never had a chance on this surface, spinning their wheels and finishing fourth and fifth. The ramifications are clear: The two best runners in the race are now on the bubble regarding graded earnings and may not make it into the Derby field, which is a shame.

Like War Pass, the Illinois Derby winner, Recapturetheglory, is by the champion sprinter Cherokee Run, and he will be yet another pace factor. In addition to running on an entirely different kind of surface at Churchill Downs, he will face severe pace pressure going 1 1/4 miles.

The Illinois Derby runner-up, Golden Spikes, is bred very closely to the 1999 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner, Cash Run. Both are by Seeking the Gold, and while Cash Run is out of the multiple stakes winner Shared Interest, Golden Spikes is out of Shared Interest's daughter A.P. Interest (A.P. Indy). Both have the RF (Rasmussen Factor), as they are inbred to the influential broodmare Sequence. But Golden Spikes would only add to what looks like a really fast pace in the Derby.

Colonel John a serious player

Dismissing all the horses in the Wood Memorial and Illinois Derby as Kentucky Derby contenders, it came down to the Santa Anita Derby hopefully to save the day. Did it ever.

Colonel John, who looked hopelessly beaten at the top of the stretch, put in the kind of powerful stretch run that wins Kentucky Derbies. By the two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year Tiznow, he has unquestionable ability to get 1 1/4 miles. The only question remaining will be how he handles dirt for the first time. I'm betting he will love it.

Colonel John gets more stamina from his damsire, Turkoman, a champion older horse by Alydar who won the Marlboro Cup Invitational Handicap when that race was among the premier stakes races in the fall, and who was second to Skywalker in the 1986 Breeders' Cup Classic. His second dam, Grand Dame, is a half-sister to Bodhavista, who produced stakes winner Imperialism (by Langfuhr), third in the 2004 Kentucky Derby.

Bob Black Jack, who ran an ultra-game second to Colonel John, has a pedigree that may have been aided by the synthetic surface. By Stormy Jack, a son of speed influence Bertrando who won California-bred stakes at 2, 3 and 4, he is out of a mare by the obscure Native Prospector, and he is unlikely to be as effective going 1 1/4 miles on dirt.

Coast Guard (Stormy Atlantic) and Yankee Bravo (Yankee Gentleman), who finished third and fourth, are by sons of Storm Cat, and both have the Rasmussen Factor, as they are inbred to the remarkable Crimson Saint, through her daughter Terlingua and her son Royal Academy, winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile. These two colts have a bright future on grass.

El Gato Malo finished a tiring fifth after making a bold move on the far turn, but he, too, has the look of a miler, which isn't surprising, since he is by El Corredor, whose four stakes victories were all at one mile or less.

Next up are the Blue Grass Stakes, Arkansas Derby and Lexington Stakes - the final pieces of the puzzle for this year's Kentucky Derby.