04/08/2009 12:00AM

Giant Oak in top shape following Illinois Derby


STICKNEY, Ill. - There may yet be a Kentucky Derby contender stabled at Hawthorne Race Course. Giant Oak went to the track to train Wednesday morning for the first time since his second-place finish in the Illinois Derby, and nothing about the colt's physical condition should deter his connections from taking the plunge and shipping to Churchill Downs for a shot at the Derby.

"He's doing real well," trainer Chris Block said. "He doesn't seem knocked out from the race at all. He seems like he came out of the race better than he did the two races at Fair Grounds."

Giant Oak also ran better than he had at Fair Grounds, where he was fifth in the Risen Star Stakes and fourth in the Louisiana Derby. Wednesday, Giant Oak did no more than jog around the Hawthorne track, but Block was pleased with the light morning.

After initially saying it was highly unlikely Giant Oak would go on to Kentucky, Block opened the door - if only slightly - to the possibility this week.

"We'll kind of wait and see what happens with some of the other horses," said Block, who trains Giant Oak for owners Virginia and Rudy Tarra. "We'll probably need to decide by the 18th or so, a week from this Saturday. We don't want to shut the door on anything till we see how things materialize."

Giant Oak has $169,256 in graded stakes earnings, placing him 15th on Daily Racing Form's list of possible starters for the Derby. The colt probably has the bankroll to get into the race if his connections decide to take a shot.

Giant Oak showed far more speed Saturday than he had in any of his previous races, especially the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby. A big horse with a long stride, Giant Oak basically was out-quicked at the top of the stretch Saturday by the handier Illinois Derby winner, Musket Man. And while Giant Oak finished up with a good final furlong, he still wandered in and out a bit - another signal that the horse has not learned to focus yet.

"I think he's an open book," said Block. "He's got some improving he can do."

If Giant Oak's connections pass on the Derby, which obviously remains a strong possibility, Block said the horse would get a little break, move to Arlington, and be pointed for the series of 3-year-old turf races there this summer.

Karlsson, tied in standings, could get days

Inez Karlsson drew even with Tim Thornton atop the Hawthorne jockey standings by winning the second race on Monday's card, but Monday's third race could prove costly for Karlsson. In a very tough call, she and a filly named Bud's Lady were disqualified from first to second for bumping runner-up Cart's Linda near the top of the stretch.

Karlsson was to view movies of the incident with Hawthorne stewards on Thursday, at which time it will be determined whether she is handed a suspension, according to Karlsson's agent, Penny Ffitch-Heyes.

Both Karlsson - who lost her apprentice status early this year - and Thornton enter this week's racing with 28 wins at the meet. Apprentice Brandon Meier is not far behind with 24 wins, while Lyndie Wade has 21 victories.

Devil's Halo almost back from injury

The talented Devil's Halo may well be ready to roll for the $100,000 Land of Lincoln Stakes here on April 25. Devil's Halo was injured after winning the Sun Power Stakes last fall, his second win in two starts at 2, but has been working right along for trainer Richard Hazelton. Tuesday, Devil's Halo worked six furlongs in 1:14, the fastest work at the distance that morning by a full second.

Tuesday also was a busy work morning in the Christine Janks barn, with Illinois-bred stakes horses Mighty Rule, High Expectations, and Stop a Train all breezing five furlongs.

* Down in southern Illinois, Tuesday's meet opener at Fairmount Park was a success, at least in terms of ontrack handle. The local crowd bet $148,071 on an eight-race card. By way of comparison, Hawthorne handled $67,991 on a nine-race card Monday.