04/28/2008 11:00PM

Halo Najib makes backup plans

Email

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Facing the possibility of being excluded from an oversubscribed field, Kentucky Derby hopeful Halo Najib was entered in Friday's Grade 3 Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill Downs. But trainer Dale Romans said Tuesday the colt would be scratched if he gets into the Kentucky Derby field when entries are taken Wednesday.

As of Tuesday, he ranked 21st in graded stakes earnings among likely Kentucky Derby starters. The field is capped at 20, with earnings in graded stakes races being the criteria for entry if more than 20 horses are entered, which is anticipated.

Halo Najib, the Lane's End runner-up who finished seventh in the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 12, worked over the Churchill Downs grass course Tuesday, breezing an easy five furlongs in 1:05 under Kent Desormeaux. The work came around dogs and ranked as the sixth best of seven works at the distance.

"I was pleased," Romans said. "He looks like a natural on the turf."

Desormeaux will have the mount in the Crown Royal. If there is a late defection from the Derby field - clearing the way for Halo Najib to start - Cornelio Velasquez would "probably" have the mount, Romans said.

Halo Najib, a 3-year-old son of Halo's Image, has never raced on turf, but has performed well over synthetic surfaces, winning 2 of 4 starts on such tracks, including the OBS Championship Stakes at the Ocala Training Center.

20 years since Stevens, Winning Colors

Eight Belles will try to become only the fourth filly to win the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, and the first since Winning Colors 20 years ago.

Twenty years ago? Has it actually been that long? To former jockey Gary Stevens, just a young pup of 25 when he won his first Derby, "it's still fresh in my mind."

"I was just thinking about that this morning," Stevens said while in the stable area of Churchill Downs on Tuesday morning. "It doesn't seem like 20 years, but it's been 11 years since Silver Charm, and that seems like yesterday."

Stevens said that when he crossed under the wire with Winning Colors, he was in "shock, disbelief."

"I felt like a little kid finding his first bicycle, or his first set of car keys, under the Christmas tree," Stevens said. "Every thought from my childhood went through my mind - my grandfather, mom and dad, coaches.

"Winning Colors has a special place for me. I rode a lot of great fillies, like Serena's Song and Silverbulletday. But she won the Derby. She put me on the map."

Stevens, 45, won the Derby a third time, with Thunder Gulch in 1995. Now retired from a Hall of Fame riding career, he will work as an analyst on Saturday on NBC's telecast of the Derby. Stevens also works for HRTV.

He also has a big rooting interest in this year's Derby. Stevens works for IEAH (International Equine Acquisitions Holdings) Stable, the partnership that owns Derby favorite Big Brown, and is a co-owner of another Derby runner, Court Vision.

Handicapping the Derby longshots

Few would argue that Big Brown will be sent away the Derby favorite, with Colonel John the second choice. What seems less clear is which horses will be the third and fourth choices, and more importantly, who will be the longest shot?

Whichever horse is the longest price, it seems impossible that he will surpass the 294-1 that A Dragon Killer was sent away before running seventh in 1958. That was a landmark year for Derby betting: Not only did the field include the second-longest shot in Derby history (Chance It Tony, sixth at 245-1), but it was the only year in which as many as three separate betting interests went off at less than 5-2 (Tim Tam, Silky Sulllivan, and the entry of Jewel's Reward and Ebony Pearl, all at 2-1).

Even with 20 betting interests - until 1996, the limit was 12, with formation of a mutuel field for excess horses - the highest price on a Derby runner has been 102-1 on Startac, the 10th-place finisher in 2001. Still, simple mathematics would suggest that, in a future Derby, if not this one, the record for the longest shot will be broken.

As for Derby 134, the top longest-shot candidates appear to be Anak Nakal, Big Truck, or if he gets in, Halo Najib, none of whom have generated any semblance of serious support this week on the backstretch.

"Halo Najib definitely will be my longest shot if he's in," Churchill linemaker Mike Battaglia said Tuesday. "Otherwise, I have three horses at 30-1, although I could end up with them at 50-1: Anak Nakal, Big Truck, and Z Humor."

Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker said Derby betting "has become unlike any race I've seen. There are horses who've looked like locks to be the longest shots and weren't. It seems fairly simple to say Anak Nakal or Big Truck figure in the 60-1 to 70-1 range, but nothing would surprise me."

- additional reporting by Marty McGee and Jay Privman