04/15/2002 12:00AM

Harlan's Holiday does it with style


LEXINGTON, Ky. - It was a weekend for affirmation. Tiger Woods left no doubts about the outcome of The Masters, and Harlan's Holiday settled his account in Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes with equal finality.

Harlan's Holiday's Florida rival Booklet, game to the core, made a fight of it in midstretch. He gave everything he had, and the two colts matched strides briefly. But stamina limitations came into play and Harlan's Holiday soon slammed the door, winning by 4 1/2 lengths.

It was an authoritative decision, and not only added a rich and traditional prize to Harlan's Holiday's growing collection but established him, to the satisfaction of many handicappers here, as the legitimate favorite for the Kentucky Derby. His record of six wins and four seconds from 10 starts speaks for itself.

"He is as solid as a rock," trainer Ken McPeek said, "and he came out of it the right way. The slow track at Keeneland Saturday may have played to our advantage. He got a lot out of it and now we won't have to do a lot in the remaining time before the Derby. We've been careful all winter not to overdo it and it's been paying off."

With a live horse for the Kentucky Derby, the temptation is great to post the best workout of the morning. But McPeek, who trained 1995 Derby runner-up Tejano Run, has successfully resisted the urge to this point and has earned kind words from veteran colleagues on his approach.

The same can be said about jockey Edgar Prado, who has given two strong performances on Harlan's Holiday, in the Florida Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes. Prado appears to be in tune with Harlan's Holiday, permitting the Harlan colt to make the most of his talents.

So it's on to the Derby now for Harlan's Holiday, but the itinerary isn't quite as clear for Booklet. His people intend to wait a bit and study the scene before making a decision. They may elect to mark time until the Preakness or they may see Booklet's speed as an advantage not to be dismissed in the Derby.

Don't count out Lukas

The appeal of the Kentucky Derby is awesome and no one seems to enjoy it more than Wayne Lukas, who has four Derby winners to his credit and is marching purposefully on one of racing's most revered records: Ben Jones's six Derby winners.

Lukas is eyeing the Derby with Proud Citizen, a Gone West colt who is to run in the Lexington Stakes this weekend. Proud Citizen has made only one start since the Hopeful at Saratoga last August, and that was in last weekend's Santa Anita Derby. Understandably he didn't do much, but benefited considerably in the way of condition. If he was to show well in the competitive Lexington. . . .

Lukas, by the way, is Keeneland's leading trainer this spring with seven wins, including Sunday's $272,000 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup at seven furlongs with Orientate, a 4-year-old colt by Mt. Livermore. Pat Day rode Orientate, who is expected to run back at seven furlongs in the Churchill Downs Handicap on Derby Day.