05/03/2002 11:00PM

Harlan's still a favorite around the McPeek barn


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The fairy-tale story of trainer Ken McPeek and the Ohio-bred Harlan's Holiday concluded without a happy ending at Churchill Downs on Saturday when the colt finished a disappointing seventh as the tepid 6-1 favorite in the 128th running of the Kentucky Derby.

No horse who has ever been favored at 3-1 or greater has ever won the race.

Harlan's Holiday, the Florida Derby and Blue Grass winner, was attempting to become only the second Ohio-bred to ever win the Kentucky Derby. He has been in the spotlight for the past several months, not only because of his accomplishments on the track but also because of the story of McPeek's wife, Sue, who has battled back from cancer diagnosed while she was pregnant with her daughter Jenna two years ago.

Harlan's Holiday was one of two leading Kentucky Derby contenders McPeek had in his barn this winter in Florida. The other is Repent, the Louisiana Derby winner, who was withdrawn from Derby consideration after suffering an ankle fracture during the running of the Illinois Derby, a race in which he finished second as the odds-on favorite to War Emblem. McPeek also trains Take Charge Lady, who finished second as the 8-5 favorite in Friday's Kentucky Oaks.

"I guess with War Emblem winning the Derby it makes Repent's race in Illinois look a little better," McPeek said. "I was afraid there wouldn't be much pace in the race today, but you never know until it actually sets up. He didn't have any bad trip. He just didn't have it."

Harlan's Holiday was the third horse McPeek has saddled in the Derby. He finished second with Tejano Run in 1995 and tenth with Deputy Warlock in 2000.

"This game is a tough game," said McPeek. "The battle is just to get yourself into position to win one of these and we're going to keep doing that. I'm proud of the way this horse came up to this race, and the filly ran well yesterday [Friday]. Nobody said it would be easy. We'll be back."

- additional reporting by Dave Grening