04/04/2008 12:00AM

Kodiak Kowboy looks solid in Lafayette


LEXINGTON, Ky. - In the varying subsets that exist within divisions in racing, one that gets a smattering of attention is one that might be classified as "3-year-olds barely short of being Kentucky Derby material because either they can't run far enough or quite fast enough."

There is no shortage of spots to suit this brand of racehorse. The Lafayette Stakes, for example, has been won through the years by Housebuster, Cherokee Run, Caller One, and Posse, and it should be worth noting that nobody would dare cast aspersions their way. Bidding toward that mix are eight 3-year-olds whose connections already have deemed them unable to take part in the serious Derby chase but otherwise have shown enough to merit entry in the $100,000 Lafayette, which anchors the Sunday program at Keeneland as the eighth of nine races.

Kodiak Kowboy, already a three-time stakes winner and a Posse colt with a broad range of non-Derby possibilities, is the obvious horse to beat in the seven-furlong Lafayette. He warmed up some three weeks ago with a six-length allowance triumph at Oaklawn, confirming a juvenile season during which he earned more than $540,000 for owner Vinery Stables and trainer Steve Asmussen.

While he was light years ahead of some of his classmates early in 2007, hints to Kodiak Kowboy's limitations came in his season finale, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Although he finished ahead of eight of his 10 rivals, Kodiak Kowboy was beaten nearly 17 lengths by victorious War Pass.

Looking ahead, Asmussen said he wouldn't rule out something like the Coolmore Lexington Stakes, which follows the Lafayette by just 13 days at Keeneland, partly because Kodiak Kowboy "already has won on Polytrack," in the Victoria Stakes at Woodbine last summer. Moreover, with a big victory Sunday over the Keeneland Polytrack - and the colt figures as a solid favorite under Shaun Bridgmohan - Asmussen ought to have a right to resist committing to the Derby Trial, which more often than not gets the Lafayette winner three weeks later.

If Kodiak Kowboy is to be upset, clearly the most likely perpetrator is Eaton's Gift, winner of the Grade 2 Swale last month.