05/02/2002 12:00AM

Rating contenders based on workouts

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The final 10 days of training leading up to the 2002 Kentucky Derby was unorthodox to say the least. Three of the 20 starters, Johannesburg, Castle Gandolfo, and Perfect Drift, won't set foot on the Churchill Downs racetrack until being led over for the race. Buddha did all his major prep work in New York before shipping here Tuesday while Danthebluegrassman trained under the cloak of anonymity as a result of his surprise entry into the race.

The others all worked over the course at least once and trained here on a regular basis, leaving the following impressions.

Buddha: Made a striking appearance when he finally made his way onto the racetrack for the first time Wednesday. Looked relaxed and confident before and during his pre-dawn gallop and does not appear any the worse for wear from his gutsy effort in the Wood or 15-hour van ride from New York.

Blue Burner: Worked a fast five-eighths (59 seconds) in his lone Churchill Downs trial but was under some pressure to do so, needing to be roused with the stick several times when trying to loaf after passing his workmate at midstretch. Has displayed similar hanging tactics in each of his last two races.

Came Home: Looked solid in both local trials, working fast and seemingly well within himself under jockey Chris McCarron. Did appear a bit anxious coming away from the pole in his final trial, which is of some concern considering his breeding and action suggests staying 1 1/4 miles could be a reach.

Castle Gandolfo: One of the three horses who never trained over the track. Must respect the fact he has already been 1 1/4 miles and Jerry Bailey rides.

Danthebluegrassman: Few paid attention to his training since he was never expected to start. Apparently handles the track well but must wonder about the strategy he will employ since his front-running style is similar to stablemate War Emblem.

Easy Grades: Has not trained as well as most of his counterparts since his arrival. Looked better in his second work over the track but was under some urging to do so from jockey Jorge Chavez.

Essence of Dubai: He worked an adequate seven furlongs but did not gallop out particularly strong last Thursday. Five days later he returned with a much more enthusiastic work, relaxing early, finishing well, and galloping out an extra eighth of a mile in 12 and change. Seems to be flourishing here the past two weeks and is already a proven commodity at

1 1/4 miles.

Harlan's Holiday: Trained extremely well over his home track last week but appeared to get a bit rank and tougher to handle in his gallops this past weekend. Exhibited similar characteristics when breaking off for his final work, the fast early pace taking its toll through the stretch and especially during the gallop out when he shut down quickly and pulled up six furlongs in a disappointing 1:18. Continues to look good but must be concerned about his sudden inability to relax, a trait which has carried him to victory in both the Blue Grass and Florida Derby.

It'sallinthechase: Has done nothing in the morning that would lead one to believe he's any more than the longshot he appears to be on paper.

Johannesburg: Haven't seen this reigning juvenile champ and won't until Derby Day. I respect both his connections and 2-year-old credentials but he faces an uphill climb in his first start beyond seven furlongs this year.

Lusty Latin: A proven closer, he was asked for more speed in his final Derby prep and gave it, finishing willingly under mild encouragement. Has left a favorable impression over the past week and may be worth tossing into exotics at a square price.

Medaglia d'Oro: Has trained as well as anybody since his arrival. Both local works have been impressive and were accomplished without undue pressure. May ultimately prove the most talented member of this lineup but, like Buddha, his relative inexperience and style of running is cause for some concern.

Ocean Sound: Turned in an extremely uninspiring seven-furlong work last week and did not show anything to change any first impressions until suddenly waking up with a nifty 47.20 half-mile drill on Tuesday.. Could be an indication he has adapted to the local strip but most likely a matter of too little too late.

Perfect Drift: Did all his pre-Derby training at the Trackside Training Center but from viewing tapes of his works this could be a horse to reckon with on Saturday. Was full of run through the latter stages of both works and during his gallop-outs and projects to have one of the best late kicks in this field.

Private Emblem: With his distinctive and visually appealing neck bowed style of galloping, he has been a pleasure to watch train all week. Was equally impressive when doing some serious work, Monday's trial featuring a fast final furlong and willing gallop out. One of the more appealing longshot possibilities in the field.

Proud Citizen: Has displayed his fondness for the local course with a series of excellent gallops and a 58.60-second five-furlong work on Monday that was accomplished with little urging from his rider. Not sure if he will carry his speed 10 furlongs or of his ability to rate and avoid a potential speed duel but is certainly coming up to the race at the top of his game.

Request for Parole: Action a bit choppy during some of his morning gallops but he did stride out better in his works and when two- minute licking through the stretch on Wednesday.

Saarland: Has looked like a million bucks since his arrival and showed no signs of any throat problems when quietly working an easy five furlongs earlier this week. Betting he's ready for his best yet on Saturday.

War Emblem: Relaxed reasonably well in the morning and in his final work considering he figures to be the Derby pacesetter. Question his ability to stay the distance under pressure, especially after a less than enthusiastic gallop out following Monday's work.

Wild Horses: Like most if not all of Pletcher's Derby runners the past three years he certainly looks the part in the morning. Training well. Will get a class check Saturday.

Analysis and selections: Essence of Dubai has already won at the distance and his final work indicated he's coming to the race in top form. Private Emblem another late threat in a field loaded with speed. Perfect Drift appears to be thriving and is another capable of coming on strong down the stretch. Not sure about Proud Citizen's ability to stay the distance but he's on top of his game over his home course.