Updated on 09/16/2011 6:56AM

Repent's best is yet to come

Lou Hodges Jr.
Trainer Ken McPeek feels Repent, shown winning the Risen Star, still has some areas where he needs to improve, such as switching leads, before he's ready to handle a major challenge like the Kentucky Derby.

NEW ORLEANS - With Repent, the focus is on the here and now. He will be heavily favored in Sunday's Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, and, if successful, will remain one of the leading contenders for the May 4 Kentucky Derby.

And yet as good as this colt is now - and he is unquestionably one of the few from this 3-year-old crop who appears well suited to handle the Kentucky Derby's 1 1/4 miles - trainer Ken McPeek thinks Repent is still far from reaching his potential.

"He's still got some improvement to make," McPeek said during a conference call Tuesday. "I think he'll be even better as a 4-year-old than at 2 or 3, and that's a scary thought."

Especially so to those who will face Repent on Sunday. There is little difference between last month's Risen Star Stakes, which Repent won by 2 1/4 lengths, and the Louisiana Derby. Bob's Image and Easyfromthegitgo again are the main rivals. The distance is still 1 1/16 miles. Only the purse is considerably more, $750,000 as opposed to $125,000.

is getting a new rider in Jerry Bailey, who replaces Tony D'Amico, and even if you don't like the politics of such a switch, it would be hard to argue that it's detrimental to the colt.

Repent, who has been based this winter at Gulfstream Park, has the benefit of a strong race over this track.

"Horses just don't come in here and run like that," said Steve Asmussen, the trainer of Easyfromthegitgo, referring to Repent's Risen Star victory.

Repent has done little wrong. He has won 4 of 6 starts, and has finished second and third in his other races. He was second to unbeaten champion Johannesburg in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, beating Siphonic. Yet McPeek said Repent still has plenty of room to develop, both physically and, especially, mentally.

"Harlan's Holiday," McPeek said, referring to his other top 3-year-old, "is mentally further along than Repent at this point. I think [Repent] is 80 percent of where he'll end up being if he moves forward physically and mentally."

Repent is an eye-catching colt. A dark bay with a long, white blaze that is slipped like a celery stalk, Repent was purchased as a yearling for $230,000 by McPeek for the Select Stable of owners Feye and Jerry Bach. He's a tall, leggy colt who figures to fill out into an imposing specimen over the next few months. He is aggressive when he trains, with spirited gallops, and has a tendency to want to start his works before his rider is ready. When working, "he gallops very fast to the pole," McPeek said. "He does things easily."

He also can act like a petulant teenager. "He's not the warm and fuzzy kind," McPeek said. "He tends to be somewhat mean. Yet when you get a hold of him, he can be a puppy dog."

Repent was third in his debut last summer at Ellis Park going six furlongs, then won a mile maiden race at Turfway Park. "His first race, going short, I thought he went through the motions, and even though he won his second race, I thought he went through the motions again," McPeek said.

So, McPeek added blinkers for Repent's third race, the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, which he won. The blinkers have remained on Repent, though McPeek has given some thought to removing or altering them. McPeek said he broached the subject after Repent worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 Tuesday morning at Gulfstream, but Bailey said to leave well enough alone.

"Jerry said he felt good, and he was hitting the ground good," McPeek said. "I've been tempted to take them off, or cut them back, but at this point, he's running well, so why change?"

McPeek would like to break Repent of two bad habits he displayed in the Risen Star. Repent never changed leads through the stretch run, and he lugged in severely. McPeek is hoping Bailey can contribute to progress in those areas.

"When Jerry worked him, he switched over perfectly," McPeek said. "If he's going to win a race like the Derby, he needs to change on cue."

The problem changing leads in races, McPeek said, "is a sign this horse is still not quite there yet."

And it's one of the reasons why McPeek believes, "I'm not convinced we've seen him at 100 percent."