06/17/2009 12:00AM

Resisting Derby fever has its reward

Lone Star Park
Mythical Power was considered for Saturday's Affirmed, but will await the Iowa Derby next weekend.

The Triple Crown took its predictable toll on the promising young lads of 2009. Racing should be accustomed to the wreckage by now. Quality Road and I Want Revenge separated themselves as the two best to compete early in the East, but neither one even made it to the Kentucky Derby. Dunkirk, rated not too far behind those two, proved his worth with his second-place Belmont finish, and cracked a bone in the process. Old Fashioned is retired and Friesan Fire is in rehab, while Pioneerof the Nile and Papa Clem are getting well-deserved breaks.

That leaves the Birds - Summer and Mine That - along with Derby and Preakness showboat Musket Man as the last guys standing. Clearly, it is time to bring in fresh troops. A few of them will be on display on Saturday in the Affirmed Handicap at Hollywood Park - and to a lesser extent its turf course counterpart the Cinema Handicap - while next week the second-tier regionals continue with the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows.

Mythical Power, winner of the Lone Star Derby in his most recent start, will be a horse to watch when he runs in the Iowa Derby. He was considered for the $100,000 Affirmed, but both owner John Fort, who races as Peachtree Stable, and trainer Bob Baffert did the math, which is why the $250,000 Iowa Derby ended up looking about 2 1/2 times more attractive, even if it is nearly 1,500 miles from Arcadia to Altoona.

Fort hopes to see Mythical Power end up in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 2. By then, the colt will have spent enough time as a high-class lounge act to get a shot at the big room.

Mythical Power is a son of Congaree and the Is It True mare School for Scandal, who was named for an 18th century comedy of manners. Among the leading characters in "School for Scandal" were Lady Sneerwell, Sir Benjamin Backbite, Sir Peter Teazle, and Snake. Real subtle stuff.

Mythical Power began the season as an unstarted 3-year-old, which is really not a surprise considering Fort's first impressions when the colt hit the ground, in April 2006.

"When he was born, this colt had such long pasterns and long legs that I just thought he was hopeless," Fort recalled this week from his Charleston, S.C., home base. "I just stood there and stared at him. I said, 'Gosh, I don't think this thing will be able to walk.' But then he just grew into them and became a beautiful horse."

Chalk him up as another Peachtree Stable miracle baby. Fort has been breeding, selling, and racing horses under the Peachtree banner since 1981, some of them trained by Hall of Famers Horatio Luro, Allen Jerkens, Scotty Schulhofer, and Baffert, as well as Todd Pletcher. Recent stakes winners have included Red Giant, High Cotton, and Coin Silver. It was at the 2001 Kentucky Derby, however, when a Peachtree runner named Invisible Ink seized the imagination as an underdog of epic proportions and put Fort's name in lights.

As a 2-year-old, Invisible Ink contracted an infection, likely from a cut. Whether it was from a reaction to the treatment or the infection itself, his throat and stomach lining were rendered so raw he could not eat. His weight dropped from 900 to 500 pounds before a buttermilk concoction helped reverse his steady decline. Eventually, his weight returned and he was able to stand training.

Invisible Ink's brave story followed him into the classic season as he finished third in the Florida Derby and fourth in the Blue Grass. Then, on the first Saturday in May, Invisible Ink capped his own fairy tale by finishing second to Monarchos in the Kentucky Derby.

It was no surprise that Fort would breed his maiden mare School for Scandal to Invisible Ink. For her second cover he turned to Congaree, who finished third in the Monarchos Derby, and went on to be one of the best horses not to earn a divisional championship so far in this decade.

Fort and Baffert surrendered any chance of making the Derby this year with Mythical Power by steering clear of the traditional California preps - two of them won by the more seasoned Baffert-trained Pioneerof the Nile - and heading instead to the remote corners of the racing heartland.

"When we went that route we knew we would rule out our chances to run in the Kentucky Derby," Fort said. "I had to weigh both sides of the question. So many horses get sort of beat up in the Derby, and maybe he really wasn't that experienced. So we kind of headed for the money and went for the Sunland Derby and then for Lone Star."

This is not a crime. The Sunland Park Derby was worth $800,000, while Lone Star's version carried a $400,000 purse. Mythical Power was second at Sunland, then blew the doors off the Texas race, winning by 7 1/2 lengths. Fort banked $416,000, which tends to erase most regrets, and he has a fresh and fit 3-year-old ready to be tested by what's left of the best in the division.

Still, for all that solid strategy, Fort was left with the nagging memory of the horse who ran fourth at Sunland, finishing about two lengths behind his colt, then headed for the Kentucky Derby anyway.

"Everybody who ran in there had to go back to the videotape," Fort said. "We saw Mine That Bird kind of make that move and flatten out. As it turned out, he deserved a little more respect going into the Derby than he got."