11/22/2007 12:00AM

Seeking future stars on getaway day

EmailLOUISVILLE, Ky. - When they say "tomorrow," what they really mean is five or six months. Ideally, the Stars of Tomorrow program that brings down the curtain on the 21-day Churchill Downs fall meet Saturday is supposed to produce something for the Kentucky Derby next May, although at this early juncture it would be quite a stretch to flatly state that there is Derby material in the closing-day feature, the $250,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

Wicked Style was the only one of eight 2-year-olds entered in the Grade 2 KJC Stakes to ever have won a stakes, but even that is a moot point, since trainer Rusty Arnold said Thursday the colt will be scratched from the race because of a minor shin ailment. That leaves seven horses with a grand total of one allowance victory between them, which obviously leaves a long road ahead for the collective crew if in fact any of them are to return to the Churchill starting gate May 3, 2008 when the 134th Derby is run.

Owner Robert LaPenta and trainer Nick Zito, who already have Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner War Pass as the early Derby favorite, bring a strong hand to the 81st KJC in Cool Coal Man, whose authoritative allowance victory here three weeks ago seems enough to make him the logical favorite in a race that already had been stripped of possible favorites in Court Vision, Slew's Tiznow, and Eaton's Gift.

Cool Coal Man was coming off a 10-length maiden triumph at Delaware Park when he coasted to a 2 1/4-length score here Nov. 3. The Mineshaft colt will be ridden again by Rafael Bejarano, a longtime Kentucky regular who recently moved to the Southern California circuit.

Other contenders include Halo Najib, runner-up behind Court Vision in the Oct. 28 Iroquois Stakes, and Racecar Rhapsody, an impressive maiden winner last month at Keeneland.

The KJC, which dates to 1920, has been won several times by the eventual winner of the Derby - the most recent being 1974 Derby winner Cannonade. It is carded as the 11th race on a 12-race program that begins at 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

All closing-day races are restricted to 2-year-olds, reprising the Stars of Tomorrow theme from opening day, Oct. 28. Other featured races on the card are the sister race to the KJC, the $250,000 Golden Rod Stakes (race 9), and two grass stakes, the $65,000 Caressing and $65,000 Grand Canyon.