Updated on 09/16/2011 8:09AM

Target: Blue Grass

Trainer John Ward (above) leads Booklet and exercise rider Allen Rinnie from his private barn to nearby Keeneland. Booklet needs to show he can handle nine furlongs in the Blue Grass.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - One year ago at this time, trainer John Ward Jr. was certain he had a colt good enough to win the Kentucky Derby. All he wanted in the final prep for the Derby was a good, encouraging race, but nothing so gut-wrenching it would sap his colt's strength on Derby Day.

The plan worked to perfection with Monarchos. He was a rallying second in the Wood Memorial, then ran the race of his life in the Derby.

One year later, Ward has a different Derby prospect, and an entirely different scenario. Whereas Monarchos had won the Florida Derby prior to the Wood, Booklet heads into his final Derby prep following a fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby. And because Booklet's front-running style is far more effective here at Keeneland than Aqueduct, Ward, who is based at a private barn across the street from Keeneland, is leaving Booklet here for Saturday's $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes.

About the only thing Monarchos and Booklet have in common is that they are both owned by John Oxley. , much smaller than Monarchos and with a style of running more questionable for 1 1/4 miles, is "a different animal," Ward said. As a result, the Derby is more an afterthought than the focus of Booklet's campaign this spring.

"Mr. Oxley and I circled the Blue Grass as our primary goal," Ward said. "We're taking it one race at a time. We don't want to go to the Derby unless we're sure he has a chance. And we can't make that decision until after the weekend."

Booklet should have an excellent chance in the Blue Grass. There is one other speed horse in the race, Bob's Image, but the pace battle doesn't figure to be as fierce as the one in the Florida Derby. Booklet, hounded by Smooth Jazz in the Florida Derby, set fractions of 22.47 seconds and 45.36 seconds for the first half-mile of a 1 1/8-mile race. He still held on to finish fourth.

"We dodged a bullet," said Ward, who was concerned the demanding effort would take a severe toll on Booklet. "Any time you can go that fast early and still finish, it's a positive. I also think he displaced his soft palate around the three-eighths pole, and couldn't get his air."

Booklet had a productive meet at Gulfstream Park. Before the Florida Derby, he won both the Fountain of Youth and Holy Bull, beating Harlan's Holiday both times. Since arriving in Kentucky, Booklet has "brightened up," Ward said.

"Florida was very warm and humid," Ward said. "The cooler weather here has helped him. He's put on weight."

Oxley purchased Booklet privately after Booklet won four of his first five starts. At the time, Oxley and Ward said they were merely buying a horse they could have fun with. They were not buying a horse with strictly the Derby in mind. The Derby as an end - all is a mind-set that Oxley and Ward have left to others. Bobby Frankel, on behalf of owner Ed Gann, bought Labamta Babe and Medaglia d'Oro and also pursued Request for Parole and Perfect Drift. Bob Baffert, seemingly out of Derby contenders, on Wednesday was trying to buy Illinois Derby winner War Emblem.

Oxley and Ward have stuck with what they have, and they're content with their lot. If Booklet turns out to be a Derby runner, they will be thrilled. And if he doesn't, they will sleep soundly.

"At least," Ward said, laughing, "I've got a box for Derby Day regardless of whether he runs."

In other Derby developments Wednesday:

* Trainer Aidan O'Brien reported from Ireland that no decision has yet been made on the status of either Johannesburg or Castle Gandolfo, though he did say "if we go with one, we'd go with both, I think." O'Brien added, "If they're well, obviously we'd love to go to the Kentucky Derby." Elaborating on Johannesburg's loss Saturday, O'Brien said, "It's tough enough for a 3-year-old to beat ordinary older horses this time of year. This would have to be one of the better fields we've seen in the Gladness. We knew it was going to be a tough race on him, and we wanted a good, competitive race. But if he'd gone and breezed in, it probably wouldn't have been to his advantage going into the Kentucky Derby. When you have them real well for their first race, it's hard to bring them back to a peak for their next."

* A field of 11 was entered for Saturday's $500,000 Arkansas Derby. Among the prominent names in that 1 1/8-mile race are It'sallinthechase, Mr. Mellon, Private Emblem, and Windward Passage. The Arkansas Derby, scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Eastern, is the final leg of a Big Three Pick Three that also consists of the Blue Grass and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

* Trainer Bob Baffert was in town to see War Emblem, who is stabled at Keeneland with trainer Frank "Bobby" Springer. Negotiations were being conducted with owner Russell Reineman in an attempt to acquire War Emblem. Reineman said that if the sale goes through, he would retain a portion of the colt, but that the new majority owner, believed to be Prince Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corporation, would transfer the colt from Springer. War Emblem would run in the Derby in the new owner's silks, Reineman said. Richard Mulhall, Salman's racing manager, was with Baffert at Keeneland.

- additional reporting by Glenye Cain and Jay Hovdey