Updated on 09/16/2011 7:06AM

Will Came Home go the distance?


ARCADIA, Calif. - There has been no dispute over the quality of Came Home. It's quantity, as in number of furlongs, that has sparked debate.

is unquestionably one of the most talented horses of this 3-year-old crop. In six starts, he has won stakes at three tracks, with victories in the Hopeful Stakes, San Rafael Stakes, San Vicente Stakes, and Hollywood Juvenile Championship. Of the 25 horses on this week's Derby Watch, only three have ever recorded a Beyer Speed Figure of 105. Came Home has done it four times, including a 106 in last month's San Rafael.

Yet there has been a nagging suspicion that the farther Came Home goes, the less effective he will be, and that theory will be put to the test here in Saturday's $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. Came Home will attempt to handle 1 1/8 miles, the longest distance at which he has competed. It is a furlong farther than he has successfully raced. And it is a furlong shorter than the Kentucky Derby.

Uncharted waters are where all the Derby contenders are headed in the next two weeks, when the final Derby preps are run, often at distances at which these horses have yet to compete. Of the 25 horses on Derby Watch, 10 are scheduled to run this weekend.

Came Home meets Danthebluegrassman, Easy Grades, Mayakovsky, and U S S Tinosa in the Santa Anita Derby. Repent drew the outside post in a field of 10, including Fonz's, in Saturday's $500,000 Illinois Derby at Sportsman's Park. Equality should be a strong favorite in Saturday's $250,000 Aventura Stakes at Gulfstream Park. And across the Atlantic, Johannesburg and Castle Gandolfo will make their first starts of the year. One will run in Saturday's Gladness Stakes at The Curragh, the other in Sunday's Foster's International Trial at Lingfield. All those races will be run before Pool 3 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager closes Sunday afternoon.

Came Home had never won beyond seven furlongs, or even raced around two turns, before the one-mile San Rafael. He sailed over that hurdle like Edwin Moses, winning by three lengths. And despite a couple of hiccups - getting cast in his stall, and developing a slight temperature - for Came Home in the five weeks since, trainer Paco Gonzalez believes that the maturity Came Home has developed from ages 2 to 3 bodes well for the next challenge.

"I don't think it's going to be a problem," Gonzalez said at his Santa Anita barn. "He has changed his attitude. As a 2-year-old, he was tough. He wanted to go. Now, he's relaxed. Now, he'll do what you want. He has a nice head."

Came Home will have to use his head on Saturday. With the speedy Mayakovsky in the race, Came Home figures to be outrun for the lead. In the San Rafael, Came Home tracked nicely behind a moderate pace under jockey Chris McCarron. If he can display the same composure in the Santa Anita Derby, it will serve him well in that race, and four weeks from Saturday at Churchill Downs.

"We will sit behind that other horse," Gonzalez said, referring to Mayakovsky. "There's no reason to go with that horse."

In the days following the San Rafael, Came Home developed a slight fever, which went away as quickly as it came. He also was cast in his stall, when he rolled over and could not extricate himself from the wall. "He rolls two or three times a day. His biggest problem is getting cast in his stall," said John Toffan, who co-owns Came Home with Trudy McCaffery, John Goodman - not the beefy actor - and Will Farish.

To be safe, after Came Home was cast, Gonzalez had Came Home undergo a nuclear scan. The colt had no problems, and has worked well since. "He's been training very good," Gonzalez said. "I'm really happy."

Now, it's on to the Santa Anita Derby.

"I don't think a mile and an eighth is going to be a problem," Toffan said. "After that, we'll see what happens. If he wins, we're going to the Kentucky Derby. But we're not going to go if we think he can't win it."

In other Derby developments:

* If Repent wins the Illinois Derby, he will be eligible for three bonuses going into the Kentucky Derby. He already has qualified for bonuses linking the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and Louisiana Derby with the Derby.

* David LaCroix said a strong workout at Hollywood Park last Saturday by Fonz's convinced him that Fonz's disappointing performance in the San Rafael, and poor subsequent workout at Santa Anita, indicated Fonz's did not like that track. "I got slapped in the face twice," he said. "How many times do I need to get slapped?" So, LaCroix sent Fonz's to the Illinois Derby. "If we get to Kentucky, it'll be through the back door. I hope the back door is open," LaCroix said.

* Rushaway Stakes winner Mr. Mellon will make his next start in the April 13 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, with Larry Melancon riding, trainer Elliott Walden said.

* Patrick Biancone, trainer of Mayakovsky, had the line of the week when discussing the fickle nature of the press covering the Derby trail. "I hope," he said, "we keep talking next week."