03/31/2008 11:00PM

WinStar changes its approach to Derby

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Court Vision will have his final Kentucky Derby prep in Saturday's Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. - WinStar Farm is hoping a change in philosophy will result in a change of luck when it comes to the Kentucky Derby.

In 2006 and 2007, WinStar got three or more prep races into its trio of Derby runners. After racing three times before the Derby, including a well-beaten fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes, Bluegrass Cat finished second to Barbaro in 2006. Last year, Any Given Saturday finished eighth in the Derby after having three prep races, and Cowtown Cat finished last of 20 in what was his fifth start of the year.

WinStar, owned by Kenny Troutt and Bill Casner, is utilizing the less-is-more approach when it comes to Court Vision and Colonel John, its two primary candidates for this year's Kentucky Derby. Court Vision, last year's Remsen winner, will have his final Derby prep in Saturday's Gradeo1, $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, while Colonel John, winner of the Grade 3 Sham Stakes on March 1, will start in Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. Both races will be broadcast live by NBC Sports during a one-hour telecast beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.

"It's interesting how less is more in this day and age, and the more space you have to give them is kind of an intriguing thing," said Elliott Walden, a former trainer who twice finished second in the Derby and who now serves as the vice president of WinStar. "It does pay off when you do that. Back when I was training, three weeks was plenty. Now it seems like four and five is the way to go."

Bill Mott, the trainer of Court Vision, and Eoin Harty, who conditions Colonel John, both said that their horses are light-framed and would benefit from having just two races heading into the Derby.

Walden said the primary reason Any Given Saturday ran in last year's Wood Memorial was to ensure that he had enough graded stakes earnings to make it into the Derby field. Earnings are not a concern for either Court Vision or Colonel John.

Court Vision, a $350,000 son of Gulch, established his Derby credentials as a 2-year-old, winning 3 of 4 starts, including the Grade 3 Iroquois at Churchill and the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct. Those exploits caught the attention of IEAH Stable, which bought a half-interest in the colt prior to his third-place finish in the Fountain of Youth, his lone start this year. Court Vision has not run particularly fast in any of his races, but he did show some courage in overcoming a difficult trip to win the Remsen by a neck over Atoned.

Walden noted that Big Truck, who finished fourth in the Remsen, came back to win the Tampa Bay Derby narrowly over Atoned. Also, Halo Najib, whom Court Vision defeated in the Iroquois, came back to run second in the Lane's End Stakes.

"The form around him has been good, but I do think he needs to run a little faster to win the Kentucky Derby," Walden said.

Both Walden and Mott were encouraged by Court Vision's Fountain of Youth effort. Court Vision was last after a half-mile and made up ground on a speed-favoring surface. Though Court Vision was beaten 6 1/4 lengths, jockey Garrett Gomez did not beat him up in the final furlong.

Mott, who is based at the Payson Park training center, said Court Vision has stepped up his training since getting that race under his belt.

"He's always been a laid-back horse, and his works have been good, but there was a little change, like he did wake up a little bit," Mott said.

Mott and WinStar are also running Inner Light in the Wood. That colt, coming off a first-level allowance win, has enough natural speed to where he may be able to entertain War Pass on the lead in the Wood. Inner Light is not Triple Crown nominated.

About 30 minutes after Court Vision runs, the WinStar team will turn its attention to Santa Anita where Colonel John, a homebred son of Tiznow, will try to establish himself as the West Coast's leading Derby contender. Colonel John has 3 wins from 5 starts. After finishing a solid second to Into Mischief in the CashCall Futurity on Dec. 22 at Hollywood Park, he outgamed the previously undefeated El Gato Malo to win the Grade 3 Sham by a half-length. El Gato Malo had come into that race off a 6 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 San Rafael.

"We've been excited about him from the start," Walden said of Colonel John. "The Sham was a race that probably concerned me as much as any of them because of the layoff and El Gato Malo having had a big race. Obviously, the other horse is a very good horse and he didn't beat him that far, but I feel very good going into Saturday."

Should he perform well and get to Louisville, Colonel John will have to prove he can handle a regular dirt surface. All of his starts have come over the synthetic surfaces of Del Mar, Santa Anita, and Hollywood Park.

Walden said there was some discussion about shipping to Fair Grounds for the Louisiana Derby, but after Santa Anita fixed a drainage problem with its surface, the decision was made to stay in California.

"It's not a super concern like it's a negative," Walden said, referring to the switch to dirt for the Kentucky Derby. "It's something that we're all aware of as well as the press. Eoin's plan after this race is to get a good work into him at Churchill."

As a former assistant to Bob Baffert when he won the Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm and Real Quiet, Harty has an idea of what a Derby horse is. He believes Colonel John fits the profile.

"Ability-wise he reminds me of all of them," Harty said Tuesday. "I'm not predicting I'm going to win the Kentucky Derby, but I know from being around those horses that my horse will be competitive on Derby Day."