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Apr 04, 2008

Three Kentucky Derby preps set for Saturday

By: By Don Agriss - Horse Racing Editor, SPORTS NETWORK

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Four weeks until the 134th Kentucky Derby and things should begin the shake out this weekend. On tap Saturday are the Wood Memorial, Illinois and Santa Anita Derbies.

Until now none of the three-year-olds considered contenders for the Run for the Roses has separated himself from the rest. Pyro has posted impressive wins in Louisiana and Big Brown burst onto the scene with a commanding win in the Florida Derby.

Needing some redemption is 2007 champion juvenile War Pass. The colt failed badly as the 1-20 favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby, but is the likely favorite for the $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.

"For whatever reason, he just didn't show up," said trainer Nick Zito. "You want to be confident and draw a line through the Tampa race. His work last week was great. From what I can see, he's going to put in a good effort."

Including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, War Pass was perfect in his first five starts. He already has the graded stakes earnings to safely put him into the Kentucky Derby field.

Denis of Cork is the 2-1 favorite for the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne. The colt is undefeated in three career starts and is coming off a solid victory in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn.

"After the Southwest Stakes, the game plan was to run in the Rebel," said trainer David Carroll. "But everyone talked it over, and decided the best plan was to spread the races a bit further apart. The owners (Mr. and Mrs. William Warren) are believers in the sheets, and that combined with this race being four weeks from the Kentucky Derby led us to Hawthorne."

Z Humor has been made the 3-1 second choice in the morning-line. Since finishing in a dead-heat for first with Turf War in December's Delta Downs Jackpot, Z Humor has been out of the money in two starts this year.

The actual horse to beat in the Illinois Derby may be Atoned. Todd Pletcher's horse has been second his last four starts, the last two each by a neck.

"I thought he ran and fought hard in the Tampa Bay Derby," Pletcher said. "It was his first race since the layoff, and I expect him to move forward. We’ve had a lot of success at Hawthorne and I hope that continues on Saturday."

The three-race afternoon concludes with the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby. Colonel John is the 2-1 morning-line favorite off his win in the local Sham Stakes. An impressive win in this race is needed for a West Coast horse to gain consideration for the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Eoin Harty likes from where Colonel John will start in the 1 1/8 mile race, post five.

"He's right in the middle, you couldn't ask for better," said Harty. "He galloped this morning (Thursday) and I stood him in the gate. All systems are go. It should be a very good race. It's very wide open. Any one can jump up and run a huge race."

Colonel John has won three of his five career starts with two second place finishes.

Second in the Sham Stakes was El Gato Malo, the 5-2 second pick for Saturday. The gelding and rider David Flores will break from post eight in the 11 horse field.

"We're real pleased with the draw," trainer Craig Dollase said. "We couldn't be happier. David looks like he'll be sitting in a good spot. I'm ecstatic with the draw, finally. We've never had a very good draw with this horse, so hopefully, things are in our favor."

"The draw absolutely gives us a lot more options," said Flores. "I think it's going to be good pace this time, but it doesn't matter. I think I've got a better position, that's for sure. The horse has been working very well the last couple of times. There should be no excuses. If he's going to do it, this is the time."

El Gato Malo won the San Rafael Stakes earlier this year and has three wins in four lifetime starts. Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, El Gato Malo likes to stalk the pace.

Expected to come from far back in the race is Yankee Bravo, who ran third to early Kentucky Derby favorite Pyro in the Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds on March 8.

"Each time he's run, he's finished well," trainer Paddy Gallagher said about Yankee Bravo.

The colt is 4-1 in the program and has drawn the inside post with Alex Solis slated to ride.

"I think the other ones should worry about whether they're ready to compete with him." Solis noted.

Yankee Bravo has won three of four career starts, including the California Derby, while earning $202,049.

The Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby will be broadcast by NBC beginning at 5 p.m. (et).

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