- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 2, 2002

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Harlan's Holiday was installed as the highest morning-line Kentucky Derby favorite in 53 years yesterday, getting the 9-2 nod for Saturday's 20-horse field.
With 20 separate betting interests and no "field entry" lumping the six largest long shots, Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia was forced to raise the favorite's odds to the highest level since 1949. The largest Derby field since 1984 even produced four exclusions because of the 20-horse limit.
Buddha and Came Home are 5-1 second choices in the 128th Run for the Roses, while Johannesburg is 6-1. No other entrant was less than 15-1, with four rated 50-1.
"This is going to be a great betting race," Battaglia said. "It doesn't say anything bad about Harlan's Holiday. It's a very contentious field. I don't think one horse will get the backing to be a heavy favorite."
Trainer Ken McPeek wasn't upset over the perceived slight of Harlan's Holiday. The Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes winner was an expected light choice in a year with no standout 3-year-old colts. Harlan's Holiday gained a favorable No.14 post.
"I've got a whole lot of horse left," McPeek said. "We're real confident."
Trainer Bob Baffert's Danthebluegrassman was a surprise late entrant that bumped Windward Passage from the field based on graded stakes earnings, along with Sunday Break, Straight Gin and U S S Tinosa. Danthebluegrassman (50-1) earned a chance after training well over the Churchill track following an uncharacteristic eighth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby on April6. The colt won the Golden Gate Derby on Jan.12 and was a close second in the El Camino Derby on March9.
Baffert decided yesterday to enter after a solid Tuesday workout. Former Maryland jockey Kent Desormeaux is aboard. Baffert also entered War Emblem (20-1).
"A lot of my second-stringers have beaten my first-teamers," Baffert said.
Johannesburg seeks to become the first 2-year-old champion to win the Derby since Spectacular Bid in 1979. The Irish-based colt also would be the first foreign entrant to win since Venezuela's Canonero II in 1971.
After winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct.27 at Belmont Park, Johannesburg lost an Irish stakes by a nose on April7. Jockey Gary Stevens gained the mount at entry time when Sunday Break was excluded.
"I've seen a lot of funny things happen [where] you find youself in the winner's circle," said Stevens, a three-time Derby champion.
Johannesburg's connections chose the No.1 post instead of No.2 or No.3 to gain added time to settle the colt down by the field is loaded. The inside post is considered undesirable, given the poor angle to the first turn, but Johannesburg isn't among the expected early leaders anyway.
Came Home (15), Easy Grades (19) and Blue Burner (20) were compromised by outside posts. The early front-runner will need to push early to run their usual styles. That traditionally proves costly in the long 1-mile race. However, five of the last seven Derby winners came from the auxiliary starting gate.
The Derby is worth a record $1.205million, including $905,000 to the winner.

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