- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

LOUISVILLE, Ky. Today's 128th Kentucky Derby lost one of its top contenders yesterday but not one of its leading riders.

Second-choice Buddha was withdrawn after suffering slight lameness in his left front hoof before a planned sunrise gallop at Churchill Downs. Dr. Larry Bramlage said Buddha improved 50 percent within hours but may have suffered a fracture. Bramlage wouldn't comment on Buddha's readiness for the Preakness Stakes on May 18 at Pimlico Race Course.

"I always said if there's a bump in the road we wouldn't [enter], and there's a bump in the road," trainer Jim Bond said of his first Derby horse. "I thought this horse was special."

Buddha jockey Pat Day's streak of 19 straight Derbies was jeopardized for only a few hours before he replaced Corey Nakatani aboard long shot Blue Burner. Nakatani suffered a concussion Thursday riding at Hollywood Park.

"It's a no-brainer," Blue Burner trainer Bill Mott said. "Pat and I have won a lot of races together."

Day is to Louisville what Cal Ripken is to Baltimore. He even has a local McDonald's soda cup and TV commercials. However, Day's only Derby winner was Lil E. Tee in 1992. He has finished second four times but 15th the last two years. Still, local fans were relieved their top jock will ride.

"I did not want somebody to get taken off in order to allow me the opportunity to ride," Day said. "I've certainly had a great deal of success with Billy over the years."

The loss of Buddha impacts an already open race. The early pace could slow slightly without the Wood Memorial winner, allowing the early speedsters to last longer and prevent late-runners from closing.

The Derby retains its traditional suspense, pitting the nation's leading 3-year-old colts over the longest distance of their careers 1¼ miles. Harlan's Holiday is the highest morning line favorite (9-2) in 53 years, though the loss of Buddha (5-1) probably will lower the choice to 3-1.

Came Home (5-1), Medaglia d'Oro (6-1) and Johannesburg (6-1) are the only others rated less than 10-1. The 19-horse field even has four rated 50-1, meaning they will attract less than 2 percent of wagers. Saarland (15-1) and Essence of Dubai (15-1) are among the sleepers in a field that lacks a hard favorite.

"Anyone who can pick the winner will be either very lucky or a very good handicapper," Proud Citizen trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. "It's like the NCAA tournament. It's easy to judge the ACC or Big 12 [tournaments] because they play all season, but when you start taking them in different regionals it becomes different. How do you know if Came Home is as good as he looked in California when he meets the Arkansas Derby winner? How does the Arkansas winner stack up with the Wood winner? Then you get those big surprises. If you get the [results tomorrow] you'll shake your head and say, 'How can this happen?' It's a mind-boggling experience."

Harlan's Holiday is a tepid choice despite wins at the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes. Trainer Ken McPeek said Harlan's Holiday has "a whole lot left" but conceded Came Home is his biggest concern.

Came Home has won six of seven career races, including three straight. He even split rivals leaving the turn to win the Santa Anita Derby by 2¼ lengths. However, no Santa Anita winner has smelled the roses since 1989, and Came Home's winning times have been unimpressive. McPeek isn't among the skeptics, though.

"When I saw him in the Breeders' Cup last fall, I thought there was a horse I could beat," McPeek said. "He is [now] a totally different horse bigger, stronger, better looking, healthier."

Medaglia d'Oro, which means "gold medal" in Italian, is well traveled. He lost the Wood by a head to Buddha at Belmont Park after earlier wins at Santa Anita Park and Oaklawn Park. He will be ridden by 55-year-old jockey Laffit Pincay, who last won the Derby aboard Swale in 1984.

Johannesburg heads three Irish runners, including Castle Gandolfo and Ocean Sound. However, Johannesburg must overcome three historic strikes. No foreigner since Canonero II in 1971, juvenile champion since 1979 or Breeders' Cup juvenile victor has won the Derby.

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