Came Home is Kentucky Derby-bound

Monday, April 8th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) _ A few weeks ago, Came Home strained a muscle when he got caught in his stall.

It set back his schedule, and trainer Paco Gonzalez worried that the colt was going into the $750,000 Santa Anita Derby one workout short.

``I try so hard to get this horse ready,'' Gonzalez said. ``He gave me a lot of headaches.''

``You can buy a lot of aspirin now,'' jockey Chris McCarron told Gonzalez after Came Home beat Easy Grades by 2 1/4 lengths to win Saturday's final West Coast prep for the Kentucky Derby.

Came Home will head to Kentucky in a couple of weeks with just one loss on his resume _ a seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November. He is 6-of-7, with earnings of $871,440 for owners John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery, Will Farish and John Goodman.

``He's got everything it takes to win,'' McCarron said. ``He's got talent, class, determination and speed _ all those good qualities that you need to go to the Derby.''

Came Home answered questions about his ability to handle the 1 1-8-mile Santa Anita Derby distance, although his time of 1:50 was 11th-slowest in the race's 65-year history.

``I don't think a mile and a quarter is a problem,'' McCarron said, referring to the Kentucky Derby distance. ``Knock on wood nothing goes wrong between now and the time he walks into the starting gate in Kentucky, he'll be a fitter horse.''

Two of Came Home's rivals lost their weekend prep races, leaving the California colt as the early favorite for the Derby on May 4.

In the Illinois Derby, Repent, the 1-2 favorite, lost to War Emblem by 6 1/4 lengths. The colt was the victim of a slow pace, and lost ground to War Emblem in the final eighth of a mile Saturday.

In Ireland on Sunday, Johannesburg was beaten at the wire by Rebelline in the seven-furlong Gladness Stakes at the Curragh.

Johannesburg won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, which included Came Home, and was unbeaten as a 2-year-old. Trainer Aidan O'Brien doesn't plan another prep for Johannesburg before the Kentucky Derby.

At Santa Anita on Saturday, Easy Grades was second and Lusty Latin was third. Both are expected to run in the Derby.

``It looks like we've got a ticket to the big dance, with a horse that we feel has a legitimate chance,'' said Ted H. West, trainer of Easy Grades.

Easy Grades briefly edged ahead of Came Home past the three-sixteenths pole under Gary Stevens, who was frustrated by a misplaced chin strap on the colt.

But West said the mistake was of no consequence.

``Hey, the horse ran the race of his life, I just might put the chin strap on the same way next time,'' he said.

Trainer Jeff Mullins said he has fielded three offers for Lusty Latin, who was a 47-1 shot, including one from a person who stopped by the barn Sunday. The colt is owned by Joey and Wendy Platt of Lyman, Wyo.

Patrick Biancone, trainer of fourth-place Mayakovsky, said a decision on the colt's next race would be made later.

Mayakovsky stumbled badly at the start under jockey Patrick Valenzuela, but went to the lead and stayed there until the top of the stretch.

``We had what I call `limited bad luck,''' Biancone said. ``Real bad luck would be if the horse injures himself. But he came back in good shape, so all we had was limited bad luck.''