Confused about who you're going to bet in the office Kentucky Derby pool?
The race is little more than two weeks away and there is no standout this year in the tradition of a Spectacular Bid or Seattle Slew.
A full field of 20 thoroughbreds could go to the post on May 1 in the 119th running of America's most famous horse race.
But the key word this spring has been Loblolly, just like it used to be Calumet or Greentree, the names of the famous stud farms that once dominated the race.
From 20 starters, Calumet Farm produced eight Kentucky Derby winners. Greentree has started 19 with two winners.
John Ed Anthony is an Arkansas lumberman who campaigns his runners under the banner of Loblolly Stable. Last year, Anthony won the Preakness with Pine Bluff and he also won the Belmont Stakes in 1980 with Temperence Hill. But so far a victory in the Kentucky Derby has eluded him.
For about 20 years, Anthony has been eyeing a win in the Derby, according to his trainer Tom Bohannan.
Anthony's first starters, Pine Circle and Vanlandingham, finished sixth and 16th, respectively, in 1984. Since then his other starters -- Demons Begone, Lost Mountain and Pine Bluff -- have drawn a blank.
But 1993 could be Anthony's year.
Three of the top dozen Derby contenders-- Prairie Bayou, Dalhart and Marked Tree-- are owned by Anthony.
He bred Prairie Bayou, and purchased Dalhart and Marked Tree, both sons of the Mr. Prospector sire, Forty Niner, as yearlings in the same sale at Keeneland (Ky.) in July 1991. Dalhart cost $85,000. Marked Tree was a bit more expensive at $325,000.
Prairie Bayou, the early Derby favorite, is the only 3-year-old to win two of the more than 30 major Derby preps this spring. He won the Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park and followed that with a win last Saturday in the Blue Grass Stakes.
This weekend Dalhart is the favorite in the Arkansas Derby, and Marked Tree, winner of the Remington Park Derby in Oklahoma, gets his first real class test in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct.
Yesterday, Bohannan said he still doesn't know which horse is best.
"We will know more after this weekend. That is when we'll sit down and decide what riders we are going to use," Bohannan said.
Mike Smith, who won the Blue Grass Stakes on Prairie Bayou, the Rebel Stakes on Dalhart and broke Marked Tree's maiden last November at Aqueduct, will get his choice of mounts.
Smith will ride Dalhart in the Arkansas Derby. He stayed at Oaklawn Park on March 27 to ride the colt in the Southwest Stakes and let Chris McCarron have the mount on Prairie Bayou in the Jim Beam.
But Bohannan said he doubts if can get McCarron to ride one of the horses in the Derby. McCarron is committed to Corby, the 8-5 favorite in the Blue Grass Stakes who finished a disappointing seventh.
Pat Day has the mount on Marked Tree in the Wood Memorial and could have the mount on whichever of the top two Anthony colts -- Prairie Bayou or Dalhart -- that Smith decides not to ride.
"We're going in the Derby with a strong hand," Bohannan said. "But we're not getting overconfident. I like our position, but there probably will be 20 horses in the gate and it's not always the best 3-year-old that wins the race."
He said that last year no one connected with the Loblolly outfit could look at the 2-year-olds and predict their dominance this spring.
"It just goes to show you the kind of team Mr. Anthony has put together," he said. "He has a lot of good people from pedigree advisers to veterinarians to personnel on the farms working for him."
Anthony has no farm of his own, but boards his breeding stock in Kentucky at Claiborne and Longfield farms and then sends his young horses to be broken in Florida.
Bohannan takes the best horses to run at the New York tracks and then spends the winter at Oaklawn Park in Anthony's hometown of Hot Springs.
Bohannan remembers running Prairie Bayou at Laurel last fall in the Inner Harbor Stakes and seeing him get beat by a nose by a former local claimer named Jorge of Mexico.
"He was big and awkward as a 2-year-old and didn't develop until late in the year," Bohannan said.
But Bohannan said it was a different horse that ran four months later in the Blue Grass Stakes and stamped himself as the early Derby favorite.
"He sat way back off the pace and then put in a dynamic run to beat those horses," Bohannan said. "I thought it was a real professional performance."