It's a little less than two weeks until the Kentucky Derby, and one thing appears certain: Another big, bulky field is likely to start in the 121st running of the race.
Churchill Downs officials have published a list of 21 probable starters, and track publicist Mark Midland said there are more "dreamers lurking in the woodwork."
But, he added, "I think we'll end up with about 18 horses."
A field of 20 is the limit, and 18 would be four more than competed last year.
A sudden surge in interest developed after such early standouts as Afternoon Deelites, Timber Country and Thunder Gulch were defeated in recent weeks.
In Las Vegas, most of the betting had been on those horses.
Now, newcomers Talkin Man, a galloping 7 3/4 -length winner of the Wood Memorial, and the filly Serena's Song, who beat males in the Jim Beam Stakes, are getting much of the play.
These have been the most arresting pre-Derby developments:
* The exodus of Larry The Legend. The bargain-basement grandson of Northern Dancer, who cost $2,500 at a bankruptcy auction, beat Afternoon Deelites by a head in the Santa Anita Derby. It was the most competitive of the Derby preps. But the horse tried so hard, he chipped a bone and will miss the Derby because of an injured leg.
* Despite unorthodox training regimens and race schedules, three foreign horses -- two from England and one from Japan -- appear to be coming to Louisville. The Derby is attracting more global types. The English horses, Citadeed and Eltish, have had only one 1995 prep race. Ski Captain has had none.
* Horses and trainers are arriving at Churchill Downs en masse in plenty of time to prepare for the May 6 race. More than half the prospective field is there. Afternoon Deelites, Serena's Song, Jumron and Timber Country have had works over the track.
It's not the scenery in eastern Kentucky that's attracting them. It's getting the animals familiarized with the racing strip, which is deeper and more tiring than other ovals, particularly ones on the West Coast.
The latest victim of arriving at the Downs too late was 1994 favorite Holy Bull. He arrived only a few days before the race, didn't handle the track in workouts and finished 12th.
* A number of big-name jockeys are without mounts, including Chris McCarron, who rode last year's winner, Go For Gin. In addition to McCarron, Gary Stevens, Eddie Delahoussaye and Laffit Pincay Jr. are looking for rides. D. Wayne Lukas, who likely will run a three-horse entry, still needs a jockey for Thunder Gulch.
Pat Day rides Lukas-trained Timber Country and Corey Nakatani has the mount on Serena's Song, although Lukas still hasn't confirmed that the filly will start.
* The best quote has come from Dick Mandella, trainer of Afternoon Deelites. The horse's Dosage Index is 5.00, a point higher than the 4.00 figure attributed to every Derby winner except one (Strike the Gold) since 1929.
The higher the Dosage index, which is gleaned from computing stamina influences in a horse's pedigree, the less likely the horse can win at the 1 1/4 -mile Derby distance.
Addressing the Dosage issue, Mandella said, "I don't know how important Dosage is. If it is important, then I don't want to know about it."
Where are they now?
Here's an update on certain horses that have made the news, but for one reason or another have lately been missing in action:
* Valley Crossing, Bob Meyerhoff's retired 1993 Maryland-bred Horse of the Year, is cutting quite a swath in his stud career. So far, he has gotten 18 mares in foal in his first season at stud at Bonita Farm. He's booked to 36 more mares.
* Vital Testamony, a 4-year-old gelding barred from flat racing after swerving in the stretch and bolting near the finish in a March 30 race at Laurel Park, has been sold by Bill Geist's McDonogh Farms as a jumper prospect. The horse joined trainer Jack Fisher's steeplechase string last week. Fisher also recently purchased Battleship Grey from the Jerry Robb outfit.
* Silver Goblin, recent runner-up to Cigar in the Oaklawn Handicap, is not expected to run in the Pimlico Special on May 13. The horse is not among the race's 38 original nominees.
* Von Csadek, 1992 winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup, has embarked on a successful show-jumping career with former Olympian Frank Chapot. The horse recently won several schooling jumper championships on the Florida winter circuit.
* He Is Risen, Arnold Heft's former Maryland stakes star, has been retired and is at stud in New Zealand.
* Barbara Kees' South Bend came out of his third-place finish in the John B. Campbell Handicap with some filling in an ankle and missed yesterday's Jennings Handicap. The injury doesn't appear career-threatening. South Bend has been working out on a treadmill and should go back to galloping this week.
Those Hollywood scriptwriters
How did Hollywood scriptwriters come up with the name "Corey L'Auberge" for the fictitious jockey that Kent Desormeaux plays in an episode of "Baywatch"?
Desormeaux explains: "The woman that wrote the script had just had a son that she named Corey. So that's where Corey came from.
"And I first met the producers of the show last summer at the Hotel L'Auberge at Del Mar."
The episode is scheduled for a fall viewing.
The 'Hunt Cup Grays'
It could be a ghost-like finish on Saturday in the Maryland Hunt Cup.
The three favorites -- Ivory Poacher, Buck Jakes and Florida Law -- are grays, though none was sired by a gray stallion.
Ivory Poacher is a son of Buckfinder (dark bay or brown), Buck Jakes is by Turkoman (dark bay or brown), and Florida Law is a son of Wardlaw (dark bay or brown).
Ivory Poacher and Buck Jakes have one common gray ancestor -- Native Dancer, the "Gray Ghost" of Sagamore Farm.