LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When 15 horses step into the starting gate tomorrow for the 124th Kentucky Derby, the odds board is going to be a marvelous thing. It's going to light up with some of the greatest Derby bargains in years.
For the moment forget Indian Charlie, Favorite Trick, Halory Hunter and Cape Town. Consider these nuggets and their morning-line odds: Real Quiet at 8-1, Artax at 12-1, Victory Gallop at 15-1, Old Trieste at 15-1, Parade Ground at 20-1, Chilito at 30-1 and Hanuman Highway at 50-1.
Real Quiet is Bob Baffert's second horse, although other trainers would gladly take him as their first. He has won only two of 12 races, finishing second twice and third five times. But Baffert and others say he is peaking at the right time.
"I wouldn't trade my horse for any other in there," said Mike Pegram, the owner of Real Quiet.
That's a familiar owner and trainer refrain, but in this case it seems justified. Real Quiet will be the play of many handicappers looking for a horse at a price who should be running at the end.
Until his third-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, Artax was the talk of the West. He had finished first or second in five straight races, beating all the top California competition.
After the Santa Anita Derby a blood test revealed a lung infection and dehydration. Artax's trainer, the former D. Wayne Lukas assistant Randy Bradshaw, had what he hopes is the answer to Artax's disappointing performance.
Artax has trained exceptionally at Churchill Downs.
"I think absolutely my horse is as good as any horse here," Bradshaw said. "A lot of people forget he ran the fastest San Felipe in 15 years [his race before the Santa Anita Derby]."
Bradshaw said he thinks the Kentucky Derby will be won by one of the California horses: His horse, Indian Charlie, Old Trieste or Real Quiet. (The maiden Nationalore and Hanuman Highway also come from California.).
When the Canadian-bred Victory Gallop knocked off Favorite Trick in the Arkansas Derby, he earned his Run for the Roses. Trained by Mary Eppler at Pimlico last year, he is now handled by the Kentucky trainer Elliott Walden.
Not since Sunny's Halo in 1983 has a Canadian-bred won the Kentucky Derby. So far, Victory Gallop is following Sunny's Halo's footprints, winning the same Derby preps, the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby.
"We think he deserved a chance," Walden said of Victory Gallop, a closer. "We didn't want to come with just a hope and a prayer."
If you like Victory Gallop at 15-1, you've got to love Hanuman Highway at 50-1. If it weren't for traffic problems, Hanuman Highway, not Victory Gallop, probably would have won the Arkansas Derby.
He's a lightly raced Irish-bred trained by Kathy Walsh in California. He's a late-charging gelding. He's still learning. But so are most 3-year-olds in May.
On Sunday, Old Trieste turned in what is believed to be the fastest six-furlong Derby work in history: 1 minute, 9 seconds.
Does that mean he's cooked or ready to fire?
After losing Lil's Lad to injury and Comic Strip to poor performance, Neil Howard has one Derby starter left: Parade Ground. In the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct, Parade Ground finished third. He was the only horse closing on a speed-favoring track.
H. Graham Motion has been quietly tending to business here at Churchill Downs -- just as he does at home in Maryland. When Chilito needed a second work Tuesday after a lackluster work Monday, Motion gave it to him. That might have been unorthodox in this day and age, but who is going to second-guess Motion, one of the outstanding young trainers in the sport?
Marylanders think their weather is crazy. Try Kentucky's for a week.
First, the forecast for tomorrow was sunny and 70 degrees. Then it was rain and 60. Now it is partly sunny in the low 70s.
Pub Date: 5/01/98