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Saturday preps to bring Derby picture into focus

Three Kentucky Derby preps — the Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby and Illinois Derby — take center stage Saturday. It’s crunch time with just four weeks until the Run for the Roses.

The Wood features my top pick for the Derby — Any Given Saturday — facing Nobiz Like Shobiz and Summer Doldrums.

The Santa Anita Derby could have the weakest field because it has only two stakes winners starting: Bwana Bull and King of the Roxy. Neither horse is favored. That honor goes to Liquidity.

In the Illinois Derby, a good group led by Cobalt Blue, Cowtown Cat and Bold Start could jump up. Cowtown Cat also was entered in the Wood but will run at Hawthorne.

Trainer Todd Pletcher has a shot at sweeping all three. He’ll start Any Given Saturday in the Wood, Sam P. and King of the Roxy at Santa Anita and Cowtown Cat at Hawthorne. In all, Pletcher has an nine colts still on the Derby trail.

The trainer record for most Derby starters is five, held by Nick Zito (2005) and D. Wayne Lukas (1996).

When you’re watching these preps, remember that running well might mean just as much as winning. Trainers know the goal is to peak May 5 in the Derby, not in a final prep.

Also, Circular Quay, Scat Daddy, Hard Spun and Notional might not start again before the Derby, leaving them with layoffs ranging from five to eight weeks.

KEENELAND — The rich Keeneland meet begins today at Lexington, Ky. Its signature Derby prep, the Toyota Blue Grass, will be April 14. Expect Street Sense and Great Hunter to headline. Keeneland uses the innovative Trakus system, so bettors can follow the horses as colored “chicklets” moving across the top of the simulcast picture.

CONTESTS — There was one perfect ticket in the Santa Anita Pick 5 contest Thursday at South Point. The winner got $39,060. The $5,000 Horse Handicapper’s Contest is Sunday at the Cannery and Rampart race books.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com.

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