Harlan's Holiday probably sealed his position as Derby favorite with an impressive 4 1/2-length victory over Booklet in the $750,000 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.
Under the prodding of Pat Day, Buddha stuck his head ahead of favored Medaglia d'Oro in the final turn and held the edge all the way to the wire to win the $750,000 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Race Track in New York.
The Wood has produced the last two Derby winners -- Monarchos last year and Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.
But Harlan's Holiday will be tough to beat in the Derby. On Saturday, he raced neck-and-neck with Booklet down the stretch before pulling away over the final furlong.
The victory was Harlan's Holiday's second straight Grade I win over Booklet, following a 3 1/2 length victory in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on March 16.
The Blue Grass and Florida Derby were 1 1/8 miles and the extra length clearly benefited Harlan's Holiday, which finished in 1:51 2/5 on Saturday and paid $3.40, $2.20 and $2.10.
Trained by Ken McPeek, a Lexington native, Harlan's Holiday has six wins and four second-place finishes in 10 starts.
"Getting my first Blue Grass victory is a tremendous thrill. This is just a great horse," McPeek said.
Booklet, which edged Harlan's Holiday at the wire in both the Grade I Fountain of Youth and Grade III Holy Bull in the first two showdowns with Harlan's Holiday, paid $3 and $2.40.
Booklet jumped out of the gate and held a slight lead over Bob's Image through the back stretch before Harlan's Holiday made his move at the quarter-mile ground and pulled away down the stretch.
Ocean Sound, ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye, was third and paid $2.80. Bob's Image faded to fifth behind Straight Gin.
Azillion, who was beaten by a neck in the Lane's End Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, finished a disappointing last in the six-horse field.
"He might have come up with a temperature," jockey Corey Nakatani said. "I don't know. I know he didn't run like the horse I thought he was."
Sent off as the 3-1 second choice, Buddha won in 1:48 3/5 and returned $8.20, $4.20 and $3.60. Medaglia d'Oro, the 2-1 favorite, paid $3.60 and $3.20.
Buddha took to the rail and stayed there, just behind Medaglia d'Oro heading into the final turn in the 1 1/8 mile race. But down the stretch, Buddha was able to stick his head in front and held off the favorite.
"This horse really ran big," Day said. "He fought really hard to the the wire."
Sunday Break finished a half-length behind in third and paid $4.70.
Saarland, whose sire, Unbridled, won the 1990 Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup Classic, was fourth.
As a juvenile, Saarland won two of his five starts, with the biggest win coming at Aqueduct's Grade II Remsen last fall.
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