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Early Derby picture is WinStar family photo

In hindsight, the six rivals that lined up against Drosselmeyer in a 11⁄8-miles allowance test at Gulfstream Park last weekend faced a pretty futile task in trying to defeat the chestnut colt.

It was not just because Drosselmeyer had won his only other dirt start by 6 lengths, and it was not just because he had a pedigree and running style built for two-turn success.

Arguably, what Drosselmeyer most had going for him that day were the green and white silks he was carrying on behalf of his owner. Because in the early stages of this perilous 2010 Kentucky Derby trail, no operation has better mojo than WinStar Farm at the moment.

While it has bred a Kentucky Derby winner in 2003 hero Funny Cide and had multiple starters in the race the past four years, Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt's WinStar Farm has yet to get into the winner's circle itself on the first Saturday of May.

Though they know better than to get too excited early on, WinStar's principals admit this year could represent its best chance at claiming the roses thanks to a quartet of contenders that — in their own way — all fit the classic profile. Three WinStar horses are among the Herald-Leader's third annual Derby Dozen selections.

The loaded WinStar roster of Derby hopefuls began taking shape last winter when its homebreds Super Saver, Rule, and American Lion won the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Grade III Delta Jackpot and Grade III Hollywood Prevue Stakes, respectively, within a 14-day span.

On Jan. 31, WinStar's latest prospect Drosselmeyer — a $600,000 purchase at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale — threw his name into the Derby mix when he powered home to a 13/4-length victory over a solid field of allowance foes.

Having ample Derby contenders is nothing new for WinStar, as it has had at least two starters in the race for the past four seasons.

Seeing this much promise this early from its group, however, has the farm thinking Triple Crown success won't elude it much longer.

"I think this is our strongest bunch top to bottom as far as depth is concerned," said Elliott Walden, vice president and racing manager for WinStar. "In past years, we've always had horses in the Derby, but if you would have asked me last January who we had, I maybe would have said one with Hold Me Back and the year before that, I could have said Colonel John.

"This year, we have four legitimate chances and it almost doesn't seem possible that you can have that kind of luck. We're really excited. (Winning the Derby) is a dream for us like it is for everybody else."

There is, of course, no hard and fast formula for getting a Derby horse. But if there were a mantra for WinStar Farm in that regard, it would be patience and pedigree.

WinStar stallion Distorted Humor, sire of Drosselmeyer, and Maria's Mon, sire of Super Saver, have each produced Derby winners in Funny Cide (2003) and Monarchos (2001). Rule's dam, Rockcide, is a half sister to Funny Cide.

"We like to support our stallions and we like to pick out horses that are superior individuals," said Casner, who founded WinStar along with Troutt in early 2000.

None of WinStar's current group raced in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November and both Super Saver and Rule are likely to just have two preps leading up to the Derby.

"I think not being over-raced is important," Walden said. "It's important to come in fresh and try and peak on that first Saturday of May, and that's kind of the way we approach the preps.

"It's not that we don't want to win them but we'd rather use them as a steppingstone."

If WinStar can get all four of its contenders into the Derby starting gate, it will be a masterful feat in itself considering the level of talent this year's sophomores have shown thus far.

Reigning 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky has been far and away the class of the West Coast and possesses a turn of foot that can grind down the best of them in the lane.

The Bruce Levine-trained Buddy's Saint proved he can stretch out with authority during his 43/4-length triumph in the Grade II Remsen last November while improving contenders like Lecomte Stakes winner Ron the Greek and Holy Bull runner-up Jackson Bend have already made some noise on the trail.

"You know, every year is a different one and the Derby is no doubt the most difficult race to win," Casner said. "The stars have to be crossed. You have to have an exceptional horse, and you have to have a tremendous amount of luck.

"We've been very blessed so far this year so we're just keeping our fingers crossed and hoping the horses stay healthy."

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