Its only been two years since a trainer started five horses in the Kentucky Derby. But the best a Nick Zito-trained runner could muster was a seventh-place finish. The only other trainer to start as many as five was Darrell Wayne Lukas 11 years ago. One of them, Grindstone, won it.

Interesting that Lukass protg, Todd Pletcher, whos never won a classic, will run five in Derby 133 and might even have a sixth starter if Soaring By wins Saturdays Lexington impressively. But even if he doesnt, Pletchers not backing away from his position. Id have to say with three weeks remaining that were holding our strongest hand ever.

Ya think?

Know this much: Pletcher recently named the five jockeys that will partner his Derby starters. Four of them, arguably, are Americas best. The other, at 19, exploded onto the stakes scene last year and has become the regular rider of defending Horse of the Year champion, Invasor.

And so Garrett Gomez will ride quick-footed Any Given Saturday. Eclipse-winning Edgar Prado, who won the Florida Derby on Scat Daddy, retains the mount. Pletchers first-call rider, Johnny Velazquez, sticks with Circular Quay, widely perceived as the best of Pletcher's quints. Ramon Dominguez guides the Derby fortunes of long-winded Sam P. and Fernando Jara re-rides Illinois Derby-winning Coaltown Cat.

Now if only the five were coupled in the wagering handicapping this Derby would be easy. But what fun would that be? Degree of difficulty for both horse and handicapper is what the Kentucky Derbys all about.