03/23/2008 11:00PM

Adriano not great, but who is?


NEW YORK - Unless you bred and own him, train him, ride him, or made the score of a lifetime betting on him, the first inclination is to seriously doubt Adriano's victory in Saturday's Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park will be an important milepost on the way to the 134th Kentucky Derby.

Although Adriano is a perfectly nice colt with a beautiful pedigree - he's by A.P. Indy from a Mr. Prospector mare - and is in the expert hands of trainer Graham Motion, this was not one of the better renewals of the Lane's End. Despite offering a purse of $500,000 in graded stakes money, it failed to attract a single leading Kentucky Derby candidate. In fact, none of the 11 who contested this Lane's End had an important stakes win to his credit.

It's not like Adriano showed something out of the ordinary on Saturday, either. His performance was thoroughly professional. Adriano had a comfortable trip sitting off an honest pace, and he ran the 1 1/8 miles in a time that earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 92, which, frankly, is mediocre.

What Adriano did accomplish is collect $285,000 in graded earnings, which assures him a berth in the Kentucky Derby, if that is the direction his people want to take. You certainly can't blame them if they do. But it is fair to ask whether Adriano showed anything to make you think he could handle conventional dirt in the Derby better than in his only other attempt on it - a distant ninth in last month's Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

So the first impression was that the Lane's End was not the place to look for a top Kentucky Derby contender. But who knows what unexpected twists could conspire to boost Adriano's stock?

Rare is the year when the road to the Derby is smooth and predictable. But this year's road seems more weird than most. For the longest time, the Derby looked like it might be a two-horse race. War Pass and Pyro seemed in a different league than everyone else, and then on March 15 War Pass was mysteriously empty in his shocking flop in the Tampa Bay Derby. Then you have the undefeated Denis of Cork, who was visually impressive winning the Southwest Stakes in his last start. Denis of Cork was making only his third start in the Southwest, and you would think his connections would want to get him as much racing experience as possible given how critical experience can be in the Derby. Instead, because Denis of Cork got a big sheet number in the Southwest, and because sheet patterns suggest he might regress next time and then take a big step forward the start after that, Denis of Cork will get just one more start before the Derby.

But the most unusual development on this year's road to the Derby is that the prominent players have not run fast. As we approach the final round of Derby preps, it's surprising that not one of the prominent two-turn Derby preps has resulted in a winning triple-digit Beyer Figure.

Pyro, who now stands alone as the future book favorite for the Derby, earned a 95 for winning the Louisiana Derby. Cool Coal Man got a 98 winning the Fountain of Youth, and Denis of Cork got a 96 for winning the Southwest. And while their final times were impacted by slow early paces, the fact remains that Georgie Boy's San Felipe and Colonel John's Sham received Beyers of 92 and 86, respectively. So while Adriano's 92 in the Lane's End wasn't much, it also wasn't far off of what some of his much more highly regarded contemporaries have earned.

Thoughts on some other weekend stakes:

* Trainer Larry Jones is certainly in an enviable position when it comes to 3-year-old fillies. Jones has Proud Spell, who handed Indian Blessing the first defeat of her career in the Fair Grounds Oaks, and who must be considered the leader of the division, at least until Country Star returns to the races. He also has Eight Belles, who is winning everything she runs in these days by double-digit margins.

You can now add Maren's Meadow to Jones's arsenal after her victory in Saturday's Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway. But Maren's Meadow has some improving to do before she can be considered on a par with her two barn mates, who are Kentucky Oaks contenders. Maren's Meadow will be pointed to lesser races like the Black-Eyed Susan.

* On the Acorn's aspirations of being an important player in California's distance turf division are now on hold after he failed to run a jump as the favorite in Saturday's 1o1/2-mile San Luis Rey Handicap at Santa Anita. It's not like that division is especially strong, either. Boule d'Or, who held on to win the San Luis Rey after running off to a lead of at least 10 lengths in the middle stages, was claimed for $50,000 in January.