05/04/2006 12:00AM

Analysis: Speed sets up Saint and A. P. Warrior

Email

BRAD FREE

Pace-presser Sweetnorthernsaint acts as if he can handle the likely fast pace of this year's Derby. And if he does, he can win. Sweetnorthernsaint relaxed off tepid fractions and finished strongly in his last two starts, and along with Brother Derek enters with four straight 100-plus Beyer Figures. The difference is Sweetnorthernsaint appears comfortable rallying from behind; Brother Derek does not.

Sweetnorthernsaint is fast, but he also can finish. He sprinted 1:09 in January; recent come-home times (24-, 30-, 36-and-change) in routes are super. Sweetnorthernsaint should get a comfortable trip several lengths behind the front-runners, and be among the first to attack when the pace collapses.

A. P. Warrior has lost three times to Brother Derek, but never in a speed-filled race at 1 1/4 miles. Under favorable conditions, A. P. Warrior is qualified to win. The pace will be swift; most top finishers likely will emerge from the middle or back of the field. A graded stakes-winning closer, A. P. Warrior is one of four entrants with successive triple-digit Beyers. He should improve at 10 furlongs with a fast pace up front.

Steppenwolfer has lost three times to Lawyer Ron, but never in a long-distance race with a hot pace. A deep closer, Steppenwolfer gained valuable seasoning circling and slicing through big fields at Oaklawn, always finishing well. He is the price play.

The Blue Grass romp by Sinister Minister was the most impressive Derby prep of spring. If he reproduces that Keeneland effort on an unbiased Churchill track, he could race gate to wire. His 45-and-change speed makes him the Derby pacesetter.

Jazil, another deep closer, galloped out in front after running second in the Wood. Bob and John won the Wood and has an advantageous style. Point Determined is improving. Barbaro has never lost, yet his competition in Florida has been dubious.

Brother Derek is the best horse, but his running style is detrimental with so much speed. Yet he may get an in-the-clear trip from his outside post. Lawyer Ron has won six straight, but also runs up front. Bluegrass Cat once was a Derby favorite, but he never has earned a 100 Beyer.

Brad Free

Sweetnorthernsaint
A. P. Warrior
Steppenwolfer
Sinister Minister

BYRON KING

Sweetnorthernsaint was spectacular in winning the Illinois Derby, relaxing comfortably for jockey Kent Desormeaux and exploding once he was turned loose in the stretch. Unlike some of the other front-runners, he is capable of relaxing without the rider having to restrain him off the pace, a key in what should be a fast-paced Kentucky Derby. He also rated kindly in the Gotham earlier this year when he finished a wide third. Beyond having the right temperament, he is simply fast. He has earned four consecutive triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, something only Brother Derek has accomplished in this field. Sweetnorthern-saint, under two-time Derby winner Kent Desormeaux, looms an attractive wager at his 10-1 track morning-line odds. Point Determined is an even-paced runner who should be at his best in a Derby that figures to unfold with fast fractions. He ran second to Brother Derek when that one was loose on the lead in the Santa Anita Derby, a quality performance on his part. He has shown steady improvement in recent months and appears ready for another leap forward. Barbaro, perfect in six starts, has trained well in recent weeks over the Churchill strip. With some bettors hesitant to support him off a five-week layoff and with just one race in 13 weeks, he could drift up from his 4-1 morning-line odds. A former turf horse, he figures to run well if he is able to get a clean trip, but he could get discouraged if he falls behind early and gets dirt in his face. Front-running Brother Derek, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, has been dominant since late last year, but faces a daunting task because of the abundance of speed in the 20-horse lineup. He has twice earned Beyers of 108 when racing on the lead, but has never posted a Beyer above 102 when off the pace. He tugged at jockey Alex Solis when he was taken back just off the leaders in winning the Santa Catalina Stakes on March 4, which hints that he may have trouble settling in the early stages of a hotly contested Derby.

Byron King

Sweetnorthernsaint
Point Determined
Barbaro
Brother Derek

STEVE KLEIN

Sinister Minister ran an ultra-impressive race in his 12 3/4-length victory in the Blue Grass at Keeneland. There was no speed bias that day, and he deserves extra credit for setting a red-hot pace in that race. If he runs as well in the Kentucky Derby, he can kill off any speedster who is foolish enough to duel with him, and can take his field all the way. On the other hand, if he regresses, he will lose by a large margin. The only horses he will beat will be the ones who battled him early. At odds in the neighborhood of 10-1 through 15-1, he is a bargain as a win bet.

Throw out his debut, which came on turf, and his Gotham, which was still a good effort with a 104 Beyer Speed Figure, and Sweetnorthern-saint shows wins by 16, 10, 9 1/4, and 7 3/4 lengths. He rated in second behind a slower-than-par pace of 48 seconds and 1:13, then finished strongly in his 9 1/4-length Illinois Derby win, so don't buy into the theory that he is an early-speed horse. If he wins the Derby comfortably he will be regarded as a potential superstar, and a potential Triple Crown winner. Bet him to win in the Derby while you can still get an attractive overlaid price.

Point Determined is improving. He will find a more favorable pace scenario today than he did in the Santa Anita Derby, and can contend in the exotics. Brother Derek beat a small field while loose on the lead through a slow pace in the Santa Anita Derby. He will be an underlaid contender. Sharp Humor couldn't hold on to win going 1 1/8 miles after setting a 1:11.37 pace in the Florida Derby, so how can he possibly duel with Sinister Minister through a possible 1:09-and-change pace and expect to survive? The key for Sharp Humor is to try to relax well enough to run a slower six furlongs than he did in the Florida Derby. If he and trainer Dale Romans can forget about Sinister Minister and try rating tactics, this improving colt can stick for a share. Lawyer Ron has been too slow too often and will be overbet.

Steve Klein

Sinister Minister
Sweetnorthernsaint
Point Determined
Brother Derek

DAVE LITFIN

A. P. Warrior and Point Determined figure close based on their California form, and either or both might run the race of his life after a difficult setup chasing lone speed Brother Derek in the Santa Anita Derby.

After receiving several rank/pulled comments in graded stakes, A. P. Warrior improved considerably in two starts off a seven-week freshening and a trainer change to John Shirreffs. The pair-up on Beyer Speed Figure tops often signals more development from a classy 3-year-old. He was hard-used through the third quarter-mile last out in what appeared a quintessential prep, and two subsequent workouts appear to have been more serious in nature than the two that took place between his prep races. It may be noteworthy that Shirreffs won the Derby last year with Giacomo, who also took the San Felipe-Santa Anita Derby route then turned in the two best workouts of his life at Hollywood Park before shipping to Louisville.

Point Determined looks very similar to A. P. Warrior in a number of ways, after also essentially pairing up new Beyer tops while trading decisions with that rival. Significantly, those were his first two starts in stakes, and he should benefit greatly from that seasoning. He is bred to get better with maturity at longer distances, has trained very well of late, and might get a terrific pace setup.

Sinister Minister is the key to the race. If he breaks sharply and maintains inside position on the other speeds, and if he can run back to his tour de force performance in the Blue Grass, we might be looking at a special horse. Those are big ifs, especially in a field in which so many good horses have shown a penchant for running on or near the early lead. But Bob Baffert-trained horses in this race have a history of running right back to big efforts in their final prep: War Emblem, the closest parallel, came off a 14-point Beyer jump to 112 wiring the Illinois Derby, and did the same thing in Kentucky (though able to steal away uncontested); Silver Charm and Real Quiet maintained form after matching their previous tops.

Brother Derek, who has yet to record speed and pace figures that are fast early as well as late, may be caught between a rock and a hard place. However, he is a dual qualifier (remember those?) and 5 for 5 around two turns.

Dave Litfin

A. P. Warrior
Point Determined
Brother Derek
Sinister Minister

MIKE WATCHMAKER

Even though you have already heard it a thousand times by now, a fast and contested pace really does seem almost unavoidable in this Kentucky Derby. Sweetnorthernsaint projects to fall into an ideal stalking trip behind the speedballs Sinister Minister, Sharp Humor, and Keyed Entry, and is the pick to capitalize and capture the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Sweetnorthernsaint was taught to sit off the lead in his last two starts, and while that resulted in his only loss wearing blinkers - a close third in the Gotham two starts back - it also resulted in a blowout score in the Illinois Derby in his last start. Among the more impressive aspects to his Illinois Derby was the way he finished, completing his last three furlongs over a dead track in just over 36.60 seconds, which is excellent. Moreover, Sweetnorthernsaint comes into this boasting four straight triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures. The only other member of this field who can stake that claim is Brother Derek, the probable favorite.

A. P. Warrior has shown marked improvement in his last two starts, coincidental with him moving into the barn of trainer John Shirreffs, who sent out Giacomo to an upset win in last year's Derby. A. P. Warrior won the San Felipe two starts back, and held his form finishing third last time out in the Santa Anita Derby despite being used early in a failed attempt to keep Brother Derek honest early. A. P. Warrior is much better as a one-run closer, and can effectively employ that style this time.

Lawyer Ron has won six straight starts, has has never lost on a conventional dirt track, and the different moves he made and styles he demonstrated sweeping the 3-year-old series at Oaklawn Park overshadow his comparatively modest recent Beyer Figures. Lawyer Ron strikes me as one who races up or down to the competition, and will be tough to handle.

Brother Derek has won four straight starts, has never lost around two turns, and is a deserving favorite off a flawless prep season at Santa Anita. Unlike most people, I think he will actually be able to rate effectively just off the lead, in the same vicinity as Sweetnorthernsaint. His only real drawback is his potential low odds.

Mike Watchmaker

Sweetnorthernsaint
A. P. Warrior
Lawyer Ron
Brother Derek

MIKE WELSCH

So many contenders and so few places to put them in this year's wide-open Kentucky Derby mix. Assuming the pace will be as hot as expected and that he will get a nice striking position behind the first flight, Barbaro gets the nod as the most likely winner. That theory is supported by the fantastic impression he has made training at Churchill Downs over the past 10 days, including a sensational five-furlong work last Saturday. Looks as capable as anyone in this lineup of improving off his last race, an effort that may be even better than it looks on paper considering he overcame a seemingly insurmountable post-position bias, winning from post 10 going 1 1/8 miles over the Gulfstream Park track.

Sorting out the remaining selections is a difficult proposition. I finally leaned toward Bob and John as the second choice after viewing a tape of his final work at Santa Anita, watching him train so willingly over the Churchill Downs strip, and noting his very favorable post-position draw.

A. P. Warrior is also well drawn in the middle of the pack, and may actually be the most proven closer among the group expected to race from the second flight. Had his chances compromised trying to chase loose-on-the-lead Brother Derek in the Santa Anita Derby.

I came to town last week with the intention of selecting Sweetnorthernsaint first or second, but downgraded him slightly on the thought that he will be overbet, and because he had a couple of somewhat disappointing training sessions coming out of last Saturday's impressive work.

Point Determined was also higher in the pecking order earlier this week, but like Sweetnorthernsaint could be destined to be an underlay on the tote board and did not make a great visual impression in his first gallop over the track on Wednesday. Brother Derek is a logical choice, but hard to take a short price in such a competitive, unpredictable field on a horse whose running style does not fit the profile of the race. Bluegrass Cat has had a lot of good mornings over this track, as has Storm Treasure. I can see either taking home at least a minor share at a major price with the right trip.

Mike Welsch

Barbaro
Bob and John
A. P. Warrior
Sweetnorthernsaint