03/10/2005 1:00AM

Backed by Asmussen, Real Dandy a live play

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Sort It Out is one of three Louisiana Derby starters with a last-out Beyer of 90 or better.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Year after year the New Orleans-based horses running in the Louisiana Derby rarely receive their due. The betting public typically pays attention to the Risen Star winner and forgets about almost every other local.

Not me. This year I'm betting on longshot Real Dandy.

Although Saturday's Louisiana Derby drew out-of-town representatives from such high-profile trainers as Bob Baffert, Nick Zito, Todd Pletcher, and Bobby Frankel, the race appears light compared to past runnings. Only three of the nine starters have won stakes.

Just three starters enter the Louisiana Derby off Beyers Speed Figures in the 90's. Last year there were eight such runners among the field's 11 entrants.

This provides an opportunity for Real Dandy and others who possess the home-track advantage. Instead of relying on numerous shippers regressing off fast recent races, Real Dandy might snag the top prize if only a few of the most established horses fail to run to their utmost capabilities.

Admittedly, Real Dandy has faults - most longshots do. He lacks speed; his Beyer Figures are weak, in the mid-to-high 80's; and his record is littered with seconds, not wins.

The good news is that he is an improving colt who has regularly trained and raced over the Fair Grounds surface. He also has trainer Steve Asmussen in his corner.

Asmussen, coming off a record-setting year in which his stable won 555 races, has been dangerous in this race in recent years. He won the Louisiana Derby in 2001 with Fifty Stars; was second the following year with Easyfromthegitgo, who was beaten a nose by Repent; and was fifth with his last starter, Defrere's Vixen, in 2003.

Little was expected from these runners. Fifty Stars was dismissed at 20-1, Easyfromthegitgo at 9-1, and Defrere's Vixen at 58-1. Yet they all outperformed expectations, even Defrere's Vixen, who picked up a $22,500 check for his owners for his fifth-place finish.

Asmussen's mere presence with a starter in the Louisiana Derby should tell something to horseplayers. Keep in mind that he keeps strings almost everywhere, from New York to El Paso, providing him with the means and flexibility to ship a horse anywhere for a race, be it large or small.

So when he decides to run a horse in the $600,000 Louisiana Derby, know that he believes the horse to be of immense quality and peaking at the right time. Otherwise, the horse would be on a van headed for a stakes race elsewhere.

Real Dandy is not a high-probability play in the Louisiana Derby, but he is a live longshot. He is an overlay at odds of 10-1 or higher.

Three big fig contenders

Three Louisiana Derby entrants have run last-race Beyers in the 90's and merit attention.

Sort It Out, a winner of three straight races, showed a closing kick and heart to defeat an above-average stakes field in the Whirlaway at Aqueduct on Feb. 12, which included Galloping Grocer and Naughty New Yorker. Stonerside Stable subsequently bought controlling interest and transferred Sort It Out from trainer Allen Iwinski to Baffert. I like Sort it Out, but have a hard time forgiving his Aqueduct winter roots.

Wallstreet Scandal is arguably the best horse in the Louisiana Derby field - on turf. Although he won at Saratoga on dirt and placed in the Futurity on the Belmont main track, his two grass races have been far superior. He nearly won the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont despite an unlucky trip, and his subsequent start, an allowance win Feb. 21 at Gulfstream, was a beauty. There he unleashed a furious turn of foot to go from seventh to first and then coasted across the wire 2 1/2 lengths in front.

It makes sense for his connections to test him again on dirt - purses are much more lucrative in main-track stakes for 3-year-olds - but in watching replays of his past races, he has not displayed the eagerness and acceleration on dirt that he has shown on turf.

Finally, there is Kansas City Boy, who was scratched from the Fountain of Youth in favor of Louisiana Derby. He is sure to attract attention for his runner-up finish in the Holy Bull, a race in which he finished a half-length in front of eventual Fountain of Youth winner High Fly.

Overeager in the early stages of many of his races, he will race with blinkers off in the Louisiana Derby, an equipment change that may help him settle and finish more effectively. His trainer, Ken McPeek, won the Louisiana Derby with Repent in 2002.