04/12/2005 12:00AM

Bandini's female family provides tons of class

The female descendants in Bandini's pedigree include Moccasin (above), co-Horse of the Year in 1965.

LAS VEGAS - With the presence of Sun King, Bandini, High Limit, Consolidator, and Closing Argument as probable starters, Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes shapes up as the best and most competitive of all Kentucky Derby preps this year.

In his last start, Sun King basically had a public workout when he won the Tampa Bay Derby against overmatched rivals. Competitive with the best of his crop as a 2-year-old, he was third in both the Champagne Stakes and Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but has developed into a racehorse with maturity. The talent in the Blue Grass, however, runs deep.

Consolidator won the Breeders' Futurity last year, and while his San Felipe victory was accomplished over a sealed, muddy Santa Anita track that he obviously relished, he is a formidable opponent, especially over a Keeneland surface for which he has shown an affinity.

Closing Argument has not raced since he won the Holy Bull at this nine-furlong distance back on Feb. 9. A son of sprinter/miler Successful Appeal (Valid Appeal), he also has tactical speed but chooses a tough spot for his return.

All five leading contenders have talent, and while a victory would be welcomed by their trainers, it is not necessary for Sun King or Consolidator. If the Derby has the maximum number of 20 starters, Sun King and Consolidator are safe because they have already attained enough earnings in graded stakes. Consolidator has $609,750 in graded stakes earnings, while Sun King has $365,000.

Nick Zito, the trainer of Sun King, and D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Consolidator, just want good performances that will have their colts ready to peak on Derby Day. While High Limit is sitting comfortably with $360,000 in graded earnings, he only has three lifetime starts and needs racing experience and the foundation more than the others.

The Blue Grass holds more significance for Closing Argument (with $90,000 in graded earnings) and Bandini ($60,000), who need to win or place to have sufficient graded earnings.

The two colts with the most upside appear to be High Limit and Bandini.

High Limit could not have been more impressive winning the Louisiana Derby going wire to wire after a five-month layoff and only two starts. In this regard, he is similar to Bellamy Road, who was well-regarded before the Wood Memorial made him a star. There is no telling just how good High Limit really is, and this will be an acid test for this son of Maria's Mon, sire of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos. As noted in earlier columns, High Limit's dam, Known Romance, has the Rasmussen Factor (inbreeding to a superior female within five generations through different individuals), an important pedigree pattern that is often an indicator of high class. Known Romance is inbred to Tamerett, through her sons Known Fact and Tentam. (Tamerett is also the dam of Secrettame, the dam of Gone West.)

Bandini appeared to be a beaten horse at the top of the stretch in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, but he re-broke in deep stretch and finished full of run to be second to High Fly, looking like a horse who will love 1 1/4 miles.

Bandini is from the exciting first crop of Fusaichi Pegasus, the only son of Mr. Prospector to win the Kentucky Derby. Fusaichi Pegasus is the sire of seven stakes winners from his first crop, and his notable runners include Roman Ruler, Fusaichi Samurai, and Andromeda's Hero. Bandini descends from a tail-female line (dam, dam's dam, dam's granddam, etc.) of the highest class. His stakes-placed dam, Divine Dixie (Dixieland Band), is a half-sister to stakes winner and sire Stormy Atlantic. His second dam, Hail Atlantis, won the Santa Anita Oaks, and his third dam, Flippers (Coastal), is one of seven stakes winners out of Moccasin, who was not only the 2-year-old champion filly in 1965 but was also co-Horse of the Year, sharing honors with 4-year-old Roman Brother.

Moccasin was one of four full siblings (along with Ridan, Lt. Stevens, and Thong) produced from the magical pairing between Nantallah and Rough Shod II. (Another half-sister, Gambetta, produced champion and beloved racemare Gamely.) Ridan and Lt. Stevens were major stakes winners, but Moccasin and stakes-placed Thong had the biggest influence over future generations.

Moccasin, a massive chestnut filly, was untouchable at 2. She reeled off eight consecutive victories that included the Spinaway, Matron, Alcibiades, Selima, and Gardenia stakes. She was nearly as perfect as a broodmare, producing seven stakes winners from nine foals, including Apalachee, Belted Earl, Scuff, Nantequos, Brahms, Indian, and Flippers.

While Thong was not as successful on the racetrack, she surpassed all of her siblings as one of the most influential broodmares of the past 30 years. Thong produced King Pellinore (Round Table) and Geiger Counter (Mr. Prospector), but her best offspring were three full siblings by Forli. This cross produced Lisadell (dam of Fatherland; Lisaleen; Rosa Mundi, the dam of Sword Dance; and Glenveagh, the second dam of El Condor Pasa), major group winner Thatch, and Thong's most important foal, Special.

Special was aptly named, producing champion racehorse and sire Nureyev, stakes winner Number, and Fairy Bridge, the dam of Sadler's Wells. Special was the second dam of Fairy King, Tate Gallery, Hermitage, Numerous, and Chequer. Special is also the third dam of turf specialist Bienamado.

With such a competitive field, the Blue Grass is the most eagerly anticipated 3-year-old race thus far, and in addition to the winner, the runners-up may also get the prep they need to be at their best on May 7.