12/30/2005 12:00AM

Barbaro the best horse you've never heard of


PHOENIX - The most interesting little-known horse in the country runs Sunday.

Barbaro's two races sent a shiver up the spine. He goes postward in Sunday's Grade 3 Tropical Park Derby not only as a potential turf star, but a potential big-time 3-year-old.

A son of Dynaformer owned by Lael Stables and trained by Michael Matz, Barbaro is relatively unknown because his only two starts came away from the spotlight, and because both came on the turf. His debut win, Oct. 4, came at a mile on the turf at Delaware Park. After giving the gate crew all it could handle by refusing to load, Barbaro prompted the pace, took over going to the far turn, and drew off to win by over eight and with complete disdain. Not bad for a horse who wasted God knows how much energy behind the gate.

The Beyer, a 73, wasn't any great shakes, but Matz had to know that he had a nice one. So, for career start number two he brought Barbaro back in the Laurel Futurity, a 1 1/16-mile turf race Nov. 19. Barbaro this time was better behaved for the gate crew. He jumped out to a stalking position early, then powered home to win with complete authority. The final margin was eight lengths. It could have been more.

But what was just as impressive as the visual was the math - the Beyer boys came up with a 102 speed figure, which is huge for a juvenile on turf.

Matz will keep with the turf theme for the time being, and why not? Barbaro's works in Florida since his last race have been exemplary and Edgar Prado has found his way south to take the call.

Should Barbaro pass this test, there's every reason to think that at some point Barbaro could try to move his game to the dirt and take on Stevie Wonderboy, First Samurai, Private Vow, Brother Derek and the others. Dynaformer may be best known as a turf sire, but remember he has also produced dirt runners like Perfect Drift (who has earned more than $3.1 million), Dynever ($1.3 million), and Starrer and Critical Eye (more than $1 million). Barbaro's dam's only other foal to race, Holy Ground, has won 3 of 9 and is a dirt stakes winner, having won the Stanton at Delaware Park. In fact, Holy Ground won that Stanton on a wet-fast track and by over 13 lengths, so you would expect Barbaro to handle a wet track.

Yes, it's a long way to the Triple Crown races, but the last few years have seen that path go through Delaware Park, Philadelphia Park, and the New York-breds ranks. Who says it can't find its way through the turf at Calder?

Toasted finally ready to go

There was a time a year and a half ago when Toasted, who runs in Sunday's Grade 2 San Gabriel at Santa Anita, looked like a horse we would get used to seeing in big races. He shipped to the U.S. from France in 2004 and, after a dull dirt try, he went back to turf. He won the La Puente at Santa Anita, was second in the Grade 3 Will Rogers at Hollywood, then powered home to easily win the Grade 2 Arlington Classic on soft turf. He backed it up with a fine third in the Grade 2 American Derby there, then finished second to Blackdoun in the Grade 2 Del Mar Derby. Trainer Laura de Seroux must have been looking forward to 2005.

Ah, the best-laid plans. It started out with a foot bruise, and the next thing you know a year had gone by. De Seroux finally got Toasted back to the races at Del Mar in the Grade 2 Del Mar BC Handicap - just two days shy of being gone a year. All things considered - the layoff, the competition - Toasted ran a very good race. He sat back early and finished well for fifth, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths by Three Valleys. It set Toasted up for a nice fall, but no turf racing at Hollywood Park meant more time off.

Toasted doesn't face a Three Valleys in the San Gabriel. He doesn't face a year off. And with that first run back behind him, he can pick up where he left off - just a year and some months later than anticipated.