01/11/2006 1:00AM

Barbaro bred for Derby's dirt road

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Jim Lisa
Barbaro romps in the Tropical Park Derby, his third win in three starts.

PHILADELPHIA - Think about how much time all of us will spend between now and May trying to identify the next Triple Crown star. We will watch tapes, pore over past performances, and study our Triple Crown history. We will listen to trainers and jockeys. We will read everything there is to read.

We will be wasting a lot of very valuable time.

Here is my advice. Get out a map. Find Interstate 95.

Take your finger and place it just east of New York City. Move it over to I-95. Trace I-95 south to just north of Philadelphia. Continue south on I-95 to a dot just north of Wilmington, Del. Lastly, take your finger and follow I-95 south into the northeast corner of Maryland. There is the home of the next Triple Crown star.

Think about it - Funny Cide in New York, Smarty Jones in Pennsylvania, Afleet Alex in Delaware, and now Barbaro from Fair Hill in Maryland.

New Jersey was skipped because it is, well, New Jersey. Other than Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen, has anything worthwhile ever emerged from New Jersey?

Now, Maryland is different. So is Barbaro.

I saw this horse win his maiden at Delaware Park on Oct. 4 and was dazzled. I saw him overwhelm the Nov. 19 Laurel Futurity and was amazed. I saw him crush the field in the Jan. 1 Tropical Park Derby and was sold.

Three races. Three wins by a combined 20 lengths with 33 horses strung out behind him.

Now, there could be a catch - Barbaro has never raced on dirt. He has been a grass monster, winning at a mile, 1 1/16 miles, and 1 1/8 miles.

Can he run on dirt? I have no clue. But it is hard to imagine trainer Michael Matz won't give it a try.

Barbaro got a Beyer Speed Figure of 73 in his first start. Then, he got a 102 and a 97. The numbers are really nice, but, visually, this horse is off the charts. He has inhaled his opposition. Each race has been the same. Barbaro sits second, cruises up to the leader, and then runs out of the television screen in the stretch.

So, what about the dirt?

Barbaro is by Dynaformer, a terrific sire with many well-known graded-stakes winners on dirt and turf. In his 14 crops, Dynaformer, who won the Jersey Derby when it was still a dirt race of some importance, has produced horses with $30 million in earnings.

Dynaformer's best dirt runners are Perfect Drift, who earned nearly $4.3 million (all but $100,000 on dirt), and Dynever, who never started on grass.

Dynaformer's best grass runners are all female: Sand Springs, Riskaverse, and Film Maker. He also sired steeplechase star McDynamo.

So what does any of this mean? Can Barbaro run on dirt? Again, no clue.

What I do know is that the colt is now training at Palm Meadows, where he recorded several dirt workouts.

While everybody else is considering the relative merits of Stevie Wonderboy, First Samurai, and Henny Hughes, I have moved on.

I have stopped worrying about the Kentucky Derby winner, having long since considered the map and arrived at the obvious. Barbaro clearly is a lock.

I am already into my superfecta mode, where I am looking for this year's Giacomo. Anybody can pick winners. The real skill is finding those longshots who hit the board and tilt the tote board.

There is one other minor detail. Michael Matz needs to understand that Barbaro is preordained to be the star of the Triple Crown. And they are not running those races on grass.