03/28/2006 12:00AM

Barbaro bred to handle dirt

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LAS VEGAS - The Flamingo Stakes and Florida Derby were two of the most important prep races for the Triple Crown for the last 50 years, but the demise of the once-exquisite Hialeah Park made the Flamingo a footnote in racing's history.

With Gulfstream Park emerging as Florida's premier racing facility, the Florida Derby was the track's centerpiece and its date on the calendar, around mid-March - seven or eight weeks from the Derby - made it the first major prep race at 1 1/8 miles.

Runners from the Florida Derby then used the Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, or Wood Memorial Stakes as their final Derby prep.

There are many Florida Derby winners who went on and either won or placed in the Kentucky Derby, including Nashua, Northern Dancer, Alydar, Spectacular Bid, Unbridled, Strike the Gold, Thunder Gulch, Monarchos, and Empire Maker.

The decision to move the Florida Derby to its current date - April 1 - has diminished its importance as a Triple Crown prep and is reflected in this year's rather weak edition.

Moving the date from mid-March to April 1 was ill-conceived because it is now an awkward five weeks before the Derby. While three and four weeks between a final prep race and the Derby has been a successful formula for those using the Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, Blue Grass, and Wood Memorial, five weeks is generally considered by horsemen to be a long time between races.

Barbaro a dual-surface threat

Barbaro, who last raced on Feb. 4, winning the Holy Bull Stakes, is the main attraction in this year's Florida Derby. Proven on grass after winning his first three starts on that surface, including the Laurel Futurity and Tropical Park Derby, Barbaro won the Holy Bull over a sloppy surface he was bred to relish. While he must still prove he is as talented over a fast dirt track, his pedigree suggests he should handle dirt.

His sire, Dynaformer, has been highly successful mainly because his runners are effective on any surface. Like the majority of runners from the Roberto sire line, Dynaformer's offspring have a definite preference for turf, but have enjoyed success on dirt as well. His stakes winners on dirt include Perfect Drift, Critical Eye, Starrer, Dynever, Blumin Affair, and Purim. Blumin Affair was third in the 1994 Derby over a wet surface behind Go for Gin and Strodes Creek

Barbaro is out of La Ville Rouge, a stakes-placed daughter of Carson City, who was one of Mr. Prospector's best sources of speed at stud. Second dam La Reine Rouge won the Toddler Stakes and is by King's Bishop, whose offspring were superior wet track specialists. King's Bishop, a son of Round Table, was also a very good sire of grass runners. Barbaro has a pedigree pattern of stamina and speed, and should be effective at 1 1/4 miles.

The Florida Derby field is expected to include Flashy Bull, Sharp Humor, High Blues, Rehoboth, Saint Augustus, Sunriver, Changing Image, and possibly one of two from Nick Zito's barn, Doc Cheney or Hesanoldsalt.

Sunriver's impressive pedigree

The biggest threat to Barbaro could come from Sunriver, who was impressive winning his last start at the 1 1/8-mile distance. By the late Saint Ballado, Sunriver is a full brother to champion Ashado, and carries the Rasmussen Factor (RF), as he is inbred to Cosmah, through her offspring Halo and Maribeau.

Cosmah, a half-sister to Natalma (the dam of Northern Dancer), was a very influential broodmare. In addition to stakes winners Halo (Hail to Reason) and Maribeau (Ribot), she als o produced champion Tosmah (Tim Tam), one of the best racemares during the mid-1960's. Cosmah is also the dam of stakes winner Fathers Image (Swaps) and Queen Sucree (Ribot), the dam of 1974 Kentucky Derby winner Cannonade and Kennelot (the dam of stakes winners Stephan's Odyssey, second in the 1985 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, and Lotka).

Flashy Bull: Turf in his future?

Flashy Bull, who finished third behind Corinthian and First Samurai in the Fountain of Youth Stakes but was moved up to second when Corinthian was disqualified to third, will be the solid second choice behind Barbaro.

A son of Holy Bull (the sire of last year's Derby winner, Giacomo), Flashy Bull is out of a Mt. Livermore mare, suggesting a SPx2 (speed top and bottom) pedigree, but he does have stamina influences in his female family. His second dam is by grass champion Manila, and his third dam is by Exclusive Native (sire of Derby winners Affirmed and Genuine Risk, as well as Our Native, who was third behind Secretariat and Sham in the 1973 Derby).

Flashy Bull's fourth dam, Queen Louie, was a champion at 2 in Canada and became an exceptional broodmare, producing two stakes winners - A Status Symbol and Gold Meridian - and stakes-placed Careless Flirt and Dazibao. Stakes winners descending from this female family include Perfect Soul, Sand Ridge, Dootsie, Gentleman Conn, Brilliant Sandy, and Bold Agent.

After a run for the Triple Crown is over, Flashy Bull should be given a chance to shine on turf. By hidden turf sire Holy Bull, he has an array of grass influences up and down his pedigree, including Mt. Livermore (Blushing Groom), Manila, and Exclusive Native.

Sharp Humor won the Swale Stakes and is by Distorted Humor, who sired 2003 Kentucky Derby winner Funny Cide in his first crop. Like Sunriver, Sharp Humor is also an RF, as he is inbred to the superior female Continue. Top horses descending from Continue include champions Forty Niner and Shadeed, as well as 1984 Derby winner Swale and Fickle Fate.

Selections: Sunriver, Barbaro, Sharp Humor, Flashy Bull