12/24/2002 12:00AM

Be wary of big Beyers at 2

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LAS VEGAS - Two weeks ago, in the What a Pleasure at Calder, a 2-year-old named Trust N Luck wired the field in a romp. His Beyer Speed Figure came back a phenomenal 110. How good is that figure? And what does it mean for his Kentucky Derby chances?

With a little research, I tried to put Trust N Luck's race into a context of recent 2-year-old races around two turns. It's not easy to track down all the possible big Beyers for late-season 2-year-olds over the past 10 or so years. But I looked in all the obvious places. For example, here's a rundown of the major autumn stakes for 2-year-olds racing around two turns:

Norfolk, at one mile: In this Grade 2 race at Santa Anita in early October, only three horses have won with Beyers above 100, led by Flame Thrower with a 105 in 2000. In this year's running, Kafwain nosed out Bull Market with a Beyer of 92.

Breeders' Cup Juvenile, at 1 1/16 miles (except this year, 1 1/8 miles at Arlington): This Grade 1 race, run in late October or early November, has produced six winners with speed figures above 100. The highest was Unbridled's Song with a 103 in 1995. This year, Vindication won decisively with a 102.

Remsen, at 1 1/8 miles: This late November, Grade 2 race at Aqueduct had not produced a Beyer above 96 in the past decade, although it did produce two future Derby winners: Go for Gin (Beyer 95) and Thunder Gulch (Beyer 89). This year, Toccet broke through the triple-digit barrier, winning the Remsen by 2 1/4 lengths with a figure of 101.

Kentucky Jockey Club, at 1 1/16 miles: Run in late November at Churchill Downs, this Grade 2 race has had only two winners with triple-digit Beyers, notably Captain Steve with a 105 in 1999. This year, Soto grinded out a win by a length, earning a 94.

Hollywood Futurity, at 1 1/16 miles: This Grade 1 race at Hollywood Park, in the third week in December, has had the most glamorous recent history, especially in terms of speed figures. Eight of the past 11 runnings had winning Beyers above 100. Real Quiet, a future Derby winner, won in 1997 with a figure of 102. This year, Toccet (102 Beyer) triumphed by a hard-fought head over Kafwain, who had a much worse trip. But the big Beyer star of the Hollywood Futurity ran a huge 111, trouncing future Derby winner Thunder Gulch by 6 1/2 lengths in 1994. Who was it? That is your end-of-year trivia question.

The horse was Afternoon Deelites.

I should also include the Champagne at Belmont Park in early October. Although it is not run around two turns, the distance of 1 1/16 miles and the quality of the fields certainly merit consideration. Five recent winners have run above 100, with Maria's Mon earning the top Beyer of 105 in 1995. Toccet won this year with a 97. He also won the Laurel Futurity six weeks later with a Beyer of 97.

In this context, Trust N Luck's flashy Beyer of 110 certainly looks brilliant. But it does not bode well for his chances of winning the Kentucky Derby. The recent history is clear: beginning with Lil E. Tee in 1992, only one Derby winner has run a Beyer above 100 as a 2-year-old. That was Real Quiet, with a 102 in the Hollywood Futurity.

Afternoon Deelites' experience could be instructive. He ran poorly in the Derby, managing a Beyer of only 98. He didn't race again for nearly eight months and never fulfilled his early promise. In fact, he never again ran as high as the 111 he ran as a 2-year-old. The best he could do in his comeback as a 4-year-old was a 109.

Of course, history does not always have to repeat itself. But Trust N Luck clearly is flying in the face of recent trends. In the past decade, the Kentucky Derby has been dominated by horses who developed powerfully in the early months of their 3-year-old seasons. They did not peak as 2-year-olds in the rarified air of triple-digit Beyers. And none of them even approached anything like a figure of 110.

Toccet is another who is challenging the recent past in an effort to win the Derby. And the colt's preparation is very much by design. His owner, Daniel Borislow, wants to prove that he has a throwback in his barn - an iron horse who can defy the recent trend toward light, late preparation for the first Saturday in May.

He has run Toccet early and often, and so far it has worked flawlessly. But with tough struggles in the last two races, it's probably time to give Toccet a break.

Meanwhile, give Borislow and trainer John Scanlan credit for one thing: At year's end, we all have a tendency to look back in time, and we see too many unfortunate wagers and missed opportunities lurking back there for our review. Borislow and Scanlan have at least given us a late-season reason to look ahead to the Derby, to spring, to a new year of racing - and another attempt to focus and refine our handicapping and avoid some of those brutally bad bets of the past.