03/04/2009 1:00AM

Big Beyers continue to impress on Derby trail

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PHILADELPHIA - This is getting serious quickly. I don't remember so many big Beyer Speed Figures by 3-year-olds by the end of the February.

Consider that last year Big Brown became a sensation when he got a 106 Beyer in an allowance race, followed by another 106 in the Florida Derby. If last year were this year, Big Brown would be just another horse.

This year we already had Notonthesamepage and the 114, followed by This Ones for Phil and the 116. The figures were live, but looked somewhat outrageous in relation to their overall form.

Well, the 113 Quality Road got when winning the Fountain of Youth does not look at all like that. Nor does the 103 that The Pamplemousse got when winning the Sham Stakes. (By the way, does that sound like the name of a Kentucky Derby winner? "Derby winners include Secretariat, Affirmed, and The Pamplemousse." What has happened to this sport?)

Quality Road gave a strong hint when he won his maiden with a 101 Beyer last fall. The colt was not included on my recent list of Triple Crown nominees with triple-digit Beyers for a very basic reason: Quality Road was not nominated. He will be nominated. And should be.

The Fountain of Youth win was no fluke. I like Old Fashioned so much because he has the Smarty Jones/Barbaro stalk-and-go running style. So does Quality Road, who, like Smarty Jones, is a son of Elusive Quality.

I don't remember a prep race before a final prep with a stronger field than the Fountain of Youth. Admittedly, the race was not run at all like most expected it to be. Still, Quality Road did not just win. The colt crushed the field.

I think the second and third horses - Theregoesjojo and Beethoven - are live Derby horses. If I think that, I have to be very impressed with the horse that beat them so easily. The 113 was slightly better than the pre-Derby numbers of Smarty Jones - 112 in the Rebel and 109 in the Arkansas Derby - and far better than the 103 Barbaro got in the Florida Derby.

Now, Quality Road has to do it again. Barbaro was trained to peak in the Derby and he did exactly that. Smarty Jones fired off one big Beyer after another.

So, let's wait and see on Quality Road. Whatever the colt does next, the Beyer gauntlet has been thrown down for Old Fashioned's next race in the Rebel.

As for the horse with that strange name, the colt looks as serious as the number. It is the rare horse who gets a Beyer jump in five consecutive races. But The Pamplemousse has done it with an 82 in his debut, followed by an 83, 89, 93, and 103.

It is probably no coincidence that the Beyer jump took place when The Pamplemousse started running around two turns. We need this horse in Kentucky, if for no other reason than Julio Canani will give the Derby Week backstretch some serious entertainment value.

If the colt wins the Santa Anita Derby, we will hear much talk about synthetic-track form in the run-up to the Derby. And I will have little, if any, clue how to assess what it means.

Isn't this complicated enough without all that?

I don't have any Dubai figures. Apparently, they will not be necessary with the two big names as Midshipman is gone and Vineyard Haven is in the witness protection program.

I do believe in the figures as they relate to the Derby. In this decade, they have been deadly on the first Saturday in May - if you get beyond the pace meltdowns in 2001 and 2005 that gave us one-hit wonders Monarchos and Giacomo.

It is why the Derby superfecta has become my favorite bet of the year, a chance to make a giant score even with a semi-obvious winner. I have made it into a trifecta in recent years, putting such stars as Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Barbaro, Street Sense, and Big Brown on top of my tickets with very few, if any, backups.

It is still too soon to say whether a single will be as obvious on May 2. I came into the year thinking Old Fashioned was going to be my horse. The numbers can change my mind. I am thinking Old Fashioned is going to get into the Beyer game in his next start. But, if he doesn't, I may re-think my position.

Whatever goes down over the next two months, this has become quite fascinating with so many strong performances so soon.

Is this going to be the norm? Can these horses run even faster? And what might happen when they all show up at the same place at the same time to see just how fast they can really run?