04/06/2006 11:00PM

A big month for non-Derby types


PHOENIX - Naturally, much of the handicapping focus nowadays is geared toward the first Saturday in May and the steps leading up to it. But springtime brings about a flurry of action in all divisions. The 3-year-old filly picture comes into focus, and big races for the elders define those divisions more fully. These events are not mere window dressing for the Kentucky Derby, so here's an early look at what may transpire in the coming weeks.

April 15: Your taxes hopefully have been put to bed and now you have some opportunities to recoup some of what you gave Uncle Sam. My colleague, Brad Free, last week wondered why Teammate, huge winner of the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream last month, was not nominated to the Ashland. Teammate is instead nominated to the Grade 2 Comely on this day at a mile at Aqueduct - no surprise, because her trainer, Allen Jerkens, likes to stay close to home. She looked like a new horse winning the Bonnie Miss, but the Kentucky Oaks may not be on her radar. Jerkens kept Society Selection in New York a couple of years ago after her big Bonnie Miss effort, and he may do the same with Teammate and run her in races such as the Acorn, Mother Goose, CCA Oaks, Test, and Alabama.

Wend can solidify her status among the filly and mare turf elite in the Grade 2 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland. She comes off a smashing win in the Grade 3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream, an effort that was flattered when Honey Ryder, whom Wend beat handily in the Honey Fox, came back to romp in the Grade 2 Orchid.

Sir Shackleton, who has used his speed so effectively going long, will find his combination of speed and stamina even more useful in Keeneland's Grade 2 Commonwealth. Route horses with speed often do quite well when cutting back to seven furlongs - they have the speed to get position off fast splits, and the stamina to keep going when the six-furlong horses begin to wilt. And it doesn't hurt that some of his main rivals were already scheduled to be busy in Saturday's Grade 1 Carter at Aqueduct.

April 22: The biggest news of this day will come in an ungraded stakes, where champion sprinter Lost in the Fog returns in the Golden Gate Fields Sprint Stakes. Lost in the Fog has been given plenty of time after a busy 2005 season. He has this group at his mercy in his own backyard and doesn't have to deal with any monsters from Southern California.

Oonagh Maccool's odd name will get a bit easier to remember if she puts up another big performance to match the one she gave in the Grade 2 Rampart at Gulfstream Park in Hawthorne's Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap. She's yet another gun in trainer Todd Pletcher's massive arsenal, and the $250,000 purse is ripe for the plucking.

The Bobby Frankel-trained Argentina may try to put her stamp on the filly and mare turf division in Santa Anita's Grade 2 Santa Barbara Handicap. If you're judged by the company you keep, then Argentina rates highly to be sure. Last year she wasn't far behind Divine Proportions, France's top 3-year-old filly and one of the best there in recent years. In her U.S. debut in last month's Grade 2 Santa Ana, Argentina closed strongly from last to finish second behind Silver Cup. That race was at 1 1/8 miles, and the longer trip of the 1 1/4-mile Santa Barbara should be much more to her liking.

Indian Vale looked so smashing winning last fall's Grade 3 Turnback the Alarm and the Grade 2 Falls City that she was immediately dubbed a star on the rise, and a worthy replacement for that stable's retiring champ, Ashado. Indian Vale has been working in solid, steady fashion for her return, which may come in this day's Grade 2 Bed o' Roses at Aqueduct. The seven-furlong race is the perfect springboard to propel her into the bigger races while stablemates Spun Sugar and Oonagh Maccool continue to do their damage elsewhere.

April 26: The 1 1/2 miles of the Grade 3 Bewitch at Keeneland seems the ideal spot for Honey Ryder and Film Maker, who finished a gallant third behind Intercontinental and Ouija Board in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf last fall but hasn't run since a smashing win in Calder's Grade 2 La Prevoyante the week after Christmas. First impression here is that Honey Ryder not only has recency on her side, but may be a new horse based on the way she won the Orchid.

April 29: Too Much Bling went into Saturday's Grade 3 Bay Shore as a heavy favorite. Providing all went according to plan there, Too Much Bling would figure in the Grade 2 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct on this day. Too Much Bling has all the makings of a marvelous sprinter-miler for Bob Baffert. Success here could next propel him to the Grade 1 Met Mile a month later, and with no Ghostzapper or other huge miler lurking, he would certainly be dangerous.