05/06/2009 11:00PM

Clear picture of 3-year-olds remains elusive

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Usually, the result of the Kentucky Derby enables handicappers to start separating the wheat from the chaff, but Mine That Bird's gold-rail run to the cover of Sports Illustrated only served to muddy the waters. Indeed, given all the key defections from the Run for the Roses and the Derby winner's emergence from Nowhere, U.S.A., the 3-year-olds have been a mysterious group this year, and the more you see, the less you seem to know.

Saturday's chapter in this fascinating whodunit is a wide-open renewal of the Peter Pan, which down through the years has been a key Belmont Stakes prep for the likes of Coastal, Danzig Connection, A.P. Indy, and Lemon Drop Kid.

Among the field of seven, the only one who isn't eligible for a second-level allowance is Scorewithcater, who out-dueled Mine That Bird after a long stretch battle in the Borderland Derby and finished ahead of him again when third in the Sunland Derby.

It's logical enough to infer that if Scorewithcater could beat the Derby winner in back-to-back starts, he can certainly compete in a glorified two-other-than allowance, but he's still the slowest horse in the Peter Pan based on what he's done so far.

This speaks to a common handicapping phenomenon: Horse A beats Horse B, and B then comes back to beat higher-class horses. Does that mean A is a higher-class horse, too?

It might. But it might simply be a case of B suddenly figuring things out or capitalizing on a confluence of favorable circumstances in a given race, a la Mine That Bird. Whatever the case may be, it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with A.

So, although Mine That Bird stepped into another dimension last Saturday, that fact alone does not confer contender status on Scorewithcater, who is justifiably 10-1 on the morning line.

The three morning-line favorites - Imperial Council (2-1), Hello Broadway (5-2), and Charitable Man (3-1) - all have pluses and minuses.

Imperial Council and Hello Broadway first came onto the scene toward the end of last year's Saratoga meet when they battled tooth and nail through the stretch of their respective debuts.

Since then, both have earned reputations as bad actors: Imperial Council left his race in the paddock prior to the Wood and was running on fumes by midstretch; Hello Broadway gets blinkers on Saturday, after winning a first-level allowance at Keeneland despite racing erratically. Between Hello Broadway's two wins, he was the beaten favorite in the Nashua, Hutcheson, and Tampa Bay Derby.

Meanwhile, Charitable Man is the Peter Pan's lone graded stakes winner, having won the Futurity with a sweeping five-wide run through a slow pace on this track last September. It's quite possible he will wind up as the favorite by post time if bettors decide to forgive his recent comeback in the Blue Grass on Polytrack.

The other horse who may rate the benefit of the doubt for a Polytrack pratfall is Brave Victory who is going to be a square price for Bob La Penta and Nick Zito - the folks who brought you Da' Tara at boxcar odds in last year's Belmont.

Brave Victory has a really nice speed-figure pattern that might be overlooked. He was against the grain of a slow pace in the Swale (when was the last time a track record was set in a sprint after a first quarter in 23 seconds?) and still exceeded - barely - his best figures from last year. He was then carried out to the parking lot in the Lexington; and if we know anything, we know that Zito doesn't take anything that happens on Polytrack seriously.

So, Brave Victory is third off a layoff, on a good figure pattern, and has a wet-track Tomlinson rating of 403 - just in case we get rain for, like, what seems like the 40th consecutive night on Long Island.

He's So Chic intriguing at Monmouth

Monmouth Park breaks from the gate Saturday, with the $70,000 Decathlon Stakes heading an 11-race program.

For those who like number puzzles, fill in the blank of what should come next in this pattern: 62-75-93-98-106.

Whaddya think, something a little higher than 106?

Well, the pattern belongs to He's So Chic, and the numbers, courtesy of Formulator's lifetime past performances, represent his sprint races at Monmouth.

He's been freshened since a key-race effort in the Super Stakes at Tampa Bay (four next-out winners included Razorback upsetter Let It Rock); and horses for courses usually rate an edge in the early days of a race meet.