02/23/2004 1:00AM

The Cliff's Edge fails to impress

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Redskin Warrior wins the Best Turn at Aqueduct so impressively that he became a 3-year-old to watch.

NEW YORK - Even on a weekend without a serious Kentucky Derby prep race, 3-year-olds still commanded the most attention. That's just the way it is this time of year, with "only" 10 1/2 weeks until Derby Day.

Widely considered the most significant race for 3-year-olds was Saturday's Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, which only underscores the way Derby talk still takes center stage. The Davis, a stepping-stone to next month's Tampa Bay Derby, was important because of the presence of The Cliff's Edge, who isn't even pointing to the Tampa Bay Derby but is scheduled to take the Arkansas route (the Rebel and Arkansas Derby) to Louisville. The Cliff's Edge, winner last year of the Kentucky Jockey Club and Iroquois Stakes, was making his first start of the year and was in pretty much a no-win situation.

Despite being marooned in the 11 hole with a relatively short run to the first turn, The Cliff's Edge was still a 1-2 favorite, which says a lot about the merits of the 10 who lined up against him. In other words, The Cliff's Edge was expected to win despite the substantial handicap of having to cover about 1 1/8 miles in a 1 1/16-mile race. Regular rider Shane Sellers did all he could. He allowed The Cliff's Edge to drop back to last so that he wouldn't have to be caught more than three wide around the first turn. Nevertheless, in order to guarantee a clear run, Sellers had no alternative but to take The Cliff's Edge some five to six wide while they advanced around the far turn.

After looking like he still might win in midstretch, The Cliff's Edge wound up settling for second. If The Cliff's Edge had finished in that spot after that kind of trip against the type of competition that was found a week earlier in the Fountain of Youth, then the accolades would be pouring in. Instead, he gave ground late to a 34-1 shot named Kaufy Mate, who was beaten more than 15 lengths last time out in the Pasco Stakes, his first try in a stakes and the local prep for the Davis.

Because of that, and because Kaufy Mate had to run only fast enough to produce a modest Beyer Speed Figure of 84 to win the Davis, The Cliff's Edge invites scrutiny. And when you dissect The Cliff's Edge's performances, it is easy to conclude that he is not in the upper tier of Kentucky Derby prospects, and may, in fact, prefer one-turn races. The Cliff's Edge was a dominating winner in both of his starts around one turn last year, but has now lost three of his four two-turn races and was hard pressed in the one he did win - the Kentucky Jockey Club.

The other stakes for 3-year-olds over the weekend were the Palm Beach at Gulfstream Park and the Best Turn at Aqueduct, both on Saturday. Neither race has been a meaningful stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby.

Kitten's Joy capitalized on a perfect trip in the Palm Beach to score decisively and run his unbeaten string on turf to four. He is owned and bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who live to win races at Churchill Downs and whose disappointment last year was palpable when their Badge of Silver was knocked off the Derby trail by injury.

Kitten's Joy has the Crown Royal American Turf at Churchill as a target. But, they run a little race there the day after called the Kentucky Derby. And it wouldn't surprise me to see him on dirt again. Kitten's Joy is already nominated to the Triple Crown and was a sharp second in his last attempt on dirt, ahead of Gradepoint, whose bandwagon continues to grow after his victory last week in the Risen Star.

There is a lot more than just time and distance between the six furlongs of the Best Turn on Feb. 21 and the 1 1/4 miles of the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, but this Best Turn was won by a 3-year-old to watch in Redskin Warrior. In his first start in four months, Redskin Warrior demolished a respectable field of 3-year-old sprinters for his third straight blowout score, and in a manner of a colt who should at least be able to stretch out to a middle distance.

Redskin Warrior is owned by Ernie Paragallo's Paraneck Stable and trained by Jennifer Pedersen, the second good-looking 3-year-old they sent out to win at Aqueduct in two days. On Friday, their Song of the Sword made it two victories from as many starts and was impressive for a number of reasons. First, in contrast to the way he won his first start, a sprint, in front-running fashion, Song of the Sword came from off the pace going two turns, which shows he has a lot of substance. In addition, he won by three lengths despite being obviously green. He could have been disqualified for ducking in while taking the lead at the top of the stretch. Nevertheless, the talent is there, and Song of the Sword's prospects are exciting.