05/01/2007 12:00AM

Color me clueless in this Derby


PHILADELPHIA - After a final round of video watching, reading between the lines of trainer speak, and a few days at Philadelphia Park to sharpen my skills with 20-horse cards, I have eliminated Birdbirdistheword, Deadly Dealer, and Officer Rocket from the Kentucky Derby. You have no need to use any of them in your superfecta. They can't win.

That is what I know about this Derby. What I don't know could fill volumes.

Like how is the race going to be run, which of the dreaded Derby eliminators is actually relevant anymore, and why trainer Todd Pletcher can win every race in the universe except one of the Triple Crown races.

Anybody with a firm opinion about anything in this Derby is either (1) a fool, or (2) far more perceptive than me.

I am writing this before they draw post positions. Which is probably a good thing. It would probably just confuse me more anyway.

Let's see. How do you separate Any Given Saturday, Circular Quay, Great Hunter, Nobiz Like Shobiz, and Street Sense? If you factor out the two races when Circular Quay and Great Hunter found trouble in the stretch, none of these horses has ever been worse than third. All have run against top competition. For the most part, their running styles are similar. Really, how you decide?

There are questions like that all over this Derby.

We all take this way too seriously, but do we have a choice? This is the Derby. You need to be right, or at least make the attempt to be right.

Somebody made the suggestion that if you just looked at this race as the fifth at the Philadelphia Park, Curlin would jump off the page as a lock. I agree.

But the fifth at the Pha never has 20 horses coming from both coasts with four trainers controlling 60 percent of the field.

Still, what do you make of Curlin? If you put on a set of blinkers and locked everything else out while perusing the past performances and watching the videos, you really would not have much choice but to pick Curlin and to bet him vigorously. If this colt is really as smooth as he has looked in his three races, the other 19 are running for second.

I tried to find tapes of Apollo online, but not even Google helped. It really was a long time ago. Is Apollo relevant anymore than four weeks, two preps, or any of the other "maxims" are relevant? What ever happened to dual qualifiers? Was Apollo a chef de race? What is a chef de race?

The Derby is, after all, just a horse race. But it's not. It is a race with a hundred plot twists in two minutes, a hole that appears one second and disappears the next, problems so subtle that you have to watch the tape 50 times to find them.

Excuses are so ingrained in this sport. It just seems right that the most important race is the one with the most opportunity for excuse, real and imagined.

Which was why the 2006 Derby was so satisfying. Barbaro was the horse before the race. Barbaro was the horse during the race. Barbaro was the horse after the race.

There were no excuses. They could have run that race a hundred times and the result would have been the same.

They could run this race a hundred times and the same superfecta numbers might not come up twice. I can hear announcer Tom Durkin now as the field heads through the stretch, reprising his legendary "it's a stampede!'' line. And how exactly do you decide which horse is going to emerge from a stampede?

If you are looking for a selection, you have come to the wrong place. I remain confused, but rest assured that when the time comes I may still be confused, but I will be involved.