04/01/2009 12:00AM

Colt looks like rock-solid Derby pick - for now

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PHILADELPHIA - Not exactly sure how this happened, but the Kentucky Derby really will be run in four weeks. So opinions now must start to harden. They are subject to change, depending on what goes down in the final round of preps and, just as importantly, what goes down during Derby Week training. But you better have some feel for it by now.

I really want to settle on a winner. Otherwise, the gambling gets far too complicated. There are no 10-cent superfectas on the Derby. If you want to play, you will have to pay. And playing is much less complicated if you are convinced about one horse. That makes the bet into a trifecta and the permutations become much more manageable, and, if not inexpensive, at least not prohibitive.

If the Derby were to be run this Saturday, I would like Quality Road. Loved the colt's Florida Derby win. I am a sucker for horses with the speed/stalk style. There is little chance for trouble and every chance for a clear run when it is time to make that run.

Quality Road showed a lot in his first three starts. He showed even more last Saturday. When Dunkirk made that giant move (and that was an amazing run around the turn) and looked like he might run right on by, Quality Road just re-broke and pulled away.

That is what I call the Point Given move, the sign of a horse who is not only talented, but competitive.

I have not found any flaws on Quality Road's resume. Any colt who can get a Beyer Speed Figure of 101 in his debut is obviously serious. When Quality Road was beaten in his next race, I have to think the poor start and speed duel were factors.

The Beyer Figure of 113 in the Fountain of Youth was as visually impressive as it was arithmetically impressive. I was not expecting a repeat of that number in the Florida Derby.

I was thinking 105-108. So the 103 seems fine to me.

When you go over this group of 3-year-olds to this point, it appears as if the winning Derby number may be between 108-112. Quality Road is certainly capable of that.

How his training goes between now and then will tell whether he gets there on May 2. What is certain is finding that winning number won't be a stretch for Quality Road. Which is why the colt would be my first choice today.

By this time last year, I had already settled on Big Brown, such was his Beyer edge over his competitors. Quality Road does not have that kind of overall Beyer edge, but that is more because of the quality of his competition than any Quality Road flaw.

As for Dunkirk, I was as impressed as everybody else. I thought the colt was getting overhyped before the Florida Derby. I don't think that anymore.

I understand Todd Pletcher's frustration with the souped-up Gulfstream Park track, but I doubt it had anything to do with the result. Dunkirk ran great. The colt just ran into another colt who is a little better at this stage.

That, obviously, could change in a few weeks or a few months. But it was not the track that beat Dunkirk. It was Quality Road.

Don't know if the graded earnings thing will keep Dunkirk out of the Derby. It will be unfortunate if it does, because the $3.7 million colt clearly is Derby caliber.

Like many right-thinking individuals, I think there are better ways to separate Derby contender from pretender than graded earnings. But, as with so many other things in this sport I fail to understand, I can't do anything about it.

I can, however, have an opinion on the Derby. And I can change it.

I am not locked into Quality Road for two reasons. There is more racing this weekend and next, races that will matter. I might see something that could change my mind. Some horse may run so fast I have to reconsider what I thought I knew.

And there is the matter of Derby Week training. I am not smart enough or sharp enough to be able to follow all that is going on that week. But I do read and I do listen. I suggest you do the same.

Mike Welsch's Derby Week observations are invaluable. In fact, they have been so good the last few years that I see a slice of Derby Pie (on me) in his future. Some observers just see positives. Mike sees positives and negatives.

Coming into the 2006 Derby, it looked relatively close on paper. Barbaro's training tipped the scales his way. Ditto Street Sense in 2007. Both colts responded with breathtaking runs to the finish line.

So, today it's Quality Road. Four weeks from now, it may still be Quality Road.

But with I Want Revenge going in the Wood Memorial and Old Fashioned on deck in the Arkansas Derby, I want to see if one really fast horse stays that way and another horse I have been waiting to see run fast actually does.

So, there you have it, a firm opinion, set in cement that is far from hardened.