07/20/2006 12:00AM

Deep talent in American Derby field


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - In an era of short fields, a handicapper can throw a dart and often stand a 1-in-6 chance of hitting a bull's-eye. It will take more luck - or more skill - to divine the winner of this year's American Derby, which mixes 14 3-year-olds in a 1 3/16-mile grass race, a prep for the Grade 1 Secretariat next month.

Saturday's Arlington races, in fact, are all forward-looking: Million Preview Day offers as appetizers the Arlington Handicap (race 4), a precursor to the Arlington Million, and the Modesty Handicap (race 6), a local lead-in to the Beverly D., before serving up the main course, the American Derby.

Not only does the race sport a boatload of horses, they're good ones, too. Kingship won the Arlington Classic in his last start, but may be something like fourth or fifth choice.

"He put up a sharp work the other day," trainer Ronny Werner said. "He's been all forward so far."

made the pace last out, but this time might sit behind Tahoe Warrior, who makes his first start for trainer George Weaver, moving from the barn of Weaver's former boss, Todd Pletcher. Amigoni, in from Maryland for trainer Graham Motion, also has pace, and at least a mild early battle would help the talented Outperformance, who drew post 14.

"If we hadn't already vanned him there, we might not have stuck him on the van to be in the 14 hole," said New York-based trainer Rick Violette. "We'll just try to save as much ground as we can that first turn and go from there. He's a nice horse with a big late run."

Even drawn poorly, will be among the favorites, having finished fifth of 14 last out in the $1 million Colonial Turf Cup, a race that came only 15 days after Outperformance had won the Hill Prince Stakes at Belmont.

Just behind Outperformance in the Colonial Turf Cup came , and just behind Stream Cat came Can't Beat It, and both are here for the American Derby. So is rail-drawn Golden Arrow, who has shipped from Ireland for Dermot Weld, trainer of the American Derby winner two of last three years. The question is whether Golden Arrow is more like Weld's American Derby winners Pine Dance, Evolving Tactics, and Simple Exchange, or closer to Merger, who finished sixth for Weld in the 2005 American Derby. Golden Arrow was second in an Irish Group 1 last September to top-class George Washington, but has failed to improve on that form in four starts this season.