05/17/2005 12:00AM

Derby flops often improve in Preakness


LAS VEGAS - The winners of the Kentucky Derby the last three years - War Emblem, Funny Cide, and Smarty Jones - went on to win the Preakness, but with the unlikely Giacomo shocking the racing world two weeks ago, it may be time to look at those well-regarded colts who flopped in the Derby but who have every right to revert to their previous good form on Saturday.

The long list of horses who faltered in the Derby only to rebound and win the Preakness includes Bold Ruler (fourth in the 1957 Derby); Damascus (third, 1967); Personality (eighth, 1970); Little Current (fifth, 1974); Snow Chief (11th, 1986); Risen Star (third, 1988); Hansel (10th, 1991); Tabasco Cat (sixth, 1994); and Louis Quatorze (16th, 1996).

Eddie Arcaro told trainer "Sunny" Jim Fitzsimmons after the 1957 Derby that Bold Ruler sulked from being throttled early in the race. They let him run his race in the Preakness and he defeated Derby winner Iron Liege.

High-strung Damascus was unquestionably the best horse in the 1967 Derby, but for the first time without his stable pony, he became unglued in the post parade and finished a lackluster third. He won the Preakness and Belmont.

Personality never got untracked in Dust Commander's uninspiring 1970 Derby, but the son of champions Hail to Reason and Affectionately won the Preakness.

Little Current had a ghastly trip in the 1974 Derby, and it was a testimony to his talent that he got up for fifth in the 23-horse field. He went on to win both the Preakness and Belmont.

Master Derby finished fourth in the 1975 Derby but turned the tables on Foolish Pleasure in the Preakness.

Elocutionist ran well in the 1976 Derby, finishing third behind Bold Forbes and Honest Pleasure, but when those two hooked up in a suicidal speed duel in the Preakness, Elocutionist was the beneficiary.

Gate Dancer, who finished fourth at Churchill in 1984, and Tank's Prospect, seventh in 1985, both redeemed themselves at Pimlico.

One of the most dramatic form reversals was Snow Chief's Preakness victory in 1986 after he finished 11th in the Derby. It was a prime example of a horse not liking a specific racing surface, and it happened in the Preakness four more times in subsequent years.

Hansel ran a dismal race in the 1991 Derby, finishing 10th, but returned to win the Preakness and Belmont. Pine Bluff was fifth in the 1992 Derby, but won the Preakness. Tabasco Cat, sixth in the 1994 Derby, also won the Preakness and Belmont. Louis Quatorze, who floundered over Churchill's surface in the 1996 Derby and finished 16th, scored a brilliant victory in the Preakness.

Discount the Derby for many

For Nick Zito, it may be deja vu all over again. After his Louis Quatorze turned it around in the Preakness, he has every reason to believe that his trio of High Fly, Noble Causeway, and Sun King - all highly regarded going into the Derby - have the credentials to rebound in a big way as well.

The connections of Greeley's Galaxy and High Limit will also toss the poor performances by their colts in the Derby, and Wilko, who ran a game race finishing sixth in the Derby despite bleeding, should not be overlooked in the Preakness.

Afleet Alex, High Fly, Greeley's Galaxy, and High Limit are still suspect at the distance, and of all the Preakness contenders, Noble Causeway still has the most upside. Improving with every start during the winter in Florida, culminating in a strong second behind High Fly in the Florida Derby, Noble Causeway is by Giant's Causeway, one of the hottest young stallions in the world. His freshman crop, now 3, includes Footstepsinthesand, winner of the English 2000 Guineas, and Shamardal, last year's European 2-year-old champion, who won the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 2000 Guineas) last Sunday.

If Noble Causeway can win an American classic, it would be yet another remarkable achievement for his sire's first crop. His Claiborne Farm female family is nothing but first-class as well.

Noble Causeway's dam, Mimi's Golden Girl, is by Seeking the Gold out of the multiple stakes winner Classy Cathy, who counted the Ashland and Alabama stakes among her victories.

Noble Causeway's third dam, Trestle (Tom Rolfe), was a blue hen as a broodmare, producing five stakes winners - Classy Cathy, Ms. Margi, Sports View, Testy Trestle, and Top Trestle. Trestle is a half-sister to Edge (Damascus), the dam of stakes winner and sire Boundary. His fourth dam, Ponte Vecchio (Round Table), won the Maskette (now Go for Wand Handicap), and his fifth dam is Ashland Stakes winner Terentia, one of the best fillies of the 1962 crop, which included champions What a Treat, Straight Deal, and Queen Empress and stakes winners Marshua, Summer Scandal, Bold Experience, and Discipline.

* Preakness picks: Noble Causeway, Wilko, High Fly, Afleet Alex