05/01/2006 12:00AM

Derby history points to 8 possibilities


NEW YORK - As part of the compelling challenge of picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby, there has been a lot written and said the past couple of months about the horses who probably won't be wearing the roses come late Saturday afternoon because of historical considerations, and yours truly has been as guilty of this as anyone.

There has been plenty of debate about whether a horse can become the first in 50 years to win the Derby without having raced in five or more weeks (Barbaro), or whether a horse can become only the second horse in 58 years to win the Derby off only two prep races at 3 (Private Vow), or whether a horse can become the first in 124 years without having started as a 2-year-old (Showing Up).

But what about the horses who, according to the "rules," are eligible to win? Who are the horses who fit the parameters of the successful Kentucky Derby candidate, as established over the years by past Derby winners?

Briefly, the criteria that has been met for winning the Kentucky Derby the vast majority of years are as follows: The horse must have started at 2. The horse must have had at least three prep races at 3, with at least two of those preps around two turns. The horse must have had a race within four weeks of the Derby. The horse must have finished third or better in his last start. And finally, in a requirement of more recent vintage, the horse must have had at least one triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure at 3.

It may surprise you, but 60 percent of the prospective field for Saturday's Derby does not meet these criteria, nor do the two best and most prominent horses hoping to gain a Derby berth by entry time Wednesday due to defection. The horses who fall short of these standards are Barbaro, Bluegrass Cat, Cause to Believe, Deputy Glitters, Flashy Bull, Jazil, Private Vow, Sacred Light, Seaside Retreat, Sharp Humor, Showing Up, Steppenwolfer, Storm Treasure, and Sunriver.

That means there are eight prospective starters Saturday who do meet the criteria established by most Derby winners. They are A. P. Warrior, Bob and John, Brother Derek, Keyed Entry, Lawyer Ron, Point Determined, Sinister Minister, and Sweetnorthernsaint.

Now you might say: "Big deal. All that these measures have managed to do is isolate the favorites."

That might be true. Brother Derek, Lawyer Ron, and Sweetnorthernsaint are projected to be the first, second, and fourth choices in the betting, respectively, with Barbaro squeezing in between them. It might also be said that these standards identified a couple of pace players in Sinister Minister and Keyed Entry whom many horseplayers are extremely skeptical of when it comes to staying the Derby distance, especially when the fractions of this Derby are widely anticipated to be very fast.

But the retort is: "What is wrong with a possible win payoff of $20 on Sweetnorthernsaint, or a potential win return approaching $30 on A. P. Warrior?"

Nothing, of course.

And while these Derby-winning criteria do not speak to the possibility of a horse who does not meet them getting up for second or third, it should also be noted that, thanks to the Derby being the only race in America with as many as 20 individual betting interests, a perfectly plausible Derby trifecta result from the standpoint of these criteria of Sweetnorthernsaint over A. P. Warrior over Bob and John could return more than $2,000. That is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

In Breeders' Cup, the more the merrier

Overshadowed by all the Derby hubbub was the recent innovation by the Breeders' Cup allowing horses to be nominated to the Breeders' Cup program at any time during their racing careers for a one-time fee of $150,000 if they are by a sire who was nominated during the year of conception, or $250,000 if by a sire who was not nominated. Not only does this fee make horses eligible to the Breeders' Cup races on Breeders' Cup Day, but also makes them eligible to the Breeders' Cup Stakes Program money that supplements stakes purses at tracks around the country throughout the year.

For years, the Breeders' Cup has taken heat for its exorbitant supplemental fees that can range as high as $800,000 for the Classic, which caused the owners of some very worthy horses who were not Breeders' Cup eligible to think twice about supplementing, or to not supplement at all. Supplementing to the Breeders' Cup will still be an option, but the fees for the new late nomination process, while not cheap, are definitely more reasonable.

The people at the Breeders' Cup deserve credit for stepping away from a mind-set of exclusivity that penalized a certain group of horses, principally those foaled in South America, and for taking a big step toward making an already great event even better by making it more inclusive.