03/15/2004 1:00AM

Derby picture scrambled

Preachinatthebar (right) earned a 101 Beyer for his beating St Averil in the San Felipe.

ARCADIA, Calif. - A weekend of largely inscrutable stakes results among the nation's leading 3-year-olds brought several newcomers to the fore, and raised questions regarding some heretofore highly regarded Kentucky Derby contenders.

Preachinatthebar's victory here at Santa Anita in Sunday's San Felipe Stakes proved to be the fastest of the weekend's five stakes for 3-year-olds. His 101 Beyer Speed Figure equaled the Beyer earned by his Bob Baffert-trained stablemate Wimbledon in the previous Sunday's Louisiana Derby.

Limehouse, the lone favorite to win in the five races, got a 99 for his victory in Sunday's Tampa Bay Derby. Wynn Dot Comma, who is not even nominated to the Triple Crown, got a 96 in Saturday's Swale Stakes at Gulfstream, Friends Lake earned just a 92 for his upset victory in Saturday's Florida Derby at Gulfstream, and Kilgowan got an 84 in Saturday's El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.

The performances of the winners, though, were in many ways overshadowed by the losses, some of them quite ugly, of top Derby prospects. Action This Day, last year's champion 2-year-old colt, finished seventh in the nine-horse San Felipe field after getting stepped on by a loose horse going into the first turn. Read the Footnotes, as trainer Rick Violette had feared, regressed badly from his Fountain of Youth victory and finished fourth in the Florida Derby. Eurosilver was defeated in the Swale, but at least he ran well, losing by a nose.

Baffert said Preachinatthebar came out of the San Felipe in good shape and would race next in either the Santa Anita Derby on April 3, or the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 10. Those races are also under consideration for Wimbledon.

Baffert said he was leaning toward running Wimbledon in the Wood, but said both could remain at Santa Anita.

St Averil, who finished second in the San Felipe, and Action This Day both are scheduled to run in the Santa Anita Derby, too.

Action This Day needed stitches to close a laceration on the back of his right hind leg. His trainer, Richard Mandella, at first feared the wound had nicked the tendon, which would have been a far more serious injury. He was relieved to find otherwise. "We'll get another chance," he said.

Baffert said Odds On, who faded to sixth in the Santa Anita Derby after setting the early pace, displaced his soft palate and would undergo minor throat surgery, a myectomy.

In Florida, trainer John Kimmel said that Friends Lake came out of the Florida Derby in good order and most likely would not have another prep before the May 1 Kentucky Derby. Needles, in 1956, was the last Derby winner to not race in April.

"Most likely we're going to train him up to the Derby," Kimmel said. "Everybody says it can't be done. But they said a New York-bred couldn't win it either."

Both Friends Lake, and 2003 Derby winner Funny Cide, were bred in New York.

Kimmel said he dislikes the idea of running in the Wood or Blue Grass on April 10, the Kentucky Derby three weeks later, then the Preakness in two weeks and the Belmont Stakes three weeks after that.

"It seems way too much to put on the table," Kimmel said. "The attrition rate is so high, maybe keeping your horse fresh is the way to go."

Read the Footnotes also might await the Derby, or he could go in the Wood Memorial, Violette said. Violette said Read the Footnotes "had some crud in his lungs" after the race.

"It didn't help him. How much it hurt him, I don't know," Violette said Monday. "Combine that with the bounce theory, which was probably the real deal in this case, and I'm just going to throw this race out, although even with the subpar effort he was still beaten only four lengths."

Violette said that Swingforthefences, who finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby, could run in the Wood if Read the Footnotes bypasses that race, or he could run in the Illinois Derby on April 3 at Hawthorne.

Both Violette and Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Florida Derby runner-up Value Plus, were critical of the way Gulfstream's main track was maintained on Saturday. Both said the surface was not watered enough on a warm, windy day, especially when there was more time than usual between races.

Pletcher said that Value Plus, who was ridden in the Florida Derby by John Velazquez, would make his next start in the Wood Memorial.

"I was super-pleased with his race," Pletcher said. "John was kind of forced to make his move a little early when Read the Footnotes came through on the inside, and in retrospect it might have compromised our chances. But at least he showed he can get a mile and one- eighth and bodes well down the road. He hasn't peaked yet and should move forward in his next two races."

Pletcher said Limehouse would likely make his next start in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 10 at Keeneland.

The Blue Grass is also the next scheduled start for Eurosilver, who is ready to stretch out after a pair of sprint preps this year for trainer Nick Zito.

Zito said that The Cliff's Edge, who finished third in the Florida Derby, would run next in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn on April 3, the Wood, or the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 17. Zito thought The Cliff's Edge might have won had he been able to get off the rail sooner.

"If the horse runs third and he doesn't have any trouble, you're more than happy, you're ecstatic," Zito said. "When you see exactly what took place, you're a little disappointed. You say, 'My God, he could have won the race.' "

- additional reporting by David Grening and Mike Welsch