02/10/2004 12:00AM

Derby prospects and suspects

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LAS VEGAS - With the Kentucky Derby only 11 weeks from this Saturday, the pace is picking up significantly. While the Florida Derby and Louisiana Derby are the major Kentucky Derby prep races at Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds, respectively, the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Risen Star Stakes, both at 1 1/16 miles, will be run this weekend and serve as major stepping-stones to the bigger preps ahead.

Risen Star up for grabs

Although the Risen Star Stakes lost much of its luster when pre-race favorite Tapit was declared from the race because of missed training due to weather and a sore shin, the race is wide open and showcases some lightly raced colts who have shown considerable talent, beginning with Gradepoint.

Unlike the majority of Triple Crown nominees, who are by speed influences and have little or no chance in the Kentucky Derby, Gradepoint is by A.P. Indy, a dirt stamina influence. Gradepoint's dam, Class Kris, is by another stalwart influence of stamina, Kris S.

Class Kris was a multiple stakes winner on dirt and turf, winning the Black Helen Handicap, Nijana Stakes, Buckram Oak Handicap, Boiling Springs Handicap, Suwannee River Handicap, and Hialeah Breeders' Cup Handicap. Class Kris followed in the mold of her dam, Classic Value, a multiple stakes winner of such races as the Churchill Downs Breeders' Cup Handicap, Las Flores Handicap, and Hibiscus Stakes. Class Kris is a half-sister to stakes-placed Class on Class and Classic Approval. Stakes winner Political Attack is another product of this female family.

Gradepoint has already won twice around two turns, and the Risen Star is a good fit for his Kentucky Derby schedule. Having a pedigree that combines stamina and class, he has the most upside in the Risen Star. I've been saying for years now that it is only a matter of time before a son of A.P. Indy wins the Kentucky Derby.

As for Risen Star favorite Mr. Jester, it is questionable if a son of speed influence Silver Deputy can be at his best at 1 1/4 miles in May. But he does get stamina points from his dam, Future Pretense, a stakes-placed mare who finished second behind Sky Beauty in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama Stakes, both at 1 1/4 miles.

Of the other possible Risen Star starters, Proper Prado is an interesting colt who has a pedigree to improve with age and distance. Second in the Ellis Juvenile, Proper Prado is, as his name implies, a son of one of the world's top stallions, El Prado (Sadler's Wells).

Showdown in Fountain of Youth

While the Risen Star has only one proven stakes performer (Mr. Jester) and some promising but untested colts, the Fountain of Youth is shaping up as the most competitive and important race for 3-year-olds so far this year.

There is much anticipation about the return of Read the Footnotes (Smoke Glacken), who was most impressive winning the Remsen and Nashua stakes last fall. Read the Footnotes easily defeated Master David, who was making his U.S. debut, by 3 3/4 lengths in the Remsen, and Master David won the Sham Stakes last weekend at Santa Anita. By a champion sprinter from a sire line renowned for brilliance (speed), there is legitimate concern about Read the Footnote's ability to get 1 1/4 miles. But he has already won twice at 1 1/8 miles and his style of running, plus the high class of his female family, suggests he may get the Derby distance. He traces to Native Street, one of the best fillies of the remarkable 1963 crop, and Stravinsky, last year's leading freshman sire based in the U.S., comes from this female line.

Second of June (Louis Quatorze) proved that his What a Pleasure Stakes score was no fluke when he followed that win with an authoritative victory in the Holy Bull Stakes. The water gets much deeper here, but Second of June is a serious racehorse who has already shown an affinity for both the Gulfstream surface and 1 1/16 miles.

After being away since his Hopeful Stakes victory in August, Silver Wagon (Wagon Limit) had a legitimate excuse finishing third in the What a Pleasure Stakes, but he was beaten decisively by Second of June in the Holy Bull. The Fountain of Youth will determine whether Silver Wagon continues on the Kentucky Derby trail or should be kept to distances up to one mile.

The undefeated Sir Oscar (Halo's Image), the king of Calder, will finally be tested for class. Halo's Image is predominantly a speed influence, and although Sir Oscar's dam is by Honor Grades, there is more speed in his pedigree from Darn That Alarm and Sunny Clime and he is suspect at 1 1/4 miles.

The colt who could blossom into a bona fide Kentucky Derby candidate is Mustanfar, a lightly raced son of Unbridled who easily has the best 1 1/4-mile pedigree of any 3-year-old this year. In addition to the late Unbridled, who was the best source of stamina on dirt in this country, Mustanfar is out of the Lyphard mare Manwah, a daughter of Europe's greatest broodmare, Height of Fashion, a champion at 2 in England. Height of Fashion is the dam of six stakes winners, including the high-class quartet of Nashwan, Nayef, Unfuwain, and Alwasmi. All eyes will be on Read the Footnotes and Second of June, but this could be the race that introduces Mustanfar as a real Derby threat.