05/20/2001 11:00PM

Derby vets main threats


LAS VEGAS - The Preakness Stakes may be a rerun of this year's Wood Memorial - at least for the first six furlongs. Richly Blended (by Rizzi) once again is the speed of the race, Congaree (Arazi) should be right behind him, and Monarchos (Maria's Mon) will be coming from off the pace.

Monarchos, Congaree, Point Given, A P Valentine, and Dollar Bill are the only Derby participants returning in the Preakness. Six new faces are scheduled to oppose them in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

Richly Blended won two one-mile stakes races very easily: the Gotham and most recently, the Withers. Although Pimlico's tight turns should play to Richly Blended's speed, the last eighth of a mile will find him wilting. If he couldn't shake Congaree at 1 1/8 miles in the Wood Memorial, he's going to have an even tougher time in the Preakness, where he faces other speed types. Richly Blended has a pedigree filled with nothing but brilliant (speed) influences. By Rizzi (Afleet), a sire of sprinters, he gets additional speed from his damsire, Valid Appeal (In Reality) as well as Iron Constitution (Iron Ruler), the sire of his second dam.

Mr. John (Golden Gear) ran second to Keats in the 1 1/16-mile Coolmore Lexington Stakes, but he veered in at the start and was disqualified to eighth place. By the excellent sprinter/miler, Golden Gear (Gulch), Mr. John is out of a mare by a speed influence, Apalachee. In fact, he is a half-brother to sizzling sprinter Texas Glitter, and the Preakness distance is just too far for Mr. John.

Griffinite (Unbridled's Song) won the Lafayette Stakes in his belated 3-year-old debut, and was moved up to second in the Coolmore Lexington via Mr. John's disqualification. But Griffinite is another miler who has yet to show he will be as effective over 1 1/8 miles. Unbridled's Song, one of last year's exciting freshman stallions, had exceptional talent and has transferred his speed to his offspring.

Like Songandaprayer, another son of Unbridled's Song, Griffinite is out of a dam by a speed influence. Songandaprayer's damsire is Premiership, while Griffinite's damsire is In Reality. The class of Griffinite's female family, however, may enable him to run farther than his pedigree suggests. His dam is a half-sister to major stakes winner Devil His Due.

Marciano (Two Punch) showed a different dimension by coming off the pace to win the Federico Tesio Stakes at 1 1/8 miles, but he faced Talk Is Money, who has gone backward since his impressive early triumphs. Two Punch is a very successful sire of sprinter/miler types, and Marciano couldn't hold off Bay Eagle in the Private Terms Stakes at 1 1/8 miles, and he now faces that rival at a longer distance.

Bay Eagle (Secret Hello) is a live longshot for a minor award in the Preakness. As the distances increased to 1 1/8 miles earlier this year, Bay Eagle blossomed. He was at a disadvantage in shorter races and turned the tables on Marciano in the Private Terms. Bay Eagle finished fourth in the roughly run Coolmore Lexington, and was moved up to third on a racetrack that favored speed.

A grandson of Private Account, Bay Eagle has as his dam a full sister to top-class racemare Miss Oceana. He may not be fast enough to win, but one thing is certain: Bay Eagle will love the distance.

Percy Hope (Ide), winner of the Lone Star Derby and Rushaway Stakes, is from the first crop of Ide, a son of Forty Niner who showed great promise as a 3-year-old, winning the Rebel and Southwest Stakes before retiring because of an injury preparing for the 1996 Kentucky Derby. Forty Niner's sons at stud include End Sweep, Tactical Advantage, Twining, and Roar, and thus far, runners by these sires have shown more speed than stamina. Percy Hope gets some stamina from his damsire, Red Ransom, but is probably more effective under 1 1/8 miles.

Despite the newcomers, Monarchos's main threats still appear to be his Derby adversaries.

Congaree's (Arazi) race in the Derby was huge. He made a winning move at the top of the stretch but had little left after being too close to the suicidal pace. If the lightly raced colt wasn't fried by that tremendous effort, Congaree's running style will be the biggest threat to Monarchos. He will get first jump on the field after the speed tires, and this time he may have enough left in the stretch.

It has been well-documented how A P Valentine (A.P. Indy) and Dollar Bill (Peaks and Valleys) had very rough trips in the Derby. A P Valentine was stopped twice and yet still raced strongly to finish seventh. His subsequent good work at Pimlico this week suggests he may yet attain the form he showed at 2. Dollar Bill has been a magnet for trouble, but he has the talent and pedigree to be a major player here. Point Given (Thunder Gulch), an overhyped favorite for the Derby, should not be dismissed because of one disappointing race. It would hardly be a surprise to see him rebound big-time.

Monarchos (Maria's Mon) was so impressive in his Kentucky Derby victory, he will be hard to stop in the Preakness. The pace won't be nearly as hot as it was in the Derby, but it will be fast enough to set up his devastating late run. Monarchos proved with his Kentucky Derby victory that his Florida Derby tour de force was no fluke, and it is exciting to wonder just how good this still-developing 3-year-old will get.