05/25/2007 12:00AM

Dettori's freedom a telling sign


With the Epsom Derby's five-day entry stage not arriving until Monday, there are still 22 horses poised to run in next Saturday's 1 1/2-mile classic. It should not surprise anyone that Aidan O'Brien is the trainer of nine of those 22, while Saeed bin Suroor has three, giving the Magnier-Tabor-Smith consortium and Godolphin more than half of the Derby's possible runners.

Yet the Godolphin team is so weak at this point of the season, it has freed its No. 1 rider, Frankie Dettori, from the obligation of riding any of its three Derby candidates. Neither Eastern Anthem, a son of Singspiel and English Oaks winner Kazzia, nor the Storm Cat-Tranquility Lake colt Jalil, nor Mythical Kid, a Lemon Drop Kid half-brother to French Oaks winner Divine Proportions, will be ridden by Dettori, whichever of them does run.

Godolphin runners won only 3 of 53 starts during the Dubai Racing Carnival, and since then have won just two graded races, both of them Grade 3s in New York, the victories coming with Utopia in the Westchester Handicap and Songster in the Bold Ruler. In England, Sheikh Mohammed's boys in blue have managed nothing more than a pair of listed scores.

So Godolphin really couldn't deny Dettori the opportunity to ride the 3-2 Derby favorite, the Peter Chapple-Hyam-trained Authorized, a son of Montjeu. Dettori was aboard him when he won the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy last October and the Group 2 Dante Stakes May 17, in which he galloped home by handy four lengths.

In freeing Dettori, Godolphin indicated that none of its well-bred 3-year-olds stands much of a chance against Authorized. Godolphin was pleased to do so as long as Dettori wasn't going to be riding for arch enemies Magnier and O'Brien.

O'Brien has so many good chances in the Derby he said on Friday that he could saddle as many as eight. In alphabetical order, his nine Derby possibles are Acapulco, a Galileo colt who was second to Derby second favorite Salford Mill in a 10-furlong Newmarket listed race on May 5; Admiralofthefleet, a son of Danehill coming off a win in the Group 3 Dee Stakes; the Montjeu colt Anton Chekhov, recent winner of the Group 2 Prix Hocquart; Archipenko, a Kingmambo-Bound colt who won the Group 2 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial two weeks ago; another Montjeu colt, Chinese Whisper, who was third to French Derby favorite Lawman in the Prix La Force; 2000 Guineas fifth Eagle Mountain, a Rock of Gibraltar colt who was a Group 2 winner last fall; the late-blooming Galileo colt Mahler, a recent five-length allowance winner going

1 1/2 miles at Gowran Park; still another Montjeu colt, Soldier of Fortune, winner of the Group 3 Chester Vase earlier this month; and the Derrinstown Stud runner-up Yellowstone, a Rock of Gibraltar colt who was Group 1-placed at 2.

O'Brien is touting Archipenko as most likely to succeed at Epsom. The race he won, the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, was used by both Galileo and High Chaparral as a stepping-stone to their Epsom Derby victories.

Two others in the Derby mix who cannot be overlooked are Regime, the Sandown Classic Trial winner trained by Michael Bell, who won of the 2005 Derby with Motivator, and Aqaleem, Hamdan Al Maktoum's Group 3 Lingfield Derby Trial winner by the 2000 Epsom Derby winner, Sinndar.

One well suited to the distance

Most of these Epsom hopefuls are bred to stay 1 1/2 miles. That is not, however, the case with most of the horses who will confront the same distance in the Belmont Stakes. One who does seem sure to stay the route is Curlin. Winner of the Preakness, Curlin is by Smart Strike, a Mr. Prospector stallion who is developing into one of the few stamina influences currently standing in Kentucky.

A half-brother to Dance Smartly, a winner of the 1 1/2-mile Breeders' Stakes, and from the family of Sky Classic, winner of the 1 1/2-mile Canadian International, Smart Strike is also the sire of English Channel, winner of the 1 1/2-mile Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Fleetstreetdancer, winner of the 1 5/16-mile Japan Cup Dirt. He is also the sire of one of Europe's leading stayers, by which is meant a horse who can stay at least 1 3/4 miles. That is Tungsten Strike, the winner going two miles in both Sandown's Group 2 Henry II Stakes and Ascot's Group 3 Sagaro Stakes.

Curlin ran like a baby at Pimlico, having to be niggled along midway down the backstretch, then nearly pulling himself up at the head of the stretch. Yet he still had the stamina - and the acceleration - to catch Street Sense, who always comes back to the pack when separated from his beloved Churchill Downs. When Curlin grows up, there may be no 3-year-old capable of catching him beyond nine furlongs, at least not on this side of the Atlantic.