04/24/2006 11:00PM

Dream pace for Derby closers

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LAS VEGAS - The pace scenario for the Kentucky Derby is quite clear. Sinister Minister will try to lead the field on a merry chase through suicidal early fractions, setting the race up for a closer who will relish both the pace and 1 1/4 miles.

Like his late sire, Old Trieste, who set ridiculous fractions in the 1998 Derby before fading to 10th, Sinister Minister will play a role in the outcome of the Derby but will not be around at the finish. He sprinted nine furlongs at Keeneland when he won the Blue Grass Stakes, but will find the deeper Churchill Downs surface, the presence of other quality speed, and 1 1/4 miles too much to overcome.

This time, Sinister Minister will have company on the front end, with Keyed Entry and Sharp Humor signed on. Keyed Entry, who finished third after rating in the Wood Memorial, showed blazing speed earlier in the year to win the seven-furlong Hutcheson over First Samurai. Keyed Entry is a son of the very classy miler Honour and Glory, who was ambitiously asked to run in the 1996 Derby. Honour and Glory backed up after setting fast fractions for seven furlongs, finishing 18th out of 19 runners. Keyed Entry has the same quality speed as his sire, but is also ill-suited to the Derby distance.

Also expected to be on the lead or very close to it is Sharp Humor, whose victory in the seven-furlong Swale was not a mirage. Blessed with high speed, he tried 1 1/8 miles for the first time in the Florida Derby and fought every inch of the stretch with Barbaro before falling a half-length short.

Sinister Minister, Keyed Entry, and Sharp Humor ensure a wicked pace scenario that will set up bona fide 1 1/4-mile closers, such as Cause to Believe, Jazil, Point Determined, Steppenwolfer, A. P. Warrior, and Sunriver. Of course, deep closers are always at the mercy of traffic and racing luck in a 20-horse field, but these six colts could be the beneficiaries of a heated pace.

Cause to Believe: Like Monarchos, he is a son of Maria's Mon, and his female family is also top-class. His unraced dam is a full sister to stakes winner Katz Me If You Can, and it only gets better. His second dam is multiple stakes winner Cuddles, and his third dam is Barbara Fritchie Handicap winner Stellarette, who also produced Nuryette, the dam of Tap to Music and Northern Afleet (sire of Afleet Alex). Cause to Believe's fourth dam is Square Angel, a champion at 3 in Canada. Square Angel produced Love Smitten, the dam of Swain; Kamar, a champion at 3 in Canada and dam of Gorgeous; Jood, dam of Fantastic Light; Key to the Moon, a champion colt at 3 in Canada; and Kentucky Oaks winner Seaside Attraction, dam of champion 2-year-old filly Golden Attraction, Cape Town, Red Carnival, and Cape Canaveral.

Jazil: Jazil is coming off a second-place finish in the Wood Memorial, where he rallied but fell 1 1/2 lengths short of Bob and John. He is by Seeking the Gold, whose talent under Shug McGaughey blossomed too late for the 1988 Derby, where he finished seventh. Heartbreaking seconds to Forty Niner in the Haskell and Travers Stakes were followed by a victory in the Super Derby and a second behind Alysheba in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Seeking the Gold's dam, Better Than Honour (Deputy Minister), was a high-class stakes winner who descends from an elite female family. His second dam, Blush With Pride, won the Kentucky Oaks. His third dam, Best in Show, won the Comely Stakes and was 1992 Broodmare of the Year. In addition to Blush With Pride, Best in Show also produced Sex Appeal. Sex Appeal is the dam of El Gran Senor, a champion at 2 and 3 in England and Ireland; Group 1 winner Try My Best; and Compliance, who had a successful career as a stallion, siring the full brothers Fourstardave and Fourstars Allstar.

Point Determined: Point Determined is from the first crop of Horse of the Year Point Given, who was bred to run all day but was inexplicably too close to Songand-aprayer's hot pace in the 2001 Derby, where he finished fifth. Offspring by Point Given were never expected to be stars at age 2, but were bred to be most effective as late-maturing colts who relish classic distances. Point Determined is out of stakes winner Merengue and gets additional stamina from his damsire, Broad Brush. He should appreciate leaving the speed-favoring California ovals and having many other colts spar with Brother Derek early.

Steppenwolfer: Steppenwolfer is from the first crop of Aptitude, who rallied strongly to finish second to Fusaichi Pegasus in the 2000 Derby. Steppenwolfer has chased Lawyer Ron in Arkansas all spring and finally gets a chance to make one bold late run at a distance he will love. His female family produced Acorn Stakes winner Bring Out the Band.

A. P. Warrior: Like Point Determined, he had to chase the lone speed of Brother Derek this spring and will appreciate running his own race. A son of A.P. Indy, A. P. Warrior's third dam is a three-quarter sister to champion racehorse and sire Storm Bird (sire of Storm Cat). A. P. Warrior should be effective at 1 1/4 miles.

Sunriver: Still on the bubble because of graded earnings, he will need some defections to get into the race. A full brother to champion Ashado, Sunriver is developing quickly for Pletcher and would be another colt closing late. Wide on both turns in the Florida Derby, he finished third in a good effort behind Barbaro and Sharp Humor.