04/05/2006 12:00AM

Eye on history will leave you in past


PHILADELPHIA - You are all welcome, even those who misunderstood the column I wrote about Barbaro in mid-January. A few took every word I wrote seriously, which, as anyone who knows me can tell you, is a big mistake. Others missed the point entirely. For those who got it, I am pleased. For those who didn't get it, welcome aboard.

Yes, a grass horse can be one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby, especially if that horse is unbeaten in five races at four tracks - fast, slop, whatever.

Barbaro will have had nearly 5 1/2 miles of racing before the May 6 Derby. I know that much.

I don't know about the five weeks between the last prep race and the Derby, the long time between the final two prep races, or any of that stuff. And I don't care.

It is all just so much nonsense. Do yourselves a favor. Handicap the race.

Don't be like Billy Packer, the buffoon who embarrasses himself every time he opens his mouth on CBS. All Packer knows is what went down 30 years ago because he so clearly has no idea what is going down in the modern game.

Packer relates just about everything he sees to something that he saw in some other life, even if it has zero relevance. Don't do that.

Packer was once a wonderful college basketball analyst. At some point, he stopped working as hard. It becomes easy to think you have all the answers because, for a time, you did.

Do this: Understand what is going on now.

All the history stuff just does not matter. I admit I used to look at it. It just never helped me win any money. Once I got that message, I moved on.

Barbaro has beaten 54 opponents. The colt almost certainly will have to beat 19 more to win the Derby.

Even though I pronounced Barbaro a lock in that January column, I really never thought that. I was just having some fun, pointing out that, for some reason that makes zero sense, the three horses that have won six of the last nine Triple Crown races all came from the I-95 corridor.

Barbaro has won three times at 1 1/8 miles. Each race is a carbon copy. Barbaro sits second, tracking the front-runner. At some point, Barbaro passes the front-runner. And wins.

The dirt wins were not nearly as easy as the grass wins, but the competition was much stronger in the dirt races. The similarity is the result. Winner's circle.

"I feel like I haven't used my horse up yet," Barbaro's trainer, Michael Matz, said. "Who knows how good he is? Every horse he's run against, he's finished in front of. I am sure he's going to lose sometime, but, hopefully, not soon."

Even Matz agrees that Barbaro may be better on grass. Several people whose opinion I respect have told me the colt has better action on turf. Still, he has now won a Grade 1 and a Grade 3 on dirt.

Matz was at Churchill Downs two years ago when Smarty Jones won the Derby. He had Kicken Kris in a stakes just before the Derby. So, he's seen it. Now, he is about to live it.

I thought Barbaro's Florida Derby was solid. The 103 Beyer gets him within range of the figure it will take to win the Derby. I like that Barbaro ran each of the first four quarter-miles in approximately 24 seconds. And the colt kept going, slowing down for sure, but grinding out a win.

Sharp Humor made the stretch run very difficult for Barbaro.

"It was the first time he never ran right by a horse," Matz said.

You can look at that several ways. Perhaps, Sharp Humor is a legitimate Derby contender. Maybe, Barbaro got to the bottom and that's it. Perhaps that will just toughen Barbaro up for the survival test that is the Derby.

A month out, there are a few certainties. Anybody who still thinks Barbaro is just a grass horse is not paying attention. Anybody who does not think Matz knows what he is doing because of a different-than-accepted schedule needs to forget the history books and see what's in front of them. And anybody who thinks I have a clue what will happen in the Derby really needs to reconsider.