02/15/2007 1:00AM

Fantasy stables good for bragging rights


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Officials at Churchill Downs, which runs the Road for the Roses fantasy horse racing league, have increased the monetary rewards this year, particularly for those paying an optional entrance fee to play. Not that it will boost participation a great deal.

Many fantasy sports players participate for the enjoyment of beating up on their buddies and the opportunity to thump their chests if they win. The money is just a sweet bonus.

Although the Road for the Roses contest does not rival fantasy football in terms of excitement and involvement, it is entertaining, particularly for those horseplayers who start coming up with their Kentucky Derby selections in February.

As for the rules of the contest, they are simple: try to outscore the opposition. Compile a stable of 10 3-year-olds, plus two trainers and two jockeys, and accumulate points by the horses winning or hitting the board in designated stakes races, or by the horses associated with your selected trainers or jockeys winning these stakes.

The first eligible races are Saturday, and continue all the way up to the Kentucky Derby, the most influential race in the contest.

Once a stable has been set up, contest players must then activate five of their 10 horses on a week-by-week basis, based on whether they are expected to be running. Then in the months to come, there are two supplemental drafts offering the chance to pick up a total of five more horses. Those drafts are held from March 12 through 16 and from April 16 through 20.

Prizes are awarded to the top 25 finishers at the end of the contest. Weekly prizes can also be won. More information on the rules and prizes, as well as an application to participate, is available at www.roadtotheroses.com.

The logical place to start when formulating a stable is to glance at past performances for Triple Crown nominations, focusing primarily on those horses who were chosen as individual betting interests for the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.

Because the Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, Street Sense, has been a little behind schedule in his training, I chose not to include him among my initial selections. I also passed on Any Given Saturday, whose first start of 2007 is expected to come in Saturday's ungraded Sam F. Davis stakes, a race that offers fewer fantasy points than a more prestigious race. I fully expect these two colts to join my stable later, but at this point in mid-winter others offer more point-earning potential.

My stable, listed below, is filled mostly with horses who should be running in graded stakes within the next few weeks, before the next draft period begins on March 12.

Adore the Gold: A 3-year-old Formal Gold colt, he has already won three stakes, including the Grade 2 Swale, a race he took with a Beyer Speed Figure of 102. He can run one turn or two, giving his connections options for placement.

Circular Quay: Running head-on into a traffic jam in the Feb. 10 Risen Star Stakes compromised his performance and contributed to a fifth-place finish, a race that can be forgiven. The Risen Star was the first time in six starts that he had not finished first or second.

Great Hunter: He has trained regularly for trainer Doug O'Neill since a freshening following a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Winner of last year's Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, he seems a great long-term candidate for the Grade 1 Blue Grass.

Hard Spun: Unbeaten in four starts, this Arkansas-based colt looks like the next coming of Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex. He figures to be odds-on in upcoming races at Oaklawn.

Liquidity: Another from the O'Neill stable, he comes off a pair of runner-up finishes in graded stakes behind Stormello and Ravel. Blinkers appear to have improved his focus.

Nobiz Like Shobiz: A winner of 3oof 4 starts, including two graded stakes, he looks like one the leaders in the division in Florida.

Notional: This West Coast-based colt won from post 12 in the Risen Star, showing the ability to ship across country and succeed.

Ravel: A $950,000 yearling purchase, he outkicked Liquidity to win the 1 1/8-mile Sham Stakes in his stakes debut. Unlike a few others in this group, he does not appear to have distance limitations.

Stormello: He won the Norfolk and Hollywood Futurity last year and is training forwardly toward his 3-year-old bow. He is expected to return in March 3 Fountain of Youth Stakes, a race that could also draw Nobiz Like Shobiz.

Summer Doldrums: He is the current star of New York, having won the Feb 10 Whirlaway Stakes by 5 1/4 lengths - a performance that earned him a Beyer Figure of 106.

Trainers O'Neill and Todd Pletcher: These are obvious choices given the depth and quality they possess in their stables.

Jockeys Corey Nakatani and John Velazquez: Given that they are usually to go-to riders for O'Neill and Pletcher, they figure to get the most opportunities.