05/03/2005 11:00PM

Finding the winner isn't the hard part


PHILADELPHIA - How many races can you find where the favorites run one-two and there is a $41,380.20 payoff? I can only come up with one - the 2004 Kentucky Derby.

Which is why I have been asking everybody I know if there is a 50-1 shot they like Saturday that might hit the board.

When 4-1 Smarty Jones beat 5-1 Lion Heart in last year's Derby, the superfecta payoff really was $41,380.20. It did not have much to do with the first two. It had everything to do with Limehouse, a clear fourth at 41-1. Sixth choice Imperialism (10-1) finished third, but he was a very logical horse to hit the board. Limehouse was not.

When you have 18 betting interests like last year (and 20 this year), mega superfecta payoffs are possible even with logic at the top. Now, if you are one of those who is looking beyond the obvious horses at the top of the ticket (and you are right), you could be looking at retirement money

Me? I can't see much beyond Bellamy Road and Afleet Alex. They are Beyer standouts.

I keep hearing the word "bounce." I keep seeing the past performances.

Bellamy Road is a one-figure horse just like Charismatic and War Emblem. We all know how that ended. And when the figure is 120, I don't really understand the concern.

It is very difficult for me to take a bunch of cash and bet it on the proposition that Bellamy Road can't win. His Wood Memorial was only the greatest Derby prep in history. If we are going to ignore that, what exactly are we doing here?

If, however, you wonder if that can happen again, be my guest. That is reasonable. When something has never been done before, it's not unreasonable to think it is not going to happen again. Still, that 120 looms out there as an irresistible beacon.

Everybody knows the Bellamy Road issues. What if the pace is too fast and he gets sucked in? What if the Wood was a fluke?

I prefer to get past the issues and deal in reality - 120. That's what we know. And what we know is always more important than what we think.

Put a line through the Rebel Stakes and Afleet Alex would be entering the Derby with one of the best records in decades. Without the Rebel, he has 6 wins and 2 very close seconds in 8 starts. He is the only horse in the race with more than one triple-digit Beyer. He has three.

When a horse gets a 102 in his third career start, as Afleet Alex did in the Sanford last summer, something is up. When a horse shows up every single time at five different race tracks and five different distances, you need to pay attention.

If you toss the Rebel (as I am), Afleet Alex's two 3-year-old Beyers are 106 and 108. If he gets a 107 in the Derby, I feel very confident he is going to beat 18 horses. The problem, of course, is that 19th horse, Bellamy Road.

The other 18 horses have a combined six triple-digit Beyers, suggesting other than the top two this is really not a very strong bunch. I understand the interest in Bandini and perhaps even Greeley's Galaxy with his 107 in the Illinois Derby. I don't see the rest of them much at all.

Bandini is most fascinating because if you put his past performances next to his sire's, 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, their pre-Derby preparations are almost identical. Each took two races to win his maiden, won an allowance race, and then raced in two stakes.

The difference is in the Beyers. Bandini has gone 46-86-90-98-103. Fusaichi Pegasus went 95-95-103-106-111. You knew Fusaichi Pegasus could win. If you are on Bandini, you are hoping.

Again, I can't see beyond the Beyers here. Bellamy Road jumps off the page, but even I, a true Beyer believer, have some minor doubts. Really, where did that race come from? There was no context, no logic. How did that happen? Still, 120 is 120.

Afleet Alex has the right style for this Derby and most Derbies. This race does not appear to be a Lion Heart-Smarty Jones-like parade into the stretch. It is hard to imagine the pace won't be contested in some fashion.

Which leaves me with the favorite and probable second or third favorite. Isn't that about where this discussion started?

As this discussion ends, I am still searching for the 2005 version of Limehouse. That elusive super key horse is probably a non-descript closer who has absolutely no chance to win under any circumstance. Winning, however, is not important. Running late when so many are staggering is what matters.

So, there you have it. The search goes on.