03/11/2004 1:00AM

Fishing for longshots in the Florida Derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There are few if any holes in the form of Read the Footnotes in Saturday's Florida Derby. He is fast, proven against the nation's elite 3-year-olds, and already a winner at the Florida Derby's 1 1/8-mile distance.

Aside from the fact that he comes off a gut-wrenching victory in the Fountain of Youth - which left his trainer, Rick Violette, initially concerned that the horse could be susceptible to regression - Read the Footnotes appears in a perfect position to score in this $1 million race.

Of course, his virtues are all too apparent in the past performances. He is 7-5 on the track morning line and will likely start at around even money.

To get a higher rate of return on the race, bettors will have to take a shot beating him with an outsider, or at the very least, hook him up with some price horses in the exotics. With the public likely to focus on Read the Footnotes and his chief rivals Tapit and Value Plus, here is a look at the longshots in the field, in order of their draw, and what I consider to be bettable odds.

The Cliff's Edge (10-1): He was expected to romp when prepping in a $100,000 Tampa stakes race last month. Instead, he was a non-threatening second with a wide trip. Give him the benefit of the doubt that he may have needed the race, and this horse looks like a threat. He is already a duel graded stakes winner, and has looked brilliant at times. At 12-1 on the track morning line, he looms a potential overlay.

Friends Lake (15-1): He was overbet in the Holy Bull, starting at 3-1 odds in what was his first start outside New York-bred company. I am guessing the public saw too many similarities to fellow New York-bred hero Funny Cide and jumped on his bandwagon. Following a distant third in that race, he will be a better price for the Florida Derby. His chief appeal is from a pedigree perspective. He has outstanding distance bloodlines, being by A. P. Indy out of Antespend, a Grade 1 winner on dirt and turf.

Farnum Alley (50-1): His two victories came in photo finishes, suggesting this late-running horse is not lacking desire. The bad news is that he comes off a distant fifth-place finish behind Birdstone in an allowance, and he has yet to earn a Beyer Speed Figure above an 80. He acts like a horse who should appreciate 1 1/8 miles if the pace is quick, as expected.

Sir Oscar (25-1): Owner-breeder Oscar Novo transferred the horse from trainer Manny Azpurua to Marty Wolfson after his fifth-place finish in the Fountain of Youth, a race in which he bled. If Lasix can control his bleeding, this horse may finish with more vigor in the Florida Derby. Going 6 for 6 at age 2 is quite an accomplishment, even if many of his victories came in restricted stakes company.

Notorious Rogue (30-1): Toss out his failure when fifth in the Champagne and his form is good. He has been on the board in six of seven starts, although winning just once. Trainer Mark Hennig added blinkers for his last race, and this horse ran a bit better, closing ground to finish a close second in the slop. His poor ratio of wins to seconds and thirds suggests that he is a better candidate to try on the bottom of the gimmicks than in the win pool.

Frisky Spider (40-1): He was swallowed up by Read the Footnotes and company after setting the pace for a half-mile in the Fountain of Youth. Although Frisky Spider has yet to win beyond seven furlongs, trainer Bob Durso calls him a true two-turn horse. It is encouraging that Durso has the confidence to enter him in the big race, but this front-runner appears unlikely to steal the Florida Derby with Value Plus and Read the Footnotes racing in close pursuit.

Smoocher (40-1): One of Canada's best 2-year-olds in 2003, he has yet to show that belongs among America's best. He finished a distant fifth in the Holy Bull and followed that with a even fourth behind Birdstone in an allowance. In terms of the positives, he makes his third start following a layoff and is a graded stakes winner at a route.