04/21/2008 11:00PM

Five born to pass classic test


LAS VEGAS - As this is my final column for Daily Racing Form after a 10-year run, it seems only fitting to write about this year's Kentucky Derby and how pedigree handicapping may affect its outcome.

But I would be remiss if I didn't first thank the many readers of this column over the years for their feedback, either through letters and e-mails or at the countless seminars and book signings at racetracks around the country. It has truly been my joy.

Although I will write my annual pedigree profiles for all the Derby runners in the pull-out supplement in Daily Racing Form's Derby Day edition, here is my take on this year's renewal.

There are five 3-year-olds who should really be at their best going 1 1/4 miles. Alphabetically, they are Adriano, Colonel John, Court Vision, Monba, and Pyro.

Adriano: Accomplished on turf and synthetic surfaces, he was eye-catching in his Lane's End Stakes victory over Turfway's Polytrack, and he was looking for more distance. He finished a disconcerting ninth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, his only start on dirt, but his pedigree suggests he should be effective on dirt. By A.P. Indy - a champion and Horse of the Year who has sired many dirt champions, including Mineshaft, Rags to Riches and Bernardini - he is out of a dam by Mr. Prospector, and his second dam won the Santa Anita Oaks and is a half-sister to the 1987 Belmont Stakes winner, Bet Twice. He should offer tremendous value.

Colonel John: The Santa Anita Derby winner is by Horse of the Year and two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow, and he gets more stamina from his damsire, Turkoman (Alydar). His second dam, Grande Dame, is a half-sister to Bodhavista, the dam of Imperialism, who was third in the 2004 Derby.

Court Vision: There isn't a horse better bred to win a Triple Crown race than Court Vision. Not only does he have the same Gulch/Storm Bird cross as the 1995 Derby and Belmont winner, Thunder Gulch, his dam is a full sister to the 1990 Preakness winner and Derby runner-up, Summer Squall, and a half-sister to the 1992 Belmont winner, A.P. Indy. Even though he finished third in the Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial stakes, he had not shown improvement from age 2 to 3, but all that changed on April 17 with a stunning bullet half-mile workout in 46.20 seconds breezing - his first with blinkers - over the same Churchill strip where he won the Iroquois Stakes as a juvenile. The wiseguys all say he is too slow, but the one intangible that speed figures can't quantify is dramatic improvement that a Thoroughbred can show in the spring of his 3-year-old year. This is a colt who never before displayed such sizzle in his works, and it's obvious that he has an affinity for Churchill Downs, much like Street Sense last year. At 1 1/4 miles, Court Vision will be on all my tickets, especially at double-digit odds.

Monba: If you think his Blue Grass Stakes victory was a fluke, think again. High on my list after a promising juvenile campaign, he had a disastrous trip in his 3-year-old debut, the Fountain of Youth, where he was stepped on from behind, suffering a severe gash on his leg. He then had throat surgery and in just his second start of the year won the nine-furlong Blue Grass with talent and determination. By the sire of the 2001 Derby winner, Monarchos, he gets a double dose of stamina from his damsire, Easy Goer, the 1989 Belmont winner. His female family is nothing but high-class, cultivated by Alice Chandler and her father, Hal Price Headley. His fifth dam, Hipparete, was a full sister to Menow, the 1937 2-year-old champion and sire of Tom Fool. Monba's sixth dam is Alcibiades, a champion at 2 and 3 and one of the foundation mares of the last century. My only concern is that he has had only one real prep race before the Derby.

Pyro: One of the favorites off his victories in the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star Stakes, the luster came off after his Blue Grass debacle, his first effort on Polytrack and his only poor performance in seven lifetime starts. By Pulpit, one of A.P. Indy's best sons at stud, and out of a stakes-producing Verne H. Winchell female family, the real Pyro should be running well late in the Derby.

As for Big Brown, he has been sensational in all three of his starts. He is by the stakes-winning sprinter Boundary (by Danzig), who sired only sprinter-milers, the best of whom was Minardi, a 2-year-old champion in England and Ireland. The most important aspect of his pedigree is his dam, Mien, who is an RF (Rasmussen Factor) because she is inbred 4x5 to the great broodmare Rough Shod II, through her daughter Thong and her son Lt. Stevens. Rough Shod II also produced multiple stakes winner Ridan, and the 1965 co-Horse of the Year and champion 2-year-old filly, Moccasin. With speed influences Boundary on top and Nureyev on the bottom, Big Brown gets a much-needed boost of stamina from his second damsire, Lear Fan (Roberto).

If Big Brown can overcome both his distance-challenged pedigree and the fact that the Derby will be just his fourth start, then he indeed will become racing's next superstar.

(Lauren Stich can be reached at lsstich@cox.net.)