03/14/2006 12:00AM

Four stakes will sort out Derby

Keyed Entry, winning the Hutcheson, will race around two turns for the first time in the Gotham, aided by stamina influences in his dam's family.

LAS VEGAS - The Kentucky Derby picture really heats up this weekend with four major stakes from coast to coast: the Gotham (at Aqueduct), Rebel (Oaklawn), San Felipe (Santa Anita), and Tampa Bay Derby (Tampa Bay Downs).


Achilles of Troy, Keyed Entry, and Sweetnorthernsaint are the headliners, but watch out for Hesanoldsalt, who may be the beneficiary of what should be a hot pace.

Keyed Entry (by Honour and Glory), the likely favorite, is undefeated in three starts, and earned rave reviews defeating First Samurai in the Hutcheson Stakes. While he undoubtedly has quality, his Hutcheson victory was on a sloppy track that he was bred to relish (by the superior wet-sire line of Relaunch and In Reality). He tries two turns for the first time. Honour and Glory, a decided speed influence who was unsuited to the Kentucky Derby, rebounded to win the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap as a 3-year-old. Keep in mind, however, that Keyed Entry's dam, Ava Knowsthecode, has two strong sources of stamina in her sire, Cryptoclearance (sire of Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi), and damsire, Avatar (winner of the 1975 Belmont Stakes).

Achilles of Troy (Notebook) won his last three starts, which include facile victories in the Count Fleet and Whirlaway stakes over this surface. He gets his first class test versus quality horses, and while he is questionable at the Derby distance, this year's 1 1/16-mile Gotham is well within his reach if he is good enough.

Sweetnorthernsaint (Sweetsouthernsaint) is coming off two lopsided victories, including the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel by 10 lengths. Like Achilles of Troy, he has more speed than stamina in his pedigree and also gets his first class test.

The second dam of Greeley's Legacy's (Mr. Greeley), Deceit, was a major stakes winner at 2 and 3, with victories in the Acorn, Mother Goose, Matchmaker, and Fashion Stakes.

Hesanoldsalt is my price play in the Gotham. Winner of two races from five starts, he never showed interest in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs but was impressive in a Gulfstream allowance before that and has trained well since, most significantly a five-furlong blowout for the Gotham in 58.60 seconds at Gulfstream last Saturday. By Broad Brush, Hesanoldsalt is a full brother to Mongoose, who won the Grade 1 Donn Handicap at age 4. Hesanoldsalt and Great Point are trainer Nick Zito's best hopes for the Derby.


Favoritism will be close between Lawyer Ron (Langfuhr) and Private Vow (Broken Vow). Lawyer Ron has recency and a race over the Oaklawn surface and has put together a string of impressive victories, including the Risen Star and Southwest stakes, but meets one of last year's best juveniles in Private Vow. Conversely, while Private Vow has proven his high class, he is making his first start since winning the Kentucky Jockey Club on Nov. 26. All eyes will be on these two colts, and once again, the beneficiary could be the late-blooming Steppenwolfer (Aptitude), who finished a good second to Lawyer Ron in the Southwest.

It would not be a surprise to see Steppenwolfer take a big step forward in the Rebel. From the first crop of the late-developing Aptitude, he was bred to get better with maturity and distance and is just beginning to blossom.

San Felipe

The line for the San Felipe Stakes goes through Bob Baffert and his trio of Bob and John (Seeking the Gold), Point Determined (Point Given), and Point of Impact (Point Given). Baffert may also send Sky Diving (Aptitude).

Bob and John is the most advanced of Baffert's colts, and his pedigree suggests he should continue to progress at longer distances. His second dam is a half-sister to five stakes winners - Capote, Exceller, Baldski, American Standard, and Vaguely Hidden - and his third dam is a stakes winner and blue hen producer Too Bald.

Runners from Point Given's first crop are just beginning to flourish as 3-year-olds. Great Point was second in the Holy Bull to Barbaro, and last Sunday, Go Between won the Palm Beach Stakes on the turf at Gulfstream for Bill Mott. Baffert has a bunch of Point Given runners, including Point Determined and Point of Impact.

Point Determined won an optional claiming allowance at Golden Gate and gets a double dose of stamina from his damsire, Broad Brush. This is the race, however, where Point Determined must show that he has progressed enough to send him on the Triple Crown trail.

Point of Impact is further behind in development but sports a pedigree as promising as any of Baffert's colts. His female family produced Pulpit, Johannesburg, Minardi, Tale of the Cat, and Round Table.

Refinery (Victory Gallop), Racketeer (Awesome Again), and A.P. Warrior (A.P. Indy) are still works in progress, and a move forward by any of them puts them squarely in the Derby picture.

Refinery was impressive winning an allowance at Santa Anita and is bred to go long. His dam is a half-sister to Halo's Image. Racketeer gets a double dose of stamina from his sire and damsire, Skip Trial. Finally,

A.P. Warrior, now under the care of last year's Derby-winning trainer, John Shirreffs, hopes to return to the form that made him one of California's better juveniles.

Tampa Bay Derby

Unlike the other 3-year-old stakes above, the Tampa Bay Derby may be the least competitive of all the preps. Bluegrass Cat stands out because of his accomplishments and dazzling pedigree. Winner of the Sam F. Davis over this track in his 3-year-old debut, he won the Nashua and Remsen stakes at nine furlongs at 2, and could be the first son of the 23-year-old Storm Cat to win the Kentucky Derby.

Little Cliff will continue on the Derby trail for Zito if he shows improvement in the Tampa Bay Derby. By Gulch, he is out of a half-sister to Marie J, Chekhov, and Bright Feather, the dam of Albert the Great.