05/11/2005 11:00PM

Future Giacomos ready to pop


ELMONT, N.Y. - "Since then it's been a book you read in reverse, so you understand less as the pages turn."

That line from a song on The Shins's album "Chutes Too Narrow" describes how the vast majority of handicappers feel right about now.

Why attempt a rehashed analysis of the Kentucky Derby? Beyond a fast pace that collapsed, what is there to say? As Butch Cassidy might have said to the Sundance Kid in deep stretch: "Who are those guys?"

Two points dawned on me the past few days:

1. In terms of being meaningful indicators, the results of Derby prep races can mean considerably less than most of us care to admit.

2. It is easier for unheralded 3-year-olds to jump up and win important stakes today than it was back in the day.

In terms of developing the proper frame of mind for future opportunities, point No. 2 is worth going over. One need only review some past performances from the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby:

* Sis City, the 3-5 Oaks favorite, won a $50,000 maiden claimer by a nose at Saratoga last summer. She was claimed, and won 4 of her next 6 races, three of them graded stakes by a combined 30 lengths.

* Gallant Secret, who outfinished Sis City for third in the Oaks at 43-1, has won once since her maiden victory, against first-level allowance fillies at Tampa Bay Downs. She was beaten 21 lengths in her only previous start in a graded stakes.

* Flower Alley and Coin Silver each scored an upset win in his first stakes start for trainer Todd Pletcher. Flower Alley went directly from a maiden win to the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway Park and overcame trouble to win at 10-1. After a maiden win, Coin Silver finished third in an entry-level allowance at 4-5, and promptly won the Lexington at 13-1.

* Wilko lost 8 of 10 starts in England last year, but somehow won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at 28-1 in his U.S. debut.

In bygone days, young horses moved up the class hierarchy in a strict and orderly progression. They graduated from the maiden ranks to a couple of allowance conditions, to minor stakes, and finally on to the graded stakes. The graded stakes, especially the Grade 1 and Grade 2 variety, were won by proven graded stakes performers virtually without fail. Only the truly special Thoroughbreds took shortcuts to stardom.

Now, it seems any horse from anywhere can snatch 15 minutes of fame. Whether this is good or bad is a matter of personal opinion, and neither here nor there for bettors. The key is to understand that this is no longer your father's Thorough-bred racing.

It pays to embrace lightly raced horses that are aggressively spotted, provided the price is right. This might be a profitable mindset as the remainder of the 3-year-old stakes schedule unfolds, in view of the following:

* Giacomo's Beyer Speed Figure of 100 was the lowest for a Derby winner since the figures began appearing in print back in 1992. His previous start was a fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby, which was this year's slowest major Derby prep against the clock.

* Summerly's Oaks-winning Beyer, a mere 90, hardly puts a stamp of greatness on this crop of 3-year-old fillies.

* A day after the Oaks, New York-bred fillies Seeking the Ante and Slew Motion finished one-two in Belmont's Nassau County Breeders' Cup. The winning Beyer for that Grade 2, seven-furlong sprint was 91, roughly what would be expected from second-level allowance types.

Here then, are four 3-year-olds - two colts and two fillies - that bear watching based on their recent winning performances at Belmont Park, any or all of which could be stakes-bound before long. In chronological order:

Chekhov: A $3.3 million colt by Pulpit, he was laid off for three months after a mild rally for fifth in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita. He crushed maidens last Sunday with a big move approaching the quarter pole, winning with plenty left in a real confidence-builder. He's headed to the Peter Pan on May 28.

Reverberate: An hour after Chekhov went 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.35, this colt by Thunder Gulch wired a preliminary allowance at the same distance in 1:41.29. By way of comparison, an optional claimer for older males with third-level allowance conditions went in 1:42.29 later on the card.

Ready and Alluring: Third behind two next-out winners in her debut at Gulfstream Park, she was smooth as silk winning a 1 1/16-mile maiden race by a pole here Wednesday, as if she is Mother Goose material.

Smuggler: Ran a final eighth-mile in under 12 seconds winning her sprint debut at Belmont last fall, followed with a route allowance win at Aqueduct, then ran a disappointing second at 1-2 in Calder's Three Ring Stakes. Back from a five-month layoff, she rallied from next-to-last on Wednesday to win a second-level allowance mile comfortably.