04/20/2005 11:00PM

Going Wild fits Lukas pattern in Lexington

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Going Wild comes into the Lexington off a last-place finish in the Wood Memorial.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It is fitting that the oft-suspended Patrick Valenzuela has the mount aboard Sort It Out in the Lexington Stakes - the race is all about second chances. Year after year, troubled horses are given one last shot in what amounts to the final major prep for the Kentucky Derby. Many respond with career-best efforts.

Last year Quintons Gold Rush used a victory in the Lexington to gain the graded stakes earnings necessary to gain a start in an oversubscribed Kentucky Derby. In 2002 and 1999, Proud Citizen and Charismatic turned around their form by winning the Lexington - just in time for the Kentucky Derby, where they ran second and first, respectively.

Saturday's Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland is no different - several horses are seeking to overcome setbacks. In a couple notable examples, favored Rockport Harbor has battled health problems most of this year, and Sort It Out, beaten in two starts since being purchased privately by Stonerside Stable, appears to be in a must-win situation if he is to have enough graded stakes earnings to guarantee entry into the Derby.

No one is attempting as big of a turnaround as Going Wild. When he last raced, in the April 9 Wood Memorial, he hit the brakes after six furlongs, finishing last of seven in the 1 1/8-mile Wood, beaten 41 lengths.

Despite the poor performance, trainer D. Wayne Lukas has not lost faith in Going Wild, who earlier in the year won the Sham and San Miguel Stakes before running second to champion Declan's Moon in the Santa Catalina Stakes.

Lukas never wavers in his belief in his horses - irrespective of public opinion. He thinks Going Wild belongs in the Lexington and in the Derby. Knowing his history of success, I am not about to argue.

Lukas has won three of the last six runnings of the Lexington, with horses that some observers felt were finished or simply of limited talent. Besides Charismatic and Proud Citizen, Scrimshaw also won this race for him in 2003.

All three came into the Lexington following off-the-board finishes in stakes, just as Going Wild does. They all won the Lexington easily.

Scrimshaw went from a Beyer Speed Figure of 75 to a 101 in the 2003 Lexington, Proud Citizen jumped from an Beyer Figure of 81 to a 95, and Charismatic went from a 94 to a 105.

Based on the last 10 runnings of this race, the Lexington has far more often boiled down to factors other than recent form. If form is excluded from the equation, Going Wild appears to have a lot going for him.

He is far from a high-percentage play. But 7-2 or higher would make him a useful price-oriented alternative to favored Rockport Harbor.

Lexington factors to note

The following are some key statistics from past runnings of the Lexington:

* Over the past 10 years, the average winning Beyer Figure has been a 103. Bettors cannot simply bet the horse with the top last-race Beyer, though. The 10 winners had an average Beyer of 82 going into the Lexington.

More important than last-race Beyers are top Beyers. The last 10 winners of this race all had run Beyers of 93 or higher at some point in their careers.

Half of this year's eight entrants have not run that quickly. Those runners that have not yet posted a 93 Beyer include Actxecutive, Storm Surge, Skye'n Thunder, and Forever Wild.

* Despite Keeneland's reputation as a track kind to front-runners, speed has not been a necessity in the Lexington. This might be because it is contested at 1 1/16 miles, which tends to draw more speed horses than 1 1/8-mile races, thereby generating a quick pace.

Two winners over the past 10 years, Keats (2001) and Proud Citizen scored wire to wire. But four horses - Unshaded (2000), Charismatic, Classic Cat (1998), and Touch Gold (1997) - were able to rally from 4 1/2 lengths or more off the pace.

Those who like the late-running Sort It Out should not be reluctant to play him simply on the basis of Keeneland's speed-biased reputation.

* The path to success in the Lexington has run through California, specifically by way of the Santa Anita Derby. Four of the past seven winners of the Lexington went unplaced in that race before rebounding in the Lexington.

There are no Santa Anita Derby participants in this year's field, although there are several horses with California ties. Before his poor effort in the Wood, Going Wild raced at Santa Anita. Skye'n Thunder also raced there, and although Sort It Out has yet to run in California, he has trained out West. Actxecutive was based on the West Coast last year.