04/12/2005 12:00AM

Greater Good looking to convert skeptics


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - For all Greater Good has accomplished, he has never really gotten the respect he deserves. A winner of 5 of 7 starts, he has been the betting favorite just once in his career.

Greater Good will be out to prove himself once again on Saturday, when he makes his final start before the Kentucky Derby in the Grade 2, $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

Greater Good will be shooting for his fifth two-turn stakes victory in the 1 1/8-mile race, and will be one of the top choices in a projected 10-horse field that should also include Afleet Alex, Andromeda's Hero, Batson Challenge, Canteen, Cat Shaker, Flower Alley, Real Dandy, Rush Bay, and Wild Desert.

Greater Good has some of the best credentials of this year's Kentucky Derby class. He won the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile in his two-turn debut last September, and two races later moved back to two turns and won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Following that race, Greater Good was given a freshening. In his two starts as a 3-year-old, he has won the $100,000 Southwest and the Grade 3, $250,000 Rebel, races won last year by Smarty Jones.

"He should get more respect than he does," said Tim Ritchey, who trains rival 3-year-old Afleet Alex. "He's undefeated around two turns, and that's big."

Lewis Lakin co-bred and owns Greater Good, whose career-best Beyer Speed Figure is a 95 earned in the Rebel.

"I don't think he has gotten the respect because he hasn't run a fast Beyer," he said. "The only thing is, I don't think they're quite looking at it exactly correctly. This horse can finish [his final quarter] in 24 [seconds], it seems like no matter how far he runs. He also knows where the finish line is; he wants to win. I'm thinking that if they run a 105 Beyer against him, he'll run a 106."

Bob Holthus, Greater Good's trainer, likes the way his horse has improved this spring.

"I would say he has stayed under the radar, and I think one of the main reasons is he's not had fast times," said Holthus, 70. "But he's run fast enough to win, and I think he's always had something left in reserve. And at this time of year, I think you want to keep as much in reserve as you possibly can. It's still a long campaign.

"In the winner's circle when he won the Rebel you could have lit a match in front of his nostrils and he wouldn't have blown it out," Holthus said. "That's a real good sign. I think he has a lot left in him."

Greater Good's affinity for distance racing is surprising to some because he is the son of two graded-stakes-winning sprinters: Intidab, who is a son of Phone Trick, and Gather the Clan.

"He was bred to sprint, but he obviously likes two turns," said Lakin. "We bred [his dam] to some top sires, Seattle Slew, A.P. Indy, and the progeny didn't do that well. They didn't run two turns at all. So my partner, Becky Thomas - we own Lakland Farm and she does my matings now - decided to breed to Dayjur, and the filly that came out of that was a very good filly. Based on that, we go back and breed this mare to a sprinter, Intidab."

The mating produced Greater Good, who after being broken by Thomas was sent to Holthus. If Greater Good makes it to the Kentucky Derby - his $361,244 in graded stakes earnings guarantee him a spot in the field - he will be Holthus's fourth starter in the race. Holthus's best Derby finish came in 1988 when Proper Reality finished fourth, one start after winning the Arkansas Derby.

Lakin said Holthus, who is a nine-time title winner at Oaklawn, has been key in the development of Greater Good, who has not missed a beat this winter in Hot Springs.

"I have to credit him with where this horse is," said Lakin. "Training a horse is an art, and Mr. Holthus, as far as I am concerned, is just an absolute artist."

If Greater Good can continue his winning streak in the Arkansas Derby, it will be difficult to deny him respect when he heads to Kentucky.