04/21/2003 11:00PM

Gulch isn't just sire of sprinters

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LAS VEGAS - Scrimshaw entered the Kentucky Derby picture with an authoritative victory in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes, and it would be folly to dismiss him as a serious Derby candidate simply because his sire, Gulch, was a champion sprinter and top miler. While it was widely expected that Gulch would be a sire of win-early dirt sprinters, he proved with his first crop that he would be a versatile stallion, getting classic runners as well as sprinters.

Great Navigator and Wallenda, two colts from Gulch's freshman crop of 1990, best exemplified such versatility. Great Navigator developed early at 2, winning the Hopeful Stakes and placing in the Tyro and Sapling stakes, and turned out to be a sprinter-miler. Wallenda showed ability at 2, winning the Cowdin Stakes, but matured at 3 and won the nine-furlong Pennsylvania Derby and the Super Derby at 1 1/4 miles.

Breeding is not an exact science, and a stallion such as Gulch (by speed influence Mr. Prospector out of a mare by speed influence Rambunctious) is an example of a top miler who went on to become a sire of distance runners. Gulch's best offspring include Thunder Gulch and Nayef.

Thunder Gulch won the 1995 Kentucky Derby, Belmont, and Travers Stakes and is now one of this country's premiere sources of stamina on dirt and turf. Thunder Gulch is the sire of Point Given, the 2001 Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old, who captured the Preakness, Belmont, and Travers. Thunder Gulch also sired Coaching Club American Oaks winner Tweedside, and Kentucky Derby runner-up Invisible Ink.

Nayef is another son of Gulch who succeeded over a distance of ground, and one of numerous runners by Gulch who are proficient on grass. Nayef was a champion 3-year-old in England, where he won the Juddmonte International Stakes and Dubai Champion Stakes.

Pedigree is a powerful handicapping tool, but it is also an ever-evolving tool. Mr. Prospector is a perfect example. Mr. Prospector, a member of the same crop as Secretariat and Forego, possessed uncommon speed like his sire, the brilliant Raise a Native. Raise a Native was predominantly a speed influence, but some of his runners, most notably Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Majestic Prince, were able to win at classic distances. Another son, the exquisitely bred Exclusive Native, was a stakes-winning miler, but sired Triple Crown winner Affirmed and Kentucky Derby winner Genuine Risk.

Mr. Prospector's offspring were blessed with high speed, but many of his best runners won at 1 1/4 miles and beyond. Among them were: Forty Niner, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and winner of the Travers Stakes; Seeking the Gold, winner of the Super Derby and runner-up in the Travers Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic; Conquistador Cielo, winner of the Belmont Stakes; and Fusaichi Pegasus, who won the Kentucky Derby.

Scrimshaw has raced only five times, and the Lexington showed he is much more than a sprinter. Scrimshaw won his first start Nov 3., rallying from sixth to win a 5 1/2-furlong race by two lengths. In his second start on Dec. 26, also at Santa Anita, Scrimshaw chased a fast pace over a glib surface to win a six-furlong allowance in 1:08.30. He was the 9-5 favorite in the Santa Catalina in his third start, but broke poorly, raced three wide, and finished third in the eight-horse field. After shipping cross-country for the Hutcheson Stakes, Scrimshaw was off slowly and again raced wide, finishing a distant fourth to runaway winner Lion Tamer.

Scrimshaw trained up a storm in Kentucky, with a bullet four-furlong breeze of 46.30 seconds just three days before the Lexington. Scrimshaw drew the advantageous rail post over a typical inside-speed-biased Keeneland surface. Scrimshaw broke well and was kept on the golden rail until the stretch, where he angled out to pass the tiring pacesetter, Trust N Luck. Scrimshaw looked strong in the final sixteenth of the Lexington, and is coming up to the Derby in peak form.

Scrimshaw is by far the best foal from his dam, the Sham mare Rogue Girl, who had produced nothing of note to stallions Cahill Road, Regal Classic, and Ascot Knight.

Scrimshaw's second dam, Office Visit, is by the obscure but well-bred First Dawn, a homebred of Ogden Mills Phipps. First Dawn, a foal of 1971, was by Bold Ruler out of Lovely Morning (by Swaps), making him a half-brother to Resolver, the dam of Adjudicating, Dispute, and Time for a Change.

Scrimshaw's third dam, Breezing Home (Raise a Native), is out of Slapton Sands. Stakes-winning Future Storm and stakes-placed Level Sands, who are full brothers by Storm Cat, come from this female family, as do stakes winners Apolda and Ganges.

In only five lifetime races, Scrimshaw has shown ability, and while his pedigree may not scream 1 1/4 miles, he is quite capable of being in the mix on May 3.