03/10/2003 12:00AM

Hard to get a read on weekend's results


NEW ORLEANS - Maybe eccentric scientists can find brilliance in chaos. But when it comes to the road to the Kentucky Derby, chaos has no redeeming features. There is only confusion. The picture for this year's Kentucky Derby only got more confusing after the events of this past weekend.

About the only thing that was clear was that Peace Rules ran big to win Sunday's Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds, which was by far the strongest race for 3-year-olds so far this year. There are several reasons to commend Peace Rules for what he did. First, he won the Louisiana Derby in his first start in more than two months, and it was his first victory on dirt. He was very determined, refusing to fold after favored Badge of Silver moved past him like a winner nearing the stretch. Peace Rules came back on and drew away. And he did all of this competing against the two top-ranked contenders for the Kentucky Derby, Kafwain and Badge of Silver.

Even though Peace Rules proved he belongs on the shortlist of top contenders for the Derby, he probably will get only one more prep before moving on to Churchill Downs, and that will likely be the Blue Grass at Keeneland. That means he will attempt to become the first horse to win the Derby off only two prep races since Sunny's Halo in 1983. A lot of good horses - Point Given the most recent example - have since tried and failed. Thus, even the clarity of Peace Rules's Louisiana Derby contains a degree of uncertainty.

After Peace Rules, it only gets muddier. Take Kafwain, for example. He was clearly second-best in the Louisiana Derby. But he was put to the whip on the far turn, and instead of showing the dramatic acceleration he showed when he won the San Vicente sprinting in his first start of the year, he returned to the old, one-paced, grinding style that he used in previous two-turn races. How much of that is because Kafwain may really be a sprinter at heart - a strong suspicion - and how much was because of the way the Fair Grounds main track played late in the card Sunday, is unknown. In Kafwain's defense, he did rally from off the pace over a surface that in the two main-track races before the Derby turned suddenly, and decidedly, speed-favoring.

And then there is Badge of Silver, who stopped like he hit a wall before reaching midstretch. You cannot turn your back on any 3-year-old who ran as well and as fast as Badge of Silver did in last month's Risen Star. But it appears the fears that he would bounce after the Risen Star were well founded. It makes you wonder how Badge of Silver would stand up to the rigors of Triple Crown competition. And, with the way suspect speed carried immediately before the Louisiana Derby, you have to wonder why his connections would so readily concede his speed advantage and take him farther off the early pace than he had ever been before.

The weekend also saw Sky Mesa, no worse than the third-best 2-year-old of last year, all but withdraw from consideration for the Kentucky Derby, coming close to joining official Derby scratches Vindication, last year's champion 2-year-old; and Toccet, who was probably the second-best 2-year-old of 2002.

A 3-year-old filly served to mess up the Derby picture, too: Composure was tremendous beating Elloluv in Saturday's Santa Anita Oaks. Composure has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Derby by trainer Bob Baffert, but it is unclear how serious that talk is, and if she would face males in the Derby only if Baffert was out of other bullets. This wouldn't be such an issue if Composure weren't so good - and she was all that on Saturday.

Elloluv is also a very talented filly, and she had a huge advantage in the Santa Anita Oaks, being loose on the lead through very slow fractions, with Composure some four lengths behind her and significantly wide every step of the way. Yet, despite the strategic mismatch, Elloluv could not contain Composure, and Composure won going away.

To illustrate further how impressive Composure was, her performance is still vivid even after Lady Tak, minutes later, overwhelmed her field in the Fair Grounds Oaks to remain undefeated. Lady Tak showed considerable substance rallying from farther off the lead than she had ever been before into soft fractions, but she had better hope that Composure does indeed start on the first Saturday in May, and not the day before in the Kentucky Oaks.

Storm Flag Flying, who outgamed Composure in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies to nail down her divisional championship, better have her running shoes on too when she faces Composure down the road.