07/01/2003 11:00PM

History-rich Dwyer boils down to three in '03

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LAS VEGAS - The Dwyer Stakes, which will be run this Sunday, has been a fixture for 3-year-olds since 1918, and has always attracted high-quality runners. In only its second running in 1919, Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, carrying top weight of 127 pounds, was upset by Purchase, who carried 118. And the following year, Man o' War defeated John P. Grier while spotting him 18 pounds

The list of Dwyer winners reads like a Who's Who in American racing and include Grey Lag (1921), Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), Johnstown (1939), Whirlaway (1941), Assault (1946), Native Dancer (1953), Nashua (1955), Quadrangle (1964), Damascus (1967), Stage Door Johnny (1968), Conquistador Cielo (1982), Gone West (1987) Seeking the Gold (1988), Holy Bull (1994), Behrens (1997), Coronado's Quest (1998), and Forestry (1999).

This year's running features the anxiously awaited return of Sky Mesa, who was undefeated last year at 2. After winning his maiden debut in style, Sky Mesa won the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes in only his second start. Sky Mesa won the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity in his only other start and was injured preparing for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Sky Mesa is by Pulpit, a son of A.P. Indy who burst onto the racing scene winning a seven-furlong maiden race for 3-year-olds by 7 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream in the winter of 1997. Pulpit followed that romp with an equally impressive allowance score at 1 1/16 miles, and then won his third straight race in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. In that field were Blazing Sword, Captain Bodgit, Acceptable, Frisk Me Now, and Confide. Captain Bodgit turned the tables on Pulpit in the Florida Derby, but Pulpit came right back to win the Blue Grass Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths over Acceptable. Finishing fifth in the Blue Grass that year was Jules, the late sire of Peace Rules.

Sky Mesa's female family is as illustrious as his sire line, and that is why he has the potential to be Pulpit's best runner thus far. Sky Mesa's dam is a multiple stakes winner, Caress (Storm Cat), and in addition to Sky Mesa, she has produced stakes-placed Monthir (by Gulch). Caress is a full sister to Country Cat and a group winner, Bernstein. Caress is also a half-sister to a Group 3 winner, Della Francesca (Danzig); Unify (Farma Way), who finished second in the Nijana Stakes; and the unraced Emmaus (Silver Deputy), the dam of stakes winner Wiseman's Ferry (Hennessy).

The class of Sky Mesa's female family in the second, third, and fourth generation also is very strong. While his second dam, La Affirmed (Affirmed), was a modest winner of $20,000, she was a very successful broodmare, producing four stakes winners.

Sky Mesa's third dam, La Mesa (Round Table), produced 1984's 2-year-old champion filly, Outstandingly, and his fourth dam, Finance (Nasrullah), is a half-sister to 1965 Horse of the Year and multiple champion Buckpasser.

The most intriguing aspect of Sky Mesa's pedigree is that he is inbred to an influential broodmare, Knight's Daughter, through the half-brother and -sister duo, Round Table and Monarchy, and also inbred to Busanda, through two of her offspring, Buckpasser and his half-sister Finance. The duplication of these two golden matrons of the turf increased the likelihood of creating an individual of high quality, and Sky Mesa certainly fits the bill.

Of course, Sky Mesa has been away a long time and meets some strong contenders in the Dwyer, including Best Minister and Colita.

Cassic female line

Best Minister was my longshot selection to upset the Belmont Stakes but was scratched a few days before the race. The impressive winner of the Sir Barton Stakes on the same card as the Preakness Stakes, Best Minister is a late-developing Deputy Minister colt from a classic Darby Dan female family.

Best Minister's dam, Best of Memories (Halo), is a half-sister to Memories of Silver (Silver Hawk), a multiple Grade 1 winner on turf. Memories of Silver won the Beverly D. and Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup Stakes, and she was also third in three other Grade 1 races, the Flower Bowl Invitational, Yellow Ribbon, and Matriarch Stakes.

Best Minister's second dam, All My Memories (Little Current), is out of Comely Stakes winner Java Moon (Graustark), a full sister to the recently deceased Kelley's Day, the dam of Brian's Time. The high quality of this female family is underscored by the fact that Dynaformer and Monarchos also descend from this line.

Colita has shown brilliance and is a definite threat at the Dwyer's 1 1/16 miles. Colita is by 1996 Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, who was from Unbridled's first crop. Although Unbridled is a source of stamina in a pedigree, Grindstone's runners have predominantly shown more speed than stamina. Colita's dam, All Sweets, a stakes-placed daughter of Dixieland Band, is a half-sister to I'm Sweets (Alydar) and Jaggery John (Blushing John).

Go Rockin' Robin, like Funny Cide, is a stakes-winning New York-bred gelding from Distorted Humor's first crop. Distorted Humor was a sprinter-miler son of Forty Niner who was able to win at middle distances. Go Rockin' Robin, who captured the Peter Pan Stakes, gets abundant stamina from both his dam's sire, Personal Flag, and his second dam's sire, Akarad.

The late-blooming Strong Hope is from the first crop of a speed influence, Grand Slam (Gone West), and boasts a solid female family as well. Strong Hope's second dam is a half-sister to full siblings El Gran Senor, Try My Best, and Compliance.

But this year's Dwyer appears to be a showdown between Sky Mesa, Best Minister, and Colita.