04/03/2007 12:00AM

Invasor on the verge of greatness


NEW YORK - Invasor had better watch out. If he keeps this up, people are going to start invoking the term "great."

"Great" is a word that has been grossly misused in all sports, not just Thoroughbred racing. The New York Yankees of the late 1990s were great baseball teams, and this comes from someone who grew up in Boston, so you know how it pains me to say that. Last year's St. Louis Cardinals were not a great team, even if they were World Series champions. Secretariat, Affirmed, and Spectacular Bid, to name just a few, were truly great racehorses. And people who saw them in action have to do all they can to keep from losing it when so many horses of more recent vintage, and questionable merit, are also called great.

But Invasor has forced the debate as to whether he is indeed great. It isn't that Invasor has now won 11 of 12 career starts, because many horses who fell far short of great also compiled terrific records. It isn't that after his decisive win in Saturday's Dubai World Cup Invasor has now won the world's two richest dirt races from his last three starts. (The Breeders' Cup Classic was the other.) That has been done before, too.

Instead, it is the combination of his lethal effectiveness all over the globe and the quality of opposition he has beaten. Invasor was a Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year in Uruguay in 2005. He was Horse of the Year in this country in 2006. If Dubai had such an award as Horse of the Year, Invasor would have wrapped up this year's version on Saturday evening. He has won major races on three continents, and all five of his victories in the United States - each in a Grade 1 - came at a different racetrack. And in his victories in the world's two richest dirt races, Invasor defeated two opponents in Bernardini and Discreet Cat whom many considered potential super horses.

The big question is whether Invasor can return to this country and perform at his same high level. He has been an American-based horse for almost a year, but the list of American-based horses who were never the same after competing in the Dubai World Cup is a long one. If Invasor can prove to be one of the rare exceptions, then he just might seal his greatness.

Here are some other impressions from last weekend:

* If the plan for Discreet Cat in the Dubai World Cup was to take him off the pace - and it seems likely considering the way he was taken back out of the gate - then it was a terrible idea. Discreet Cat was unquestionably the main speed, and without him in the early mix, the pace seemed very slow as evidenced by the normally late-running Invasor's forward position. This was not jockey Frankie Dettori's finest moment because even if he wanted to call an audible and put Discreet Cat into the race early with the slow pace, he couldn't. When he took Discreet Cat back at the start, he found himself immediately covered up, which should have been expected when you break from the 1 hole. Consequently, he never really had a path to move into early contention. Who knows if Discreet Cat could have beaten Invasor on Saturday, especially at 1 1/4 miles. And who knows what effect, if any, his throat infection had on his performance. But with the trip he was given Saturday, Discreet Cat had zero chance to win.

* Scat Daddy showed again with his victory in Saturday's Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park that he is a very game, very honest performer. But when it comes to his chances of winning the Kentucky Derby, call me skeptical. The 98 Beyer Speed Figure Scat Daddy earned for the Florida Derby means he has yet to break the triple-digit Beyer barrier, and that just won't get it done in the Derby unless your name is Giacomo. Moreover, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened in the Florida Derby if unheralded Chelokee, who was beaten only two lengths in finishing third, was not shut off on the rail at the top of the stretch.

* Those who thought after her impressive wins in the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks that Rags to Riches was just going to stomp all over this year's 3-year-old filly division now have reason to think again. Magnificience was sensational winning Sunday's Santa Paula at Santa Anita, even though she had only three opponents. Magnificience validated her recent jaw-dropping score in her career debut, and there is little question that she is a very serious horse.

* Even though he had much to gain and little to lose by competing in Saturday's Dubai Duty Free on the World Cup undercard, I still felt bad watching Lava Man finish last of 16 in that race. I know a lot of people east of the Pacific time zone feel that Lava Man is merely some sort of California phenomenon because everything he has accomplished - and he has accomplished a lot - has taken place in California, and he hasn't been remotely the same horse elsewhere. But Lava Man is still an admirable performer, and I believe he is more than a one-state wonder. Here's hoping he comes back in one piece and that his people find a spot or two on the road that Lava Man can actually win so he can put this bugaboo behind him.