03/07/2006 12:00AM

It's all in the head for this colt

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LAS VEGAS - The good news is that Corinthian is the real deal. The bad news is that it may not be enough to win the Kentucky Derby because of his mental problems. Of course, such problems did not prevent Fusaichi Pegasus from winning the Derby, but it surely is a concern.

Going into the Fountain of Youth Stakes, Corinthian only had potential. Winner of two of his three starts, and having a pedigree fit for a champion, Corinthian was asked to face a battle-tested First Samurai and others in his first stakes test. Crossing the finish line first ahead of First Samurai at nine furlongs proved that Corinthian has the talent to compete at the highest level. When he made his move past First Samurai so quickly in the stretch, it appeared he would win by daylight, but his erratic behavior, interfering with both First Samurai and Flashy Bull, resulted in his disqualification from first to third.

I have been a Corinthian fan going back to his first race on Oct. 15, when he was second in the Belmont mud to Saint Daimon. He showed great promise early in his career, and is bred to be so much better at 1 1/4 miles.

But despite his pedigree, Corinthian's penchant for trouble is a real problem. The Aventura Stakes was to be his stakes debut, but he acted up so badly at the starting gate that he had to be scratched. And now his antics caused him to be placed third (losing valuable graded stakes earnings for the Derby) in the Fountain of Youth. If he loses it before the Aventura and during the Fountain of Youth, how is he going to react before 150,000 people in the carnival atmosphere of the Kentucky Derby?

With his home base at Belmont Park, Corinthian will most likely use the Wood Memorial and not the Florida Derby as his final prep for the Derby. He may well need a victory and the accompanying graded earnings to send him to Louisville. Even if he behaves and wins the Wood Memorial in more convincing fashion than he did the Fountain of Youth, the question of his temperament will surely hang over his head for the Derby.

Corinthian's sire, Pulpit, did not race at 2 and burst onto the racing scene at 3 in Florida, reeling off impressive victories in three straight races - a maiden race, an allowance, and the Fountain of Youth - before running second to the much more experienced Captain Bodgit in the Florida Derby. An easy victory in the Blue Grass Stakes sent Pulpit to Louisville, and only a career-ending injury sustained in the Derby prevented him from showing his best. Despite the injury, Pulpit still ran a courageous fourth and has become A.P. Indy's best son at stud thus far, getting quality runners on all surfaces.

Along with Bluegrass Cat - whose fourth dam is Numbered Account, and who traces in direct tail-female line to racing's greatest matriarch, La Troienne - Corinthian has a female family that towers above most of the horses on the Triple Crown trail.

In addition to being a half-brother to Desert Hero, the San Rafael Stakes winner whose life was suddenly ended by a mysterious neurological ailment at age 4, Corinthian is out of a mare by Easy Goer, and the Pulpit-Easy Goer cross immediately suggests a colt bred to love 1 1/4 miles. Throw in the class of his female family, which has produced the likes of Nureyev, Sadler's Wells, Moccasin, Gamely, Ridan, and Lt. Stevens, and it is easy to get excited about Corinthian.

The Fountain of Youth also proved that while First Samurai was a standout at 2, he is not so imposing at 3. It appears his contemporaries have caught up to him, and some, like Corinthian, are better suited to longer distances. While he was certainly bothered in the Fountain of Youth, First Samurai was never going to beat Corinthian.

Round Pond ready to make noise

Round Pond and Smuggler were the class of the 3-year-old division last year, and both were sidelined prematurely. While Smuggler was defeated in the one-mile Acorn Stakes by Round Pond, she developed quickly, winning the Mother Goose Stakes and Coaching Club American Oaks to earn an Eclipse Award.

Round Pond returned on Feb. 16 at Oaklawn Park, winning an optional claiming race, and a healthy Round Pond adds luster to the older filly and mare division. Round Pond begins her 4-year-old year in earnest this weekend in the Azeri Breeders' Cup Stakes, a prep for the Apple Blossom Stakes. While Round Pond may have an advantage at longer distances, she will have a tough opponent in Happy Ticket, who could give her fits at 1 1/16 miles.

A daughter of Awesome Again, Round Pond has a mouth-watering pedigree, and while she is an exciting runner, her future as a broodmare is guaranteed. Her dam, Gift of Dance (Trempolino), has had many foals, but it is no coincidence that Round Pond is her best. Round Pond is an RF (Rasmussen Factor), inbred 4x5 to the influential broodmare Victoria Regina through her two important sons Vice Regent and Viceregal.

Gift of Dance is also a half-sister to Black Minnaloushe (Storm Cat), a champion at 3 in Ireland and a promising young stallion in Kentucky; Pennekamp (Bering), a champion at 2 in France and a champion miler at 3; and Nasr El Arab (Al Nasr), a multiple Grade 1 winner on turf and winner of the Charles H. Strub Stakes on dirt.

While a Round Pond-Happy Ticket meeting is noteworthy, I will really look forward to Round Pond hooking up with Smuggler down the road.