05/10/2007 11:00PM

Just how good is Fabulous Strike?


PHOENIX - A quick quiz: According to Beyer Speed Figures, who is the fastest horse in the country, having posted Beyers of 119 and 118 in his last two starts? I imagine many would guess Invasor or Smokey Stover or some other high-profile runner. Well, they would all be wrong. With all the hubbub over last Saturday's Kentucky Derby and all the other stakes action, the little-known Fabulous Strike continued to amaze.

I felt a bit like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid watching Fabulous Strike romp in last Saturday's Panhandle Handicap at Mountaineer Racetrack - "Who is that guy?"

Like the very talented Curlin, Fabulous Strike is by Smart Strike but so far has confined his career to sprinting. Owned by Tea Party Stable Inc. and trained by Penn National-based Todd Beattie, the 4-year-old Fabulous Strike had always hinted at significant ability but appears to have put it all together and may be primed to take a run at the more famous names in the sprint division.

Fabulous Strike put up a dizzying display in the five-furlong Panhandle. As is his custom, he blasted right out to contest the pace. He dueled Bernie Blue into submission and drew off to win by 6 1/2 lengths, never being asked for run. His final time of 57.18 seconds earned him the gaudy 118 Beyer.

That also marked Fabulous Strike's first start of the season. He hadn't run since Mountaineer's Christmas Stakes last Dec. 26, when he again dueled early and drew off to win by 11 while geared down. That was good for a 119 Beyer Figure. Prior to that, in Mountaineer's Sophomore Sprint Challenge on Nov. 21, Fabulous Strike showed he was on his way to big things, winning by 8 3/4 lengths for a 115 Beyer.

As a point of reference, Invasor's top fig is 116, which he earned when he won last fall's Breeders' Cup Classic.

I know, I know, I can see the eyes rolling already. How can you call a horse whose wins came at Mountaineer the fastest in the country?

Well, that's the point of the Beyer Figures - to compare horses running at different tracks. Did he face top quality? Of course not. In fact, Smokey Stover or Bordonaro or Latent Heat or Keyed Entry likely would have blitzed those foes as well. But it was the manner in which he won - so easily, with seemingly so much left - combined with the Beyer Speed Figures that make those performances so impressive.

I'm sure some are convinced he's simply a Mountaineer freak. But that would be a hasty conclusion. Fabulous Strike began his ascent under the big top, in New York. Last year as a 3-year-old he won the Romano Gucci at Belmont, posting a 102 Beyer. He was fourth in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard and then came back to easily win the Ziggy's Boy there July 7 with a 108 Beyer. And even if you think those Mountaineer Beyers are inflated, they couldn't be that far off. Even if you downgrade those figs a couple notches, those are still among the best Beyers posted this year.

Fabulous Strike, who is 6 for 10, has yet to race beyond seven furlongs. But there's every reason to believe he can stretch out to at least a mile. He has been finishing strongly, and his sire won the Grade 1 Iselin at 1 1/8 miles and sired Curlin, Soaring Free, Added Edge, English Channel, Tenpins, and Fleetstreet Dancer, who all excelled beyond a mile.

It may be too much too soon to target the Grade 1 Met Mile at Belmont later this month, but the Grade 2 True North on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 9 seems an ideal spot to see if Fabulous Strike's figures really do mean he's among the sprint elite.

Luck always plays a role in Derby

Much has been made of Street Sense's incredible good fortune to miss traffic when he made that big move along the rail. Well, you need luck to win the Kentucky Derby. Could Bill Shoemaker have brought Ferdinand home without hitting every hole perfectly? Would Fusaichi Pegasus have won without getting a dream trip? Would Cannonade and Angel Cordero had ended up wearing roses were it not for a traffic-free trip back in 1974?

Sure, good fortune did play a part, but credit, too, Calvin Borel's terrific ride and the horse's ability to take advantage of such a trip. After all, others such as Nobiz Like Shobiz had ideal trips, too, but they didn't end up wearing roses.

* The question for Hard Spun: Is he this year's version of Summer Squall, or this year's version of Peace Rules?

* Did anybody else think Snow Chief looked like he could go on the track and win right now? Snow Chief, now 24, paraded before the race named after him on Gold Rush Day at Hollywood Park a couple weeks ago. He looked lean, mean and fit, just like when he was winning races such as the Preakness.