04/28/2009 11:00PM

Just throw out a pair of tired old Derby rules


LEXINGTON, Ky. - My Derby choice does not have striking pace figures, more than one triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure, experience beyond 1 1/16 miles, or a race at all since mid-March.

What Friesan Fire does have . . . is plenty. He has the tactical speed, improving form, and favorable preparation to win.

Best of all, he should offer value. Being out of sight and out of the minds of horseplayers since winning the March 14 Louisiana Derby, and with him battling two "Derby rules," he could get overlooked in the wagering, starting at around 10-1.

For those that haven't heard the "rules" that point to him not winning the race: First, he is attempting the win the Derby off the longest period of rest - seven weeks - since at least 1929, the last year Churchill Downs can pinpoint the time frame. And second, he has not raced farther than 1 1/16 miles, and the last horse to win the Derby after not running at least 1 1/8 miles was Middleground in 1950.

Respectively, those rules mean nothing and next to nothing.

Horses are campaigned differently than in years past, being given more time between races to produce a peak effort. Remember, before Barbaro won the Derby in 2006 off a five-week break, many considered that length of time to be too long between races.

By giving Friesan Fire seven weeks off, trainer Larry Jones did right by his horse. He committed to the plan early, not because the horse came out of the race with a physical issue. He chose the freshening after what was the race of this horse's life when he rolled to a 7 1/4-length victory in the Louisiana Derby.

This freshening lessens the chance of regression, and could set Friesan Fire up to move forward.

His workouts further suggest he is coming into the Derby in top condition. With Jones mirroring the colt's preparation with that of Hard Spun, who ran second in the Derby for him two years ago, Friesan Fire seems to be fresh and fit, having worked a mile at Keeneland in 1:39.60 on April 19. (Hard Spun worked the same distance at Keeneland two years ago in 1:42.40.)

As of this writing, Friesan Fire's next work is set for Monday at Churchill Downs. Expect a quick drill after his stamina-building mile breeze at Keeneland.

As for Friesan Fire not having raced 1 1/8 miles, it is of little consequence. He was the strongest horse at the finish in the Risen Star Stakes and Louisiana Derby at 1 1/16 miles, and being by A.P. Indy, who won the Belmont Stakes and is an outstanding stamina sire, he has the pedigree to enjoy the 1 1/4 miles of the Derby.

Watch a replay of the Louisiana Derby, and I doubt anyone will question his stamina. To my eyes it was one of the best performances by a 3-year-old this year.

Most comfortable with a target and rated off the pace, Friesan Fire and jockey Gabriel Saez gave Papa Clem - subsequent winner of the Arkansas Derby - an easy lead in the Louisiana Derby. Well held in a tracking position, Friesan Fire appeared in for a fight, as Papa Clem effortlessly carved out the pace with his ears pricked.

The battle never materialized, although Papa Clem held second. Friesan Fire passed him on the turn under no urging, and once cut loose in the stretch, he pulled away easily.

The Derby is undoubtedly a much tougher test, as it is for them all. Quality Road and Dunkirk are legitimately fast, proven dirt horses, and I Want Revenge has done nothing wrong in two starts on dirt.

I doubt any of them will be 10-1. But Friesan Fire likely will be, and if so, he is the value play of the Derby.

Derby Trial

Saturday's opening-day Derby Trial at Churchill Downs seemingly doesn't offer any last-moment Derby hopefuls, but it does have some who fell off the Derby trail after being candidates earlier this fall, most notably Silver City.

The speedy Silver City, returning to a track over which he has a win and a third in two starts, should respond with better in the Derby Trial after getting hounded into fast paces in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby.

But I prefer the lightly raced Hull in the Derby Trial, who scratched out of the Lexington in favor of this spot. He is perfect in two starts, owns good numbers, and is favorably drawn outside most of the other speed horses, a tactical advantage with a long run to the turn.