10/19/2003 11:00PM

Juvenile duckers richly misguided


NEW YORK - The thing that irritates me the most about some of the defections from this year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile is the presumptuousness behind the reasoning for not participating.

As the first 19 runnings of the Juvenile have taught us, there is certainly no reason to expect that a victory in the Juvenile will lead to success in the Kentucky Derby. "Jinx" is an inappropriate term; perhaps several notches too strong.

That no Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner has gone on to win the Kentucky Derby serves to underscore the simple fact that there is no link whatsoever between a 1 1/16-mile race in late October and a 1 1/4-mile event on the first Saturday in May. There is just too much time between these two races. A little more than six months in Thoroughbred racing is an eternity. Besides, two races at these two distances are two entirely different animals.

In every other circumstance except the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby, horses stretching out to 1 1/4 miles from 1 1/16 miles would be viewed with skepticism, if not eliminated altogether, rather than being installed as the future book betting favorite.

However, I fail to see how passing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile will improve any horse's chances of winning the Kentucky Derby. Even at this early stage, winners of such races as the Champagne, the Hopeful, and the Breeders' Futurity have a better chance of winning the Kentucky Derby, if only because they have already proven to be more advanced than their contemporaries. But the same can be said for the winner of the Juvenile. Moreover, winners of races such as the Champagne and the Breeders' Futurity have the same obstacles ahead of them that the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile does, and in the case of a winner of the Hopeful, a seven-furlong race in late August, the obstacles are even more substantial. Where is it written that any of these horses will develop at a rate that will keep them ahead of their contemporaries, and will avoid injuries? To insist that a 2-year-old who won a major stakes will be better off in the Kentucky Derby by passing the Juvenile is, well, awfully presumptuous.

One manifestation of this mindset being taken to a ridiculous degree is Norfolk Stakes winner Ruler's Court. Ruler's Court won the Norfolk 20 days before Breeders' Cup Day, at the same distance and over the same track of this year's Juvenile. Ruler's Court did not merely win, he romped by 14 lengths, showing dramatic improvement in his first start with blinkers, and earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 102, one of the best for a 2-year-old this year. Ruler's Court came out of the Norfolk healthy, and yet he will not be in the starting gate for the Juvenile Saturday. His connections admitted that they believe Ruler's Court will have a better chance to win the Derby if Ruler's Court sits out Saturday's Juvenile.

This would be funny if it weren't so misguided. Ruler's Court currently races for Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Darley Stud Management, but his Norfolk victory moved him into the upper echelon of the Maktoum family's United States-based runners. As a result, the outcome of the Norfolk assured that Ruler's Court's ownership will be transferred to the Maktoum family's Godolphin Racing when he turns 3. Ruler's Court's Norfolk victory also ensured that he will prep for the Kentucky Derby in Dubai, the home country of the Maktoum family.

The bad news for Ruler's Court is that Godolphin's Dubai-prepped Kentucky Derby starters are actually getting further away rather than closer to achieving their goal of winning the Derby. Godolphin's Worldly Manner finished seventh in the Derby in 1999; China Visit and Curule were sixth and seventh, respectively, in 2000; Express Tour was eighth in 2001; Essence of Dubai was ninth in 2002; and Godolphin didn't even have a starter in this year's Derby. It's good policy to never say never in this game, but a lot of people think that unless Godolphin abandons its policy of prepping runners in Dubai and instead races them in this country against much tougher opposition, then the only way it will ever win the Kentucky Derby is if a black hole appears at the Churchill Downs quarter pole and swallows 93 percent of the Derby field. And even then, only maybe. But, Godolphin isn't going to change its policy anytime soon.

To think, Ruler's Court is passing the Breeders' Cup Juvenile - a Grade 1, $1.5 million race that he would have been favored in - for the Kentucky Derby more than six months away. The odds of him actually winning next year's Derby may not be all that much higher than the odds of him even racing in this country again. This is so mixed up, I can't help but laugh.