01/30/2002 12:00AM

Keep Derby news from me

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - I keep reminding myself that the Kentucky Derby is on the first Saturday in May. Sometimes it seems like it is run on the first Saturday in February.

All the media attention, all the hype - it starts kicking in at this time of year. Everyone - from casual handicappers to members of the media - wants to be the first one to pick the Derby winner.

For some, the reason for analyzing the race at this point has to do with future-book wagering or fantasy racing-stable leagues. For others, it's exciting because of the significance of the race. But mostly the reason everyone gets so crazy so soon has to do with ego.

The Derby is the biggest race in this country. The spotlight is on the race, and winning or losing selections come under scrutiny.

A handicapper might pick five winners on the Derby card, but miss the big race - and his friends could care less. But that same handicapper is their hero if he touts the winner of the Derby but otherwise goes 0 for 9.

It's not good enough anymore to merely pick the winner of the Derby a day or two in advance. Now you have to do it three months ahead of time. All for the potential glory of thumping your chest and screaming "I told you!" at the top of your lungs.

I will leave the Derby alone for three more months. By overlooking most of the pre-Derby talk, I believe I handicap better. Here's why: My judgment isn't going to be blinded by hype. By not reading or listening to comments that a horse is the next Secretariat, I am better able to view a horse as he should be viewed.

For every potential superstar, there are a thousand who are hyped. Always keep this in mind - potential superstar equals potential sucker bet. Those with no hype can sneak by as overlays.

Second, it is not as easy to be fooled by overplayed injuries and setbacks.

Because the Derby and Triple Crown races are under a microscope, hundreds of minor injuries are reported. I choose to pay little attention to these reports the week before the race. I figure these are healthy horses with simply forthcoming trainers. The ones to view cautiously are the horses whose trainers say everything is perfect. Instinct tells me that most athletes, either human or equine, suffer aches and pains.

Additionally, by shutting your eyes and ears to the Derby hype before the big race, handicappers will also avoid the frustration of dealing with trainer spin.

You have probably heard these comments - when a horse works four furlongs in 52 seconds, and it "was just what we wanted," or when the favorite draws the outside post, and the trainer responds "I didn't want the rail."

Lastly and most importantly, by choosing to wait to make my selection, I find I view the Derby preps with much clearer eyes. Instead of making excuses or building up the performances of my choice, I can look at a race objectively.

This strategy may serve me well in this year's Derby. It may not.

In the meantime, I will have more time to handicap races with a quicker return on investment - like the fifth race at the Gulfstream on Friday.

That race represents an opportunity for profit. From that standpoint it's no different than the Derby, and better yet, it's not three months away.