03/08/2005 12:00AM

La. Derby a path to success

Peace Rules, shown winning the 2003 Louisiana Derby under Edgar Prado, went on to finish third behind Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby.

LAS VEGAS - The Kentucky Derby is unique among American races because it is the first time 3-year-olds are asked to travel 1 1/4 miles. That is why the most telling prep races for the Kentucky Derby have always been at 1 1/8 miles - the Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby, Blue Grass Stakes, and Arkansas Derby.

Run at 1 1/8 miles from 1920 until 1987, the Louisiana Derby was shortened to 1 1/16 miles but has nevertheless been an important race on the Triple Crown trail because of its placement on the calendar. It has attracted quality colts over the years who developed into major 3-year-olds.

Although last year's winner, Wimbledon, never attained greater glory, third-place finisher Pollard's Vision went on to win three graded stakes in 2004.

In 2003, the Louisiana Derby had particular significance: Peace Rules won the Louisiana Derby over Kafwain and Funny Cide. Funny Cide went on to win the Kentucky Derby, while Peace Rules finished a gutsy third after leading most of the 1 1/4 miles.

In 2002, Repent, who was second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at 42-1 behind undefeated 2-year-old champion Johannesburg, won the Louisiana Derby before physical problems forced his retirement.

Other notable horses who won or placed in the Louisiana Derby include Kentucky Derby winner Grindstone, Millennium Wind, Hero's Tribute, More Than Ready, and Captain Steve.

Perhaps the best horse to win the Louisiana Derby was 1988 3-year-old champion Risen Star, a member of an exceptional crop that included Forty Niner, Seeking the Gold, Sunshine Forever, Private Terms, Brian's Time, Proper Reality, Notebook, Cherokee Colony, Regal Classic, Goodbye Halo, and, of course, Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors. Winner of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Risen Star finished third in the Kentucky Derby after a horrendous trip.

Scipion tops 2005 Louisiana Derby

One horse in this year's renewal who could elevate his status as a serious Kentucky Derby prospect is Scipion. Scipion showed an affinity for the Fair Grounds surface when he won the Feb. 12 Risen Star Stakes at this distance with a late rally reminiscent of his impressive maiden debut at Saratoga last year. A son of A.P. Indy and a three-quarter brother to 2002 2-year-old champion Vindication (by Seattle Slew), Scipion will no doubt thrive at 1 1/4 miles. In addition to his sire, he gets abundant stamina from his stakes-winning damsire, Strawberry Road.

Real Dandy also closed from far back in the Risen Star, finishing second over Storm Surge, a Storm Cat colt whose second dam is a half-sister to Ballade - the dam of champions Glorious Song and Rahy - and stakes winner Saint Ballado.

Vicarage, Kansas City Boy, Wallstreet Scandal, and High Limit also are expected to run, with Indy Storm a possibility.

The Louisiana Derby is an ambitious placement for High Limit, who makes only his third lifetime start after a 4 1/2-month layoff. High Limit won his first two starts by daylight at Delaware Park last year for Tony Dutrow, but has since been switched to trainer Bobby Frankel.

High Limit is by 1995 2-year-old champion Maria's Mon, the sire of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos. The fascinating part of High Limit's pedigree is that his dam, Known Romance, is an RF (Rasmussen Factor). The Rasmussen Factor occurs when a horse is inbred to a superior female within five generations through different individuals. Known Romance is inbred 2x4 to Tamerett, an influential broodmare who produced champion Known Fact; multiple grade 1 winner Tentam; and Secrettame, the dam of Gone West.

Indy Storm could be a live sleeper in this year's field and is from the very hot Nick Zito barn. Winner of his maiden debut at Calder, Indy Storm did not fire in an allowance at Gulfstream but has a late-blooming pedigree full of high quality. Like Scipion, he is by A.P. Indy, and his dam is a full sister to champion filly Banshee Breeze (Unbridled). Zito has bonafide Kentucky Derby contenders in Sun King (Charismatic), High Fly (Atticus), Andromeda's Hero (Fusaichi Pegasus), and Noble Causeway (Giant's Causeway), and Indy Storm could join this quartet with a good showing.