04/05/2006 11:00PM

At least as many questions as answers


ARCADIA, Calif. - There is no shortage of opinions in horse racing. Such as . . .

* Everyone says Brother Derek will win the Santa Anita Derby wire to wire Saturday, but 3-5 is the worst price of the day. Because guess what? - A. P. Warrior has speed. Failure to utilize that trait cost former trainer Eoin Harty his job. His new trainer is not repeating the mistake, nor should bettors. A. P. Warrior will dog Brother Derek every step.

* When Point Determined runs in the Santa Anita Derby, his trainer, Bob Baffert, will be at Aqueduct to saddle Bob and John in the Wood Memorial. Handicappers who read a message into Baffert's travel plans should re-consult their tea leaves. Point Determined is just a better, faster horse than Bob and John.

* Speaking of the Wood, if Bob and John is a good horse, he should be able to sit back and reel in the speed. But the complexion of the Wood changed when front-runner Like Now did not enter. Doesn't that make Keyed Entry just about a cinch in the Wood?

* If Sacred Light gets hammered to less than 5-1 in the Santa Anita Derby, blame jockey Aaron Gryder. His March 4 ride made Sacred Light look awfully good running second to Brother Derek. Gryder tucked Sacred Light alone in sixth, scraped paint on the far turn, angled out, and finished well. So did Sacred Light run as well as it looks, or was his runner-up finish mostly the result of a terrific ride by Gryder? It probably was Gryder.

* The colt Sacred Light and the filly Balance both are owned by John and Jerry Amerman. If Sacred Light bombs and Balance wins the Ashland, there is an outside chance the filly would shoot for the moon in the Kentucky Derby. The potentially ruinous idea has been discussed. Balance is a nice filly, but she is not Winning Colors.

* It looked like trainer Michael Trombetta made the right move redirecting front-runner Sweetnorthernsaint from the Wood to the Illinois Derby. Would he have made the same decision had he known front-runner Like Now was sick and out? Probably not.

* Rapidly improving Racketeer is the bet of the weekend in the Illinois Derby. If the March 18 San Felipe at Santa Anita was as strong as believed, fourth-place Racketeer should be gone at Hawthorne against just one pace foe. Too bad bettors cannot lock in Racketeer's morning-line price of 5-1. And good luck to the Illinois Derby favorite, Cause to Believe, who faces a reality check Saturday. Things always get tougher outside northern California.

* What does it say about Barbaro and the Florida 3-year-olds when California-bred allowance winner Sam's Ace can ship cross-country and finish a good fourth with a wide trip in the Florida Derby?

* Speaking of the Florida Derby, Sunriver ran at least as well as winner Barbaro. Sunriver steadied early, got shuffled back and lost position, rallied four-wide on the far turn, and finished evenly for third. He was the only Florida Derby late-runner to do anything. Unfortunately, Sunriver now has five weeks to stew.

* How important is it to win the final Derby prep? Until 1999, the Derby was won seven straight years by a horse who had lost his final prep. But four of the last seven Derby winners entered off a win - Smarty Jones, War Emblem, Fusaichi Pegasus, and Charismatic.

* Wild Fit worked one mile Thursday at Turfway Park. This is crazy, but she should run against colts April 29 in the one-turn, one-mile Derby Trial. A bold, reputation-salvaging move is just what the one-turn specialist needs, because she has nothing to lose other than a start six days later in the two-turn Kentucky Oaks. She cannot win that race anyway.

* From the department of ill-conceived plans comes this bizarre development regarding Lava Man. A Hollywood Park specialist, Lava Man blazed to brilliant stakes wins last summer on his favorite track. But now, on the eve of the Hollywood meet, Lava Man's connections are talking about shipping him to Pimlico for the Pimlico Special. What is the point - to prove Lava Man can ship?

* Jockey Tyler Baze sat in a hospital waiting room for two hours Sunday waiting to be X-rayed following a race-3 spill. Baze finally was examined and cleared to ride. Because of the delay, however, he was unable to fulfill his commitments. Santa Anita should institute a plan to expedite jockey examinations.

* Three months into the year, jockey Victor Espinoza leads the nation in money won with nearly $5 million. Is there a more underappreciated, under-publicized jockey anywhere?

* Truly a Judge should not have run April 1 in the Grade 3 Tokyo City Handicap. He was jamming back in only 20 days and racing on a hard, unforgiving surface that ultimately "jarred" him and led to his off-the-board finish. Worse than running the 8-year-old, some handicappers actually picked him to win. Guilty as charged.

* When Fairplex Park hired Cliff Goodrich as a consultant, it was the first serious public move Fairplex has made in an effort to expand the track from five-eighths to one mile and add more racing dates. But is it too late for Fairplex?

* Does anyone really believe Hollywood Park will spend millions to install a synthetic racing surface for its fall meet?

* Milk It Mick's odds will be shorter Saturday in the Arcadia Handicap than they were when he sprang a 12-1 upset last month in the Frank Kilroe Mile. But the ground will be softer, too. Early this week, trainer Jim Cassidy talked about the rain and softened turf course with a simple statement that, loosely translated, was "I am dead."