11/25/2005 12:00AM

Logic, not voodoo, rules Juvenile-Derby drought

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Stevie Wonderboy wins the 22nd BC Juvenile. Some would hold that the victory rules out a Kentucky Derby win.

PHOENIX - Stevie Wonderboy had not even returned to be unsaddled after his Breeders' Cup Juvenile victory when the nonsense talk started.

"No winner of the BC Juvenile has gone on to win the Derby," they cried, as if Stevie Wonderboy, by the very nature of his victory, had eliminated himself from contention come the first Saturday in May.

Let's get it straight right here, right now: There is no curse, no jinx, no Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs aspect to this. While the stat itself is certainly correct, there is no causal relationship here. The reason none of the previous 21 BC Juvenile winners has gone on to take the roses has nothing to do with the Breeders' Cup itself. There are legitimate reasons it has not worked so far and why it is such a tough task.

First off, the Juvenile and the Derby are completely different games. You're asking a juvenile to take on 1 1/16 miles and then just seven months or so later asking that same horse to tackle 10 furlongs. Another factor is that many horses who run well in the BC Juvenile are sprinter-miler types. They could successfully translate such form into big efforts at the distance of the BC Juvenile, but to expect them to take that form to the 10-furlong Derby just isn't astute handicapping.

Remember, too, they're still developing. Often the winner of the BC Juvenile can be equated to the kid in junior high who kicked everyone's behinds in sports. Just a few months later, however, when others have grown up or even surpassed him physically, he is no longer the dominant force.

Another aspect is the new face. In October or November, many of the better youngsters haven't been seen yet. They weren't ready to run in the BC Juvenile, or missed it for some other reason. The likes of Fusaichi Pegasus, Ferdinand, and Silver Charm come immediately to mind. So while Stevie Wonderboy is the king of the hill, we don't know yet what still lurks in the shadows. There could be some expensive Neil Drysdale runner by Fusaichi Pegasus we have not seen yet, or some $9 million Bob Baffert youngster still getting a foundation, or some beautifully bred Shug McGaughey runner waiting in the wings. There's also the late-developer. Who knew at this time of their careers that Smarty Jones or Funny Cide or Giacomo would develop as they did?

All that said, regardless of the BC Juvenile winners' lack of success in the Derby, the BC Juvenile remains the best indicator of top 3-year-old form. Certainly running well in the Juvenile did not deter the likes of Alysheba or Point Given or Spend a Buck, and most recently Afleet Alex, from becoming major 3-year-olds.

So if Stevie Wonderboy gets beaten in the Derby, it won't be because he won the BC Juvenile. It will be because a proven runner like First Samurai, or a developing runner like Bluegrass Cat, or some runner still to be discovered finds the 10 furlongs in May more to his or her liking.

Stevens gave fans a sweet ride

This is the last weekend we get to enjoy the work of Gary Stevens. He is a true American success story who emerged from the small bush tracks in Idaho as a kid to become one of the kingpins on the West Coast circuit. He pushed his way to the top of the mountain, sharing space with Laffit Pincay, Eddie Delahoussaye, Chris McCarron, Jerry Bailey, Kent Desormeaux, Pat Valenzuela, and Pat Day.

Before his knees gave out, Stevens was an aggressive rider who would take it right to you. I loved the way he would try to take control of a race early. If he was on a speed horse, he'd go. If he was on a stalker, he'd sit close and move early to put pressure on the speed, and maybe some distance between himself and the closers. If he was on a closer he'd let the horse gather. When you plunked down your $2 on a Gary Stevens horse you knew you were not only going to get a good ride, but the right ride.

Some of his work was downright sublime, Bill Shoemaker-like. His ride on Winning Colors in the Kentucky Derby will go down with the best of them. So, too, will his ride on Winning Colors in the BC Distaff later that year, when only Personal Ensign's unrelenting late surge denied Winning Colors an incredible double.

His other memorable efforts include rides on Silver Charm, Thunder Gulch, Point Given, Larry the Legend, General Challenge and, most recently, aboard Rock Hard Ten.

I would expect Stevens to maintain that professionalism and grace in his next career as a television analyst. Here's a big vote that ESPN or NBC latches on to a guy who knows what do to in front of a camera and can give us some astute commentary - something we don't always get for our sport.