05/03/2005 11:00PM

A longshot with all the right pedigree stuff

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Andromeda's Hero, by Fusaichi Pegasus, is well bred to go 1 1/4 miles.

LAS VEGAS - It looked like the great Mr. Prospector would never sire a Kentucky Derby winner, but inonr of his final few crops, along came Fusaichi Pegasus to make his legacy complete. Winner of the 2000 Kentucky Derby, Fusaichi Pegasus was a freshman sire last year, and it appears it may not take him that long to sire a Derby winner.

Fusaichi Pegasus got off to a fast start at stud, and has two colts exquisitely bred for 1 1/4 miles in this year's Derby - Bandini and Andromeda's Hero.

Bandini is far and away the best chance Todd Pletcher has ever had to win the Derby. Developing with every start, he should be even more impressive at 1 1/4 miles than he was winning the Blue Grass Stakes at 1 1/8 miles. His pedigree profile is perfect for the distance, with Dixieland Band, Seattle Slew, and Coastal as his first three damsires. And the class of his female family is imposing. Bandini's fourth dam, Moccasin, was undefeated at age 2 in 1965 and was co-Horse of the Year. Moccasin produced five stakes winners, and her dam, Rough Shod II, is considered a foundation mare, an individual who had a profound influence on the breed. In addition to producing the full siblings Moccasin, Ridan, and Lt. Stevens, Rough Shod II is the dam of stakes-placed Thong, the second dam of Nureyev and third dam of Sadler's Wells.

What has always made the Kentucky Derby unique is that it is the first time 3-year-olds are asked to run 1 1/4 miles. The Kentucky Derby is about projection. Afleet Alex, Bandini, Bellamy Road, and Greeley's Galaxy all won their final prep in style, but those wins came at 1 1/8 miles. The key to the Derby is projecting who should be most effective at the demanding distance of 1 1/4 miles.

When War Emblem, a son of sprinter Our Emblem, won the Derby in 2002, it was considered an aberration. Then it happened the following year with Funny Cide, a son of sprinter and miler Distorted Humor. But when Smarty Jones won last year, it became official. The practice of breeding for speed with little or no regard to stamina, which began in the 1970's, has resulted in today's version of the American Thoroughbred - a miler who is asked to race 1 1/4 miles.

Three decades ago, most American breeders turned their backs on stamina and chose a course that has altered and diminished today's Thoroughbred. American breeders always cherished speed in a pedigree, but they had a healthy respect for stamina. History shows that the great breeders of yesteryear were forever trying to improve the breed, but that noble goal has been lost on the majority of modern breeders.

This year's Derby features many horses who fit the pedigree pattern of the last three winners. Afleet Alex (Northern Afleet), Greeley's Galaxy (Mr. Greeley), Buzzards Bay (Marco Bay), Greater Good (Intidab), Flower Alley (Distorted Humor), Giacomo (Holy Bull), Closing Argument (Successful Appeal), and Sort It Out (Out of Place) are by sires who were either sprinter-milers or whose progeny are characterized by speed. While all of these colts have performed well at middle distances, that has never been a guarantee for success at 1 1/4 miles.

As always, pace plays the key role in any race, and with abundant speed signed up this year, nobody is stealing away to a sleepy 47-second half-mile. The pressure will be on early, middle, and late, and I want a colt who will run his fastest quarter-mile at the end of the race.

The "other" son of Fusaichi Pegasus, Andromeda's Hero, has not shown the brilliance of some of these Derby horses, and while it may just be that he will turn out to be the kind of late developer who wins the Belmont, I would not want to be caught napping if he gets a big wake-up call on Derby Day at a huge price.

In his last two races, Andromeda's Hero did something you love to see in a horse trying a classic distance. On the pull-up immediately after the wire in both the Lane's End Stakes and Arkansas Derby, Andromeda's Hero was like a wild horse, blowing by the winners as if they were standing still. In a race loaded with speed, and with the added distance, it would be a mistake to dismiss a colt who looks, on paper, to be too slow.

Andromeda's Hero has many classic influences in his pedigree. His first four damsires are Storm Bird, Roberto, Arts and Letters, and Cavan. His second dam, Make Change, was second in the Alabama Stakes and third in the Coaching Club American Oaks; his third dam, Equal Change, ran a courageous second to Ruffian in the Coaching Club when it was at 1 1/2 miles; his fourth dam, Fairness, is a half-sister to Prove Out, a vastly underrated colt who thumped Secretariat in the 1973 Woodward; and his fifth dam, Equal Venture, is a full sister to 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault. And it's not every Thoroughbred whose eighth dam is a full sister to Man o' War.

In addition to Andromeda's Hero and Bandini, the best-bred colts for 1 1/4 miles this year are Noble Causeway, Bellamy Road, Coin Silver, Don't Get Mad, and Wilko.

While it may be folly in this era to dismiss horses such as Afleet Alex, Greeley's Galaxy, Buzzards Bay, Greater Good, Giacomo, Closing Argument, and Sort It Out based on pedigree, there are others whose chances at 1 1/4 miles are considerably brighter.