03/11/2003 12:00AM

Mile-and-quarter question still most important

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LAS VEGAS - Kentucky Derby preps such as the Louisiana Derby and El Camino Real Derby, which were run this past weekend, are supposed to clarify the Triple Crown picture and separate the contenders from the pretenders. Think again. The winners of both preps last weekend are nice colts, but like the vast majority of 3-year-olds we have seen this year, they are not particularly bred to be at their best at 1 1/4 miles.

It's difficult to fault a colt who is undefeated. Ocean Terrace looked very impressive despite running wide in the El Camino Real Derby. He kicked it into another gear in the stretch and was well clear of Ministers Wild Cat, who also had an extremely wide trip. Ten Most Wanted finished third, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths in a much-improved effort. A Deputy Commander colt, Ten Most Wanted is highly regarded by his respected trainer, Wally Dollase.

Ocean Terrace is by Saint Ballado, a colt who raced in the giant shadows of his full siblings - champions Devil's Bag and Glorious Song. While not as flashy as 2-year-old champion Devil's Bag, or as accomplished as Canadian Horse of the Year and United States champion older mare Glorious Song, Saint Ballado developed into a fine 3-year-old in the summer of 1992 when he won the Sheridan Stakes and Arlington Classic.

Not bred to the quality of mares that Devil's Bag received, especially in his first few years as a stallion in Florida, Saint Ballado nevertheless turned out to be a better sire than Devil's Bag, and served notice with his very first crop that he was going to be an exciting stallion.

A highly rated 2-year-old does wonders for a freshman sire, and Saint Ballado got off to a roaring start at stud, siring Laurel Futurity winner Captain Bodgit, who became one of the best colts of his generation at 3. After winning the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial Stakes, Captain Bodgit finished second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness Stakes.

Saint Ballado sired three stakes winners from that first crop, and his second crop included 10 stakes winners. Primarily due to Captain Bodgit and subsequent stakes winners such as Yankee Victor, Flame Thrower, and Straight Man, Saint Ballado was relocated from Florida to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky. Despite his flawless pedigree and credentials as a stakes runner, Saint Ballado entered stud at the modest fee of $3,500. It is a testament to his success that he commanded a hefty $125,000 at the time of his death last year.

The one trait Saint Ballado passed on to his runners was quality speed, and although Captain Bodgit performed well in the 1997 Triple Crown, his offspring have been most effective as milers who have stretched out to win at middle distances. Ocean Terrace gets some stamina points from his dam's sire, Black Tie Affair (Miswaki), who won the 1991 Breeders' Cup Classic at age 5, and while it appears he should get 1 1/8 miles, I don't think he will be as effective at the Derby distance.

Reputations take a hit

The Louisiana Derby was as much about the puzzling performance of Badge of Silver as it was about the emergence of Peace Rules as a Kentucky Derby candidate.

Badge of Silver's tour de force performance in the Risen Star catapulted him to the top of many observers' Kentucky Derby lists. Looming alongside Peace Rules in the stretch after Peace Rules had disposed of pacesetting Funny Cide, Badge of Silver tired suddenly and finished a very disappointing sixth. It was Badge of Silver's first loss, and his performance might be explained by a displaced palate, according to trainer Ronny Werner.

Kafwain, who finished second, was never a threat to Peace Rules and finished ahead of a tired group behind him. Contrary to his high ranking, I have maintained that Kafwain (by speed influence Cherokee Run) has distance limitations and is not trainer Bob Baffert's Derby horse.

Jules a sire to watch

Peace Rules is by Jules, who just may be the best-bred son of Forty Niner at stud. His dam, Bonita Francita (Devil's Bag), is inbred to the influential broodmare Almahmoud 4x3, and is a prime example of the Rasmussen Factor at its strongest (inbred to an influential broodmare with five generations through different individuals). In addition to stakes winner Jules, Bonita Francita has also produced Group 1 winner Orpen, stakes winner Etterby Park, and Black Penny, the dam of Group 1 winner Bluemamba.

Jules's second dam is Raise the Standard, a half-sister to Northern Dancer by Hoist the Flag. Raise the Standard produced group winner Coup de Folie, the dam of champions Machiavellian and Coup de Genie, and group winners Ocean of Wisdom, Exit to Nowhere, and Hydro Calido.

With a powerhouse of a pedigree, Jules should have been given a better opportunity at stud. He got off to a slow start as a stallion, but Peace Rules raises his stock considerably. Now in Brazil after standing his first few years in Florida where his book was filled with mediocre mares, Jules should be given a second chance as a stallion in the U.S. If Jules is bred to mares with Northern Dancer blood, the matings would create inbreeding to the very potent Natalma.

Peace Rules is the first significant foal out of Hold to Fashion, but to be fair, Hold to Fashion had not been bred to the most fashionable stallions. The sires of Peace Rules's first three dams - Hold Your Peace, Greek Answer, and Never Bend - add speed to a pedigree, and Peace Rules should not be as brilliant at 10 furlongs.