04/30/2003 11:00PM

No 108 Beyer means no Derby win

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LAS VEGAS - If you're looking for some simple "truth" about the Kentucky Derby - some single thing you can rely on in your handicapping - there's only one proposition that consistently works out in practice. It might not be the Holy Grail, but it has proven to be invaluable in the past decade or so.

This key concept begins with the Beyer Speed Figure target of 108-110. That's the average winning Beyer Figure for recent Derbies. Here's the evidence since 1992:

War Emblem (2002): He earned a 112 Beyer in his final Derby prep.

Monarchos (2001): His 105 figure in the Florida Derby, with a powerhouse five-wide move around the entire turn, showed that he could run in the Beyer Derby zone.

Fusaichi Pegasus (2000): He ran a 111 in winning the Wood Memorial.

Charismatic (1999): His 108 just before the Derby turned out not to be an aberration. He repeated it at Churchill Downs.

Real Quiet (1998): He put together back-to-back Beyers of 107 and 108 before his win in the Derby.

Silver Charm (1997): He earned two separate 110 figures in his Derby preps.

Thunder Gulch (1995): Just like Monarchos, he overcame a wide trip and serious trouble when he recorded a pre-Derby 105. So he was clearly capable of running a bigger Beyer.

Go for Gin (1994): His final Derby prep was a 107 Beyer.

So, in the weeks or months before the first Saturday in May, all these recent Derby winners demonstrated a capacity to run a Beyer in the winning range of 108 to 110. The last six Derby winners in a row have done it. The last seven out of eight. The last eight out of 11. In fact, since 1992, only three winners have not shown clearly that they could run a Derby-winning Beyer:

Grindstone (1996): Although he had earned a 100 with a tough trip, and a 102 while winning in hand, you still could not have guessed that he would run a 112 at Churchill Downs.

Sea Hero (1993): He had earned a 99 at one mile in winning the Champagne at Belmont Park in October of his 2-year-old season. That means, with normal maturation from 2 to 3, he certainly showed the innate ability to run a Beyer of 108 or so. But he had not demonstrated that ability in his immediate pre-Derby preps.

Lil E. Tee (1992): He's a borderline case, running 105 and 106 just before the Derby.

In this year's Derby, only a few runners fit the Beyer bill: Funny Cide, Ten Most Wanted, and Empire Maker. Unfortunately, Empire Maker will be the favorite, and Ten Most Wanted's bandwagon is picking up steam and he might very well end up as second choice. It doesn't look like 2003 will produce a big-Beyer winner at a big-value price, such as happened with War Emblem, Charismatic, and Lil E. Tee.

And it doesn't appear that there's a Monarchos or a Thunder Gulch in the field, both of whom overcame very tough trips to earn 105's before the Derby - and so demonstrated the potential to run even bigger Beyers. (Indian Express probably comes the closest in this category.) In this year's field, Peace Rules, Buddy Gil, Atswhatimtalknbout, and Indian Express have earned Beyers of 104 and 105, but they have had relatively easy trips (except for Indian Express) and they've not been visually impressive.

Sir Cherokee could be voted Most Likely to Bounce after he jumped from Beyers in the low 80's up to a 106 in the Arkansas Derby. But, as Charismatic showed us, you can't always follow the strict logic of a bounce when you're dealing with developing, young, lightly raced, talented 3-year-olds.

And the remaining 10 or 12 runners have only earned Beyers in the mid-to-upper-90's - even the low 100's - and it's pretty much of a guessing game as to which one or ones will show dramatic improvement at 1 1/4 miles. Out of this cluster, Indian Express and Scrimshaw could be ready to break out. Indian Express has only a brief record in this country, with Beyers of 97 and 104. He could continue to improve.

As for Scrimshaw, he's an intriguing possibility. This is not the first time that D. Wayne Lukas has taken the Lexington Stakes road to the Derby. Charismatic did it. So did Proud Citizen. While Scrimshaw's figure of 99 (aided by a rail-hugging, perfect pocket trip at Keeneland) does not approach Charismatic's 108 in the Lexington, it is actually higher than Proud Citizen's 95 - and Proud Citizen finished second in last year's Derby with a Beyer of 108. So Scrimshaw could be interesting.

But now I read that Scrimshaw's recent workout wasn't so good. What are we supposed to do with that information? Jump ship? Your guess is as good as mine.