04/20/2006 11:00PM

Not such a 'Sinister' scenario


PHOENIX - Some believe that Sinister Minister's smashing Blue Grass win spells trouble for the Kentucky Derby prospects of the three favorites, Brother Derek, Lawyer Ron, and Barbaro. Sinister Minister simply ran his opponents off their feet in the Blue Grass, and many believe that his presence, combined with that of such speedsters as Sharp Humor, Sweetnorthernsaint, and possibly Keyed Entry, will result in a too-fast pace and hurt the chances of the big three, all of whom run near the front. Or, some think, Sinister Minister is simply too fast and the others just won't catch him.

I'm not really concerned about either "Sinister" scenario, at least for Brother Derek and Barbaro. Now Lawyer Ron, well, I do fear he could be compromised.

My feeling is that if Sinister Minister beats these guys it will because he simply is faster and better, a la Spend a Buck, Winning Colors, and War Emblem, the other front-running Derby winners in recent history. If he's another High Yield or Wild Syn and can't carry his speed 1 1/4 miles, then he will step aside come crunch time.

While Brother Derek and Barbaro have been prominent early in their races, neither of them has ever struck me as speed-crazy. They're simply fast animals, and their natural speed and ability has them prominent early. Brother Derek, in particular, has been viewed as a front-runner, but look at those races he dominated and he almost had to be the leader. There wasn't much other speed in those races, so it would have been foolish to take him back. And yet, when he has been asked to take back or has been outrun early, Brother Derek has responded with all the right signals - he has relaxed, settled, and, most importantly, finished. If there is any reason for concern regarding Brother Derek, it's how he'll handle being shipped.

I have the same general good feelings for Barbaro, maybe even a bit more so. His natural gallop has carried him right up on the pace. If you watch his Florida Derby again he was never asked for early speed. He broke alertly and took jockey Edgar Prado right up to press Sharp Humor on the pace. And, like Brother Derek, he looked quite comfortable, relaxed and settled. And while the margin wasn't much, it looked to me as if he re-broke in the final sixteenth. Among the horses in the Derby preps, he is the horse that looked as if he would relish an extra furlong. My big concern for him is not the pace and it's not the five weeks he'll have had between races, it's the surface. He has shown he is good on dirt - real good - but his connections seem to think he is better on the turf. Can there be a horse that is so good that he can win the Derby on what is not his preferred surface?

Lawyer Ron presents a different concern. For all his talent, his eagerness could work against him when he faces Sinister Minister in the Derby. Can he sit like the other two and go when asked? He has acted as if he wants to go when he sees space in front of him. Of course, the Derby traffic might actually help him in that regard, in that he might get cover. If he can, then he certainly is one of the ones, but he didn't appear to want to sit while inside early in the Arkansas Derby. He pulled his way right to the lead going to the backstretch, and that type of move could cripple him come the final furlong in the Derby. Should he make an early assault on Sinister Minister and whoever else might be up there, he would bring the pace players to the precipice too soon.

With Sinister Minister in the race, the ability to relax and finish is going to be a necessary asset to win this year's Derby.