03/29/2005 12:00AM

Pair's turf-heavy pedigrees decent for dirt

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LAS VEGAS - With the Kentucky Derby just five short weeks from Saturday, the 3-year-olds are dropping like flies.

In recent weeks, the Triple Crown has lost Declan's Moon, Roman Ruler, and Scipion to injury, while the connections of Lost in the Fog, Spanish Chestnut, and Proud Accolade have realized their good horses would not be at their best at 1 1/4 miles. After finishing a game second to Greater Good in the Rebel Stakes on March 19, Rockport Harbor once again had a hoof problem flare up. Afleet Alex, who stopped badly in the Rebel, had a lung infection, which is reportedly cleared up. Last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, Wilko, was found to have a quarter crack after the San Felipe Stakes but is back on track, according to trainer Craig Dollase. Uncle Denny, who was preparing for the Santa Anita Derby, is off the Derby trail with a bone chip.

The allure of Saturday's Florida Derby was the anticipated matchup between Noble Causeway and Bandini, two very well-bred colts who developed significantly at Gulfstream Park this winter. But with the possible defections of both Bandini and Closing Argument, who has not raced since his Holy Bull victory on Feb. 5, it looks like the Florida Derby - a $1 million prep for the Kentucky Derby - may have a small field.

The expected entrants include two horses from Nick Zito's barn: Noble Causeway and High Fly. Even High Fly was iffy earlier in the week when he spiked a fever, but was able to get in a necessary work on Monday.

Noble Causeway: By a champion

Noble Causeway is by Giant's Causeway, who won five Group 1 races at age 3, when he was named champion in England and Ireland. Giant's Causeway is best known in this country, of course, for his stirring neck loss to Tiznow in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Giant's Causeway was a model of consistency, winning nine races and finishing second four times in 13 lifetime starts.

A son of Storm Cat, Giant's Causeway is out of Mariah's Storm, one of Rahy's best offspring. Giant's Causeway's second dam, Immense (by Roberto), is a half-sister to the 1975 2-year-old filly champion, Dearly Precious (Dr. Fager).

Noble Causeway has more going for him than just his sire. He is out of a winning Seeking the Gold mare, Mimi's Golden Girl, and his second dam, Classy Cathy (Private Account), was one of five major stakes winners out of the unraced broodmare Trestle (along with Sports View, Ms. Margi, Top Trestle, and Testy Trestle). Trestle, by 1965 Preakness Stakes winner and stamina influence Tom Rolfe, was also a half-sister to Edge (Damascus), the dam of Boundary.

Noble Causeway has a balanced pedigree of speed and stamina. In addition to the speed and high class of Giant's Causeway, Noble Causeway's first four dams (Mimi's Golden Girl, Classy Cathy, Trestle, and Ponte Vecchio) are by sires (Seeking the Gold, Private Account, Tom Rolfe, and Round Table) who all supply a great deal of stamina. Noble Causeway, a winner of two straight nine-furlong races, should have no problem at 1 1/4 miles.

The only knock on Giant's Causeway this early in his stud career is that all of his stakes winners have come on turf (and in Europe). Giant's Causeway was strongly bred for turf (Storm Cat/Rahy cross) but transferred his brilliance to dirt in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Noble Causeway's steady development over Gulfstream Park's dirt track suggests he should become Giant's Causeway's first stakes winner on dirt, most likely on Saturday.

High Fly: Best of Atticus

High Fly, who won the Aventura Stakes and Fountain of Youth Stakes, is a son of Atticus, a former world-record holder at one mile on the turf for his run in the Arcadia Handicap as a 4-year-old. A son of the late Nureyev, one of Northern Dancer's best sons on the racetrack and as a stallion, Atticus has primarily been a sire of turf runners, like himself.

Through the end of 2004, Atticus had 180 foals from four crops, with just three stakes winners - all on grass. High Fly is far and away the best runner by Atticus, and the only colt by Atticus who has been able to transfer his inherited speed to dirt. High Fly comes from a female family that has had success over the last four generations of dams.

High Fly's dam, Verbasle (Slewpy), was stakes-placed multiple times, including a second to 2-year-old champion Meadow Star in the 1990 Matron Stakes, a Grade 1. His second dam, Verbality (Verbatim), was a stakes winner, and also produced Verbal Intrigue, the dam of stakes winner Monkey Puzzle. High Fly's third dam, One Sum (by Northern Dancer's stakes-winning turf specialist One for All), developed into a major stakes winner at age 4 and 5, and in addition to Verbality, also produced Green Sum (Green Forest).

High Fly's fourth dam, Sumatra, was the foundation mare of this high-quality female line for owner-breeder Charles T. Wilson. Four years after producing One Sum, Sumatra produced her best offspring, Summing (Verbatim). Summing won the 1981 Belmont Stakes as well as the Pegasus Handicap, Pennsylvania Derby, and Hill Prince Stakes. Summing also finished second in the Super Derby behind Island Whirl, and placed in the Whirlaway and Count Fleet stakes.