02/02/2006 12:00AM

Passing dirt test could pave Barbaro's way to Derby


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - For Barbaro, the Holy Bull Stakes on Saturday could be a turning point in his career. Should he successfully transfer his brilliant turf form to the dirt in the Grade 3, $150,000 race, he will immediately become one of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Derby. If not, he will return to the turf, with a possible goal the Epsom Derby.

"The timing for this race is perfect," said Michael Matz, who trains Barbaro for Roy and Gretchen Jackson. "If he doesn't do any good, we'll just freshen him and wait until the spring. But I'm expecting him to run well. And if he doesn't, at least I'll know where I stand."

Right now, is one of the most exciting prospects among this year's crop of 3-year-olds. But he will face a stern test in the 1 1/8-mile Holy Bull. Fourteen horses, two of whom are on the also-eligible list, are entered. Barbaro has been close to the pace in his grass races, but he does not figure to be as close on dirt, and it will be interesting to see how he reacts.

"He's still growing physically and developing mentally," Matz said. "He's got a good disposition. And being by Dynaformer and out of a Carson City mare, he should run on dirt. His mother could run on turf and dirt," he said, referring to the mare La Ville Rouge.

The Holy Bull includes the first four finishers from the one-mile Aventura Stakes, in which Doctor Decherd nosed out for the win, with My Golden Song another 5 1/4 lengths back in third and Big Lover fourth.

"He's definitely picked up his game down here," said Steve Asmussen, who trains Doctor Decherd. "He had the talent, but he wasn't really focused last fall, but he's done very well here."

Trainer Todd Pletcher has three runners, led by . Trainer Nick Zito entered two, but Great Point landed post 13, putting him on the also-eligible list. He could get in, though, if Zito scratches Hemingway's Key, who is eligible for a second-level allowance race that is listed on the overnight as an extra race for Sunday.

Posts could play a major role in the Holy Bull. A maximum of 12 can run, but with the short run to the first turn, outside posts are a major hurdle. My Golden Song ended up in post 9.

"I'd have loved to be a little further inside with My Golden Song," said Pletcher, who called My Golden Song "a big horse who trains well and acts like he wants to go on.

"He was the first horse in the gate last time, and another horse acted up," Pletcher said. "He was well behaved in the gate, but he was so well behaved that he stood in the gate when it opened, so perhaps it was a better race than it looked."

is one of the more accomplished runners in the field. He took five starts to win against maidens, but then jumped up and ran second to the highly regarded Bluegrass Cat in the Remsen. Flashy Bull has turned in a series of sharp drills for his first start since Nov. 26.