04/01/2008 11:00PM

Pedigree no worry for Elysium Fields

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LAS VEGAS - The Florida Derby is this week's most important race for 3-year-olds and features a mixed bag of talented runners who need to perform well both to prove that they deserve a chance at Louisville and to garner crucial graded stakes earnings.

Elysium Fields, Big Brown, and Hey Byrn should attract the most attention, but the supporting cast offers some intriguing possibilities.

Elysium Fields: Bred to be a late-maturing runner, he shows a classic pattern of improvement stretching out in distance. He was second, beaten just a half-length, in the Fountain of Youth Stakes, and he has shown a distinct affinity for the Gulfstream surface. Since the Fountain of Youth on Feb. 24, Elysium Fields breezed a bullet half-mile at Gulfstream in 49 seconds, five furlongs there in a bullet 59, six furlongs in a sharp 1:12, and five furlongs in 1:00. This son of El Prado appears to be sitting on a big race.

Elysium Fields has a strong pedigree for 1 1/4 miles, and prominent racehorses descending from his female family include champions Dark Mirage, Silent Screen, Bluebird, and Indian Skimmer. Horses who trace to to Sunday Evening, the matriarch of this remarkable family, include European highweights Dolphin Street and Saffron Walden, as well as Classy Mirage, Insight, Java Gold, Medaglia d'Oro, Missy's Mirage, and Timely Writer.

Big Brown: He won his maiden debut at 1 1/16 miles on Saratoga's turf by 11 1/4 lengths as a 2-year-old on Sept. 3, then won an off-the-turf allowance at Gulfstream at one mile in his second start, which came off a six-month layoff. While he won by 12 3/4 lengths, it must be noted that he was facing just four runners and they were meant for grass. Big Brown is by a speed influence, Boundary (by Danzig). His best runners include English and Irish juvenile champion Minardi and Pomeroy. With Boundary on top and Nureyev, Lear Fan, and Round Table on the bottom, Big Brown will be a major force in 3-year-old turf stakes this year if he fails to get 1 1/4 miles on dirt.

Hey Byrn: Like Big Brown, Hey Byrn is bred to be a sprinter-miler, but he was a convincing winner last time out at nine furlongs. By stakes-winning sprinter Put It Back (by Honour and Glory) - whose best runners are the classy sprinters Smokey Stover, In Summation, and the Japanese sprinter Black Bar Spin - Hey Byrn gets some stamina from his damsire, Skip Trial. The most notable horse from Hey Byrn's female family is 1982 champion older horse Lemhi Gold, but he was by the European stayer Vaguely Noble.

Tomcito: Shades of Canonero II! Already a winner at 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 miles in Peru as a 2-year-old, he is proven at the Kentucky Derby distance, but now must be tested for class, and this race will tell if he's a Triple Crown contender. He is by Street Cry, who sired last year's Derby winner Street Sense, and his first four damsires are Eastern Echo, Theatrical, Alleged, and Grey Dawn II. In addition, his dam is a half-sister to Numerous Times, winner of the Grade 1 Atto Mile.

Fierce Wind: With much of the attention focused on Big Brown, Elysium Fields, and Hey Byrn, Fierce Wind could be overlooked, and that would be a mistake. He comes into this race with three straight victories and has won at this distance and over this surface. He won the Sam F. Davis Stakes last time out, defeating Big Truck, who came back to win the Tampa Bay Derby. By Dixie Union, he is out of an A.P. Indy mare, and his fourth dam, Bitty Girl, was England's 1973 champion 2-year-old filly.

Smooth Air: Never worse than third in six starts, he was third in the Sam F. Davis in his most recent start. By a stakes-winning sprinter, Smooth Jazz (Storm Boot), he may find nine furlongs too far, but there is star quality in his female line. His fifth dam is a half-sister to Shenanigans, the dam of Ruffian, Icecapade, On to Glory, and Buckfinder.

Nistle's Crunch: From the first crop of Van Nistelrooy, he has raced well over synthetic, turf, and dirt surfaces. He won at this distance last time out over Cool Gator on this track. He could get a minor share here, but the sense is that he ultimately belongs on grass.

B B Frank: By Came Home, this colt is from an extraordinary King Ranch female family. His dam, Diaki (Diesis), is a half-sister to stakes winner Make Change, who was second in the Alabama, Mother Goose, Monmouth Oaks, and Ladies Handicap, and third in the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Ruffian and Gazelle handicaps. His second dam, Equal Change, was a strong second to Ruffian in the 1972 Coaching Club American Oaks at 1 1/2 miles. He also has the RF (Rasmussen Factor), as he is inbred 5x5 to the important broodmare Mixed Marriage.

Face the Cat: With Tale of the Cat on top and Forty Niner, Topsider, Dr. Fager, and Bold Ruler on the bottom, Face the Cat is bred to be a miler and this may be a furlong too far.