03/09/2006 1:00AM

Pick your Derby horse using filters


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Some thoughts on the Kentucky Derby with less than two months until the race.

Arey ou gaving trouble narrowing the field of contenders, or looking for some new additions to a fantasy-racing stable? Check out the free online database of 3-year-olds at the Courier-Journal of Louisville's web site. It can be accessed at courier-journal.com/datatrack. The service assists in identifying horses that fit criteria deemed important to winning the Derby. Queries of the database can be made based on more than 50 factors - ranging from speed ratings and Dosage Index numbers to patterns of pre-Derby preparation, such as whether a horse raced at age 2.

For example, if you wanted to know which Triple Crown nominees had run a Beyer Speed Figure of 90 or higher during their 2-year-old year and had won at some point this year, the database instantly supplies you with a list of 18 horses. Want to narrow the field further? Toss in another factor, such as "won at a mile or over at age 2," and the list drops to seven horses - Barbaro, Bluegrass Cat, Bob and John, Brother Derek, First Samurai, Lawyer Ron, and Sharp Humor.

The most appealing aspect to the database is that it can be catered to an individual horseplayer's tastes. Think the Dosage Index is baloney? Fine, do not select that criteria among the choices. On the other hand, if a player thinks that experience in large fields is an important consideration, that can be thrown into the mix.

* In looking through the 50-plus factors on which a query of the database can be made, I noticed that one choice was based on a trainer having started a horse in the Derby - which to me is an irrelevant factor. If two horses are of comparable ability, there is no edge for a trainer who had a 17th-place finisher in 1999 over a trainer with no Derby experience.

Recent history also suggests that experience is overrated. Giacomo was John Shirreffs's first Derby starter last year, and Smarty Jones gave John Servis his first Derby starter in 2004. As we all know, both horses won.

Winning the Derby should not be considered relevant, either. I cannot believe that a horse trained by any Derby-winning trainer would have an advantage over one trained by Todd Pletcher, whose best finish with a Derby starter was a second by Invisible Ink in 2001.

One game does not define a coach, nor should one race define a trainer. A trainer should be evaluated on his entire record, and how well he has done at maximizing the potential of his horses.

* Perhaps more so than any Derby prep to date, next Saturday's Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct should bring the Kentucky Derby picture into focus. It's the kind of race you might expect to see in March in Florida - not in New York.

Some of the big-name runners probable for the race include Achilles of Troy, winner of the Count Fleet and Whirlaway stakes; Keyed Entry, winner of the Hutcheson at Gulfstream; and Sweetnorthernsaint, who has won his last two starts with triple-digit Beyers.

As much as I respect Keyed Entry and Sweetnorthernsaint, I like Achilles of Troy, who has been untouchable racing over Aqueduct's inner track this winter.

* I can't say that I've been overwhelmed by the 3-year-olds racing in Florida. Bluegrass Cat was a workmanlike winner of the Sam F. Davis in his 3-year-old bow. The Fountain of Youth, which First Samurai won on the disqualification of Corinthian, was not an awe-inspiring race.

Strong Contender and Keyed Entry, two horses coming out of one-turn races in Florida, may have the most potential - though they have yet to prove themselves going long.

Top to bottom, the most talent appears to be in Southern California. Besides Derby favorite Brother Derek, I see at least four other horses with bright futures - Bob and John, Sacred Light, Really Indian, and Point of Impact. Really Indian and Point of Impact have only won maiden races. Inexperience, not inability to race swiftly, is their greatest hurdle to making the Derby.

* This weekend is quiet on the 3-year-old scene, with the 1 1/16-mile California Derby at Golden Gate Fields the lone dirt stakes of significance.

I like Cause to Believe to continue his dominance in northern California, and regard Racketeer as a clear second choice. Cause to Believe has lost just once in his last five starts - a runner-up finish in the San Miguel to Too Much Bling, the top 3-year-old sprinter in California. Racketeer won a maiden race at Santa Anita and came back with a third in an allowance there Feb. 11.

With rain forecast for the San Francisco area on Friday and Saturday, a wet track seems likely. Cause to Believe was second in his only start on an off track. Racketeer has not raced on a wet main track, but has a 407 Tomlinson rating for wet tracks.