04/27/2006 11:00PM

Private Vow giving off good vibes

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PHOENIX - I have to admit I have an ego just like anyone else, maybe more so. So I would be deliriously happy to see Barbaro, a horse I first wrote about last December, win the Kentucky Derby and allow me to do some chest-beating.

Yet much as I still like him I have this one big concern: His connections seem to think he is better on the turf. Can a horse really win the Derby on what is not considered his preferred surface?

The Derby is the most over-analyzed race in our game, and one of the hardest to figure out. Young 3-year-olds are thrown into a mosh pit, asked to go a distance none of them have ever tried, in front of a throng they've never experienced, in a field so big that it makes trying to get through the mall the week before Christmas feel like a walk in the park.

The bottom line, however, is it's just one more race and should be handicapped as such.

I'm looking for the horse I think is going to bust out of his skin on Derby Day - like Giacomo or Charismatic or Funny Cide or War Emblem. That horse could be Private Vow.

The vibes this winter regarding Private Vow were not good. Trainer Steve Asmussen did not sound overly optimistic regarding the horse's progress. But something has happened in the past month or so. After a dismal run in the Rebel - the same race, you might remember in which Afleet Alex bombed - Private Vow made a significant forward move when chasing Lawyer Ron home in the Arkansas Derby, looking like a horse coming into his own.

We know he has talent, as anyone who saw his demolition of some decent horses in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill last November can attest. And in the Arkansas Derby, Private Vow was travelling comfortably when he was stalking Lawyer Ron down the backstretch. He moved effortlessly into his run at Lawyer Ron in the lane before flattening out. But remember, that was just Private Vow's second start of the year, and just his second start since the Kentucky Jockey Club. You've got to think he ran out of condition in the final furlongs of the Arkansas Derby, not talent. Lawyer Ron had a huge seasoning edge on him going in the Arkansas Derby.

I don't expect such a condition or seasoning gap now, and while Lawyer Ron and some of the others have been so good since the winter, Private Vow may be the one coming into his own right now.

You get good feelings from his recent morning activity. He worked strongly at Churchill last week, a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.20, and Asmussen now seems more upbeat about the horse.

Now, Private Vow might not be good enough. Or he might not get the 1 1/4 miles. But Private Vow might be peaking at the right time, and go off at a hefty 20-1 or so. How can that be a bad thing?

Wonder Lady Anne L worth play in Oaks

There's no Wild Fit or Folklore in this year's Kentucky Oaks, and now questions have arisen over Balance after her dud at Keeneland. The didn't-like-the-track excuse is out there and it may well be legitimate. But with a big field expected for the Oaks and Balance still likely the favorite based on her superb Southern California form, you can be excused for hunting around for a Kentucky Oaks bomb.

Wonder Lady Anne L is by Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet, and she already has proven distance ability. She powered home last November at Aqueduct to easily win the Grade 2 Demoiselle at 1 1/8 miles, and while no factor in her first start this year she moved forward to be second behind big winner Teammate in the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream Park, also at 1 1/8 miles. In that race, Teammate was allowed to walk up front in fractions of 23.88 seconds, 48.04, and 1:12.18, so Wonder Lady Anne L was trying to catch a fresh horse.

She should have no such pace concerns in the Oaks, and with those two races under her belt, she could be primed to make some noise on the first Friday in May.