04/11/2007 11:00PM

Ramsgate looks as good as 'Lute'


NEW YORK - The two final major prep races for the Kentucky Derby - the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park - dominate Saturday's national stakes schedule. The $750,000 Blue Grass heads a card that also includes two Grade 2 stakes races, the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup and the Jenny Wiley, while a pair of $100,000 stakes support the $1 million Arkansas Derby.

Commonwealth Breeders' Cup

I couldn't argue with you if you like Midnight Lute in this spot. He is shipping from Southern California, where he competed in tough stakes events, is now going what might be his preferred distance, and has already demonstrated stakes-winning form on Polytrack. But if you like Midnight Lute, then you could also easily like Ramsgate, which I do. Ramsgate shares many of Midnight Lute's attributes. Ramsgate is coming in from California, where he ran well in a tough stakes event last time out. He loves this seven-furlong distance, and is unbeaten over synthetic racing surfaces. And notably, Ramsgate is - on the morning line, at least - twice the odds of Midnight Lute.

Ramsgate was a rallying third last time out in the San Carlos Handicap, which was an oddly run race. Proud Tower Too broke fast, but was taken back to concede the early lead to Latent Heat. Although the subsequent interior fractions of the San Carlos were quick enough, Proud Tower Too's strategy resulted in a slow opening quarter. That did not help Ramsgate's cause, and it is to his credit that he finished as well as he did to be beaten just two lengths. Before that, Ramsgate won three straight on Hollywood Park's Cushion Track, all at this seven-furlong distance, while displaying a versatility of running style that could be an asset Saturday.

Blue Grass Stakes

The big question here is, what kind of performance is Street Sense capable of? Although the future-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby is the best horse in this race, his gut-wrenching victory over Any Given Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby off a layoff suggests that a regression in form is very possible. Combine that with Any Given Saturday's subsequent empty effort in last week's Wood Memorial, and the tendency of Carl Nafzger, the trainer of Street Sense, to leave something in the tank when he's prepping a horse for a major goal, and the chances of a regression only seem to increase. Street Sense might win anyway, but I can't take him as the heavy favorite.

Great Hunter might seem the obvious alternative, but there are real questions about the strength of this year's California-based Derby hopefuls. So I'm going for the upset with Dominican. Dominican didn't beat anything in his seasonal debut in the Rushaway Stakes, but he impressed just the same. He was much better than even his five-length win margin would suggest. And if Dominican can improve on the 95 Beyer Figure he earned in that race, which is certainly plausible, that would put him right in the ballpark with Street Sense, should he indeed regress.

Arkansas Derby

Curlin, who romped in his first two starts, might be a total freak. But Deadly Dealer, who earned this field's biggest Beyer winning his only outing this year in his first start for trainer Todd Pletcher, might be a running fool, too. With Curlin's final odds likely to be very close to the 7-5 morning line, Deadly Dealer is the play, even though I don't think he will be quite as high as his 4-1 morning-line odds.

Deadly Dealer's outside draw is no problem, because he has the speed to get an immediate jump on this field. However, if Flying First Class is intent on the lead, Deadly Dealer will be in just as good a shape stalking him, what with the way Flying First Class stopped last time out in the Rebel. Deadly Dealer is bred to love the stretch to two turns, and if the track comes up wet, he has already shown he can win in the slop.