04/15/2009 12:00AM

Rocket science not required to figure Derby


PHILADELPHIA - Don't make this too complicated. If there is one thing I have learned about the Kentucky Derby over the years, it is exactly that.

All of us try too hard because everybody so desperately wants to be right about the Derby. If we try too hard with a regular race, we generally don't think it through correctly. The Derby is still just a horse race.

Now that we have gotten rid of all those silly rules over the last few years, it is really time that we just look at it as a horse race. Admittedly, that is not easy, what with 20 horses in the starting gate for the only time every year. But it really is the best way.

Lately, it has been the way to the winner's circle. Beginning with Smarty Jones in 2004 (and excepting Giacomo in 2005), this has not been all that complex. Find the most consistent horse with the best Beyer Speed Figures. If that horse is also training well Derby Week, go to the windows.

Those fundamentals would have led you to Smarty Jones, Barbaro, Street Sense, and Big Brown. Might even have led you to the superfecta if you could have solved the rest of the puzzle and/or threw so much money at the super that you could overwhelm it.

Everybody knows the serious Derby contenders by now. There are no secrets.

One horse, however, stands out at this stage. Quality Road is the most consistent horse and the fastest horse. There is, of course, the matter of the quarter crack. Which is why we all have to wait until Derby Week.

If Quality Road trains well at Churchill Downs, that is the horse. The colt got a Beyer Figure of 113 in the Fountain of Youth and a 111 in the Florida Derby.

Quality Road even got a 101 in his debut last fall. So we have three triple-digit Beyers in the three starts where the colt actually had a chance. I threw out that second in the Jan. 10 allowance race. It was not rider Alan Garcia's finest hour. The colt missed the break, got rushed into a very hot pace, and tired late. A better start or a more patient ride possibly means a different result.

I Want Revenge is at the top of most lists today. That is perfectly understandable, given the way the Wood Memorial was run and how the colt won it. We all saw it. It was as good as everybody is saying.

I get the whole artificial-to-dirt angle. It is a very good reason to like this horse.

Really, there is little bad that can be said about I Want Revenge other than he lost five of his first six races. It was not like the colt was running poorly. He just wasn't winning.

Maybe, it is as simple as it seems - that I Want Revenge is just a different horse on dirt. Or maybe the colt's true ability is somewhere between his dirt form and artificial form. Frankly, I don't know. I do know that I Want Revenge has not been as consistently brilliant or as consistently fast as Quality Road.

Dunkirk and Friesan Fire would be next on my list and just about everybody else's. Again, there are not too many secrets here.

Dunkirk looks a bit like Curlin to me, without dominating wins in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby. Or a 102 Beyer in his debut. If Curlin was not quite ready for the Derby maelstrom, I have to wonder about Dunkirk. But the ability is there. That is obvious.

Friesan Fire's Beyers in Louisiana were 94, 97, and 104. I like everything about this colt. Figures to get a good trip in the Derby. Figures to make a run into contention. I wonder if, in the end, he is going to be fast enough to beat a colt like Quality Road if each runs to peak form.

If a "contender" has not earned a triple-digit Beyer by now, that horse is not really a contender. So horses like Pioneer of the Nile, Chocolate Candy, Hold Me Back, General Quarters, and Musket Man are more contenders for a piece of the superfecta than the winner's circle.

Win Willy did get a 102 Beyer in winning the Rebel, but that looks like a one-race aberration. So I am not willing to call Win Willy a contender for the win.

As for Regal Ransom and Desert Party, I will believe it when I see it. The Dubai-to-Derby throwout angle might be the next Derby rule to be broken. My guess is that it will be broken with more accomplished colts than these two.

If, for instance, Midshipman or Vineyard Haven had not been injured or trained on better this year, I would give them serious consideration, regardless of where they trained over the past few months.

So, two weeks out, there you have it. Quality Road looks the most like Smarty Jones, Barbaro, Street Sense, and Big Brown. That was not complicated. This might not be either.