03/21/2007 11:00PM

Santa Anita Derby not exactly one for the ages


ARCADIA, Calif. - Will the 2007 Santa Anita Derby be the weakest in history, or was that last year's race? At least 2006 had a legitimate favorite in Brother Derek. No matter who starts favored in the 2007 Santa Anita Derby, that 3-year-old will be suspect.

The favorite might be Liquidity, who beat two horses in his last start. It could be King of the Roxy, beaten more than 38 lengths in his only start around two turns. Or the chalk might be Rags to Riches, a filly who would be making her first start against colts. Stay tuned.

Kentucky Derby prep season is in full swing, and everyone has an opinion. Including these.

* They say Ravel is off the Derby trail. Was he ever on it? It is hard to believe a serious Derby candidate wins a prep race such as the Grade 3 Sham in early February and then points for a subsequent start more than two months later in April (Santa Anita Derby). When they are handled with kid gloves, they probably aren't tough enough for the Derby.

* Now is a good time to stop dreaming about the Derby and bring home the talented California-bred Flying First Class, who finished eighth of nine in the Grade 3 Rebel at Oaklawn Park last weekend. If Flying First Class is going to emerge as a top-class distance colt, a local race makes sense - the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes for 3-year-old California-breds April 29 at Hollywood Park. But the mere fact it makes sense means it probably will not happen.

* It is only March, and Derby overload already has arrived. An informal search (Internet and otherwise) for "Kentucky Derby rankings" produced nearly 20 lists. After a while, you just go numb.

* Talk about a productive race. When 3-year-old filly Mistical Plan won the Fair Grounds Oaks two weeks ago, she was the fourth starter out of the Jan. 27 Sunshine Millions Oaks at Santa Anita to win next out. She joined Double Major, Super Freaky, and Toll Road.

* Some guy hit a $14 million pick six a couple weeks ago in Puerto Rico, but the jackpot was mostly luck, because the carryover is paid only when there is a single-ticket winner. It's dumb - rewarding a great handicapping feat only in the absence of another feat.

* Smokey Stover ran slower winning the Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint (105 Beyer Speed Figure) than winning the Sunshine Millions Sprint (113). In an HRTV interview, jockey Aaron Gryder posed a rhetorical question. Commenting on the idea that Smokey Stover was not as impressive, Gryder asked, "Why did he need to be?" Good point.

* Many have asked the same thing about Lava Man, who keeps winning. By the way, the worst thing about Lava Man racing for $5 million next weekend in Dubai is not being able to wager against him. If Lava Man starts at 2-1 or higher against English Channel, his odds would be too high to wager against.

* The informal press box consensus is in. Cynics have settled on April 27, closing day of the Keeneland meet, as the over-under date in the jockey-agent relationship between Corey Nakatani and Gary Stevens. Will the relationship be long-term or short-term? The pick here is the "over."

* It has been five years since the Grade 2 San Felipe was won by a horse (Medaglia d'Oro) who later achieved anything special as an older horse. Considering that Cobalt Blue was handed the San Felipe on a silver platter last weekend (opening half in 47.57 seconds, six furlongs in 1:11.64), it will be a surprise if Cobalt Blue followed in Medaglia d'Oro's footsteps.

* Grade 1 winner Price Tag returned $2.80 winning her comeback on March 16. The $2 daily double linking her to the next race also paid $2.80. Obviously, the daily double pool has nothing in common with the name of the second winner: Idiot Proof.

* Was there a more impressive comeback winner at Santa Anita this winter than Peace Chant last week? Yes, there was. Start with Les Grand Trois, Price Tag, and Greg's Gold.

* From the "in-case-you-missed-it" department: 10-year-old Our Best Man finished third last Saturday at Turf Paradise in a $4,000 claiming race. It was his 109th start. Our Best Man began his career in a 3 1/2-furlong race at Canterbury, one day after Lemon Drop Kid won the 1999 Belmont Stakes. How time flies.

* Speaking of Lemon Drop Kid, bettors looking for a crazy longshot Saturday in the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway Park could do worse than take a flyer on Lemon Drop Kid's son Approval Rating. He might not be good enough, but he did have a wide trip finishing fourth in his comeback, and his price will be huge.

* Can the front-runner A.P. Xcellent wire the field Saturday in the Grade 2 San Luis Rey at 1 1/2 miles on turf? Why not? After several weeks of playing anti-speed, the turf-course profile has returned to fair. A.P. Xcellent's chances are compromised, however, by the presence of front-runner Phar to Win.

* When trainer Wesley Ward won the first 2-year-old race of the season Wednesday, it was Ward's 10th winner from his last 19 two-furlong starters. And after the race, posts 9 and 10 remained winless in quarter-mile sprints since 2002, a span during which the two outside posts in straightaway races are 0ofor 53.

* The colt with whom Ward won on Wednesday, Excessive Heat, reportedly was outworked by 2-year-old Destiny Dreamer, a Cee's Tizzy colt nearing a debut. And keep your eye out for a Sea of Secrets 2-year-old trained by Shane Chipman. He is the worst-kept secret at the track, so pay close attention to the entries. You wouldn't want to miss a $3.20 winner.

* Only 32 days until the start of the spring-summer meet at Hollywood Park. The track has room for 1,900 horses, and stables will be full. Hopefully the fields will be, too.

* Talk about bad luck. Tyler Baze is 1 for 59 in Santa Anita grass races this winter, with 10 seconds and 6 thirds.