02/18/2009 1:00AM

Separating 401 Derby nominees into three groups

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PHILADELPHIA - Rather than try to find the best Utah-bred among the 401 nominees to the Triple Crown, I decided I would provide a somewhat more useful service this year.

I went through all the nominees, separating those with a best Beyer Speed Figure of 90 to 99 into one category, those with a best Beyer of 100 or more into another, and those with no Beyer better than 60 into yet another.

You have to congratulate the people whose horses fall into the under-60 category. This game needs more optimists. These people all qualify.

I counted 32 nominees in the under-60 category. I could not find any stable more hopeful than the aptly named High Hopes Stable, the owner of Century Gold, a grandson of Danzig by Irish-bred Century City.

Century Gold has started once. The horse ran at a mile on the grass in a maiden race at Colonial Downs. He vied for the lead before starting to fade. He beat one horse while finishing 15 3/4 lengths behind the winner, Silent Shot, a horse that did not show up on the list of Triple Crown nominees.

Silent Shot ran three times last year after that maiden triumph without winning. In fact, Silent Shot did not come close.

None of that, however, discouraged the folks from High Hopes. Century Gold is working steadily at Belmont Park for his much-anticipated second race. I am confident of one thing. Century City will better his debut Beyer, a 4.

I was very surprised when I started to count all the nominees with a Beyer above 90, sort of the cutoff at this point for a horse that wants to be taken seriously. There were 57 of them, some of them well-known names like Beethoven, Break Water Edison, and Hello Broadway - and many of them that I had to look up to find out who they were and what they had done.

The 100-plus crowd had just seven members among the nominees, but eight if you count the fastest 3-year-old in the country.

I am told there was some controversy about This Ones for Phil's race in the Sunshine Millions Dash. Apparently, there was some surprise when the horse went from a main track best Beyer of 81 to 116. What is unreasonable about that?

Anyway, I must have been at a basketball game. Sorry I missed the action. Apparently, figure-maker Andrew Beyer was mystified, and Richard Dutrow Jr., who trains This Ones for Phil, was mystified that Beyer was mystified.

Me? Hey, the numbers are the numbers. I don't try to think here.

This Ones for Phil is not a Triple Crown nominee, at least not yet. There is still time. We really need This Ones for Phil.

Two of the 100 crowd ran in Monday's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Old Fashioned chased Silver City around the track and then ran by him in the stretch. The early fractions were quick and could have impacted the final time and Beyer. Old Fashioned got a 93 in the Southwest, 7 points below the 100 he got in the Remsen last November.

Normally, I would not be thrilled with the Beyer drop, but I liked the way Old Fashioned ran. The chase-and-go trip rarely results in big Beyers. For those who weren't sure, it did show that Old Fashioned would pass other horses. Still, it would be nice to see a Beyer improvement when the colt runs back in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park March 14.

Another nominee became part of the 100 crew on Saturday. General Quarters (100) not only ran fast while winning the Tampa Bay Derby but also looked very good doing it. His previous best Beyer was 90, so this move forward was hardly unusual.

I know most of the names on the triple-digit list, including the second-fastest 3-year-old in America, Notonthesamepage (114).

I was not as familiar with a few others on the list, including Obligingly. That colt got a 49 in a Polytrack debut at Keeneland, followed by a 100 in a maiden win at Calder and an 89 when third in an allowance at Gulfstream.

Taqarub is unbeaten in three starts and is really, really fast. You would not think that a son of Aldebaran would be a distance horse, but who knows about these things anymore? The colt got an 89 in his debut, followed by 78 and 103 when he won the Jimmy Winkfield at Aqueduct on Jan. 19. In those three starts, Taqarub has not been behind a horse at any call.

So, there you have it. As far as I know, none of the horses on the three lists are Utah-breds. Next year, I will be tracking Montana-breds. Or I might just do this again. I will have to determine which is more relevant to the actual Triple Crown races.