01/13/2003 1:00AM

Shucks, says Drysdale, let's stay calm

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Here is a partial list of the things Neil Drysdale did not do following the impressive win by 3-year-old Ministers Wild Cat last Saturday at Santa Anita Park:

* He did not call numbers maven Dick Jerardi in Philadelphia to get a read on the overnight Beyer Speed Figure on the race.

* He did not plot a course that would choose among such Triple Crown preps as the Santa Anita Derby, Wood Memorial, and Blue Grass Stakes.

* He did not check to make sure that he still had his lucky Fusaichi Pegasus tie and jacket from the first Saturday in May of 2000.

* He did not make reservations at the Residence Inn near the Louisville airport for the latter part of April, just in case.

Neither did Drysdale allow himself a flashback to November of 1999, when War Chant - a half-brother to Ministers Wild Cat - made a lasting impression in winning his maiden voyage going six furlongs at Hollywood Park. Things happened quickly with War Chant thereafter, as the son of Danzig somersaulted from winning an allowance race to winning the San Rafael Stakes to finishing second in the Santa Anita Derby.

On Nov. 4, 2000, less than one year after his debut and making only the seventh start of his career, War Chant stood in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs, triumphant in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Then he was retired.

And why not, especially if the factory is going to come up with a fresh model every year or so? Those of us who felt deprived of entertainment by the retirement of War Chant have a right to hope that Ministers Wild Cat can fill the void. Drysdale's reaction when asked to comment upon the prospects of the new colt was typical, reticent Neil.

"The poor horse," said the trainer. "He's just broken his maiden."

The pattern, however, can not be ignored. Ministers Wild Cat is out of the Kris. S. mare Hollywood Wildcat, the pride and joy of Irv and Marjorie Cowan. Hollywood Wildcat was a champion, a Breeders' Cup winner, and is the dam of not only War Chant but also Double Cat, a stakes winner who was third in last Saturday's San Gorgonio Handicap, and Danzig Wildcat, whose career was cut short by injury after she won her only race.

Reminded of such family values, Drysdale warmed to the task of dissecting Ministers Wild Cat.

"He's not as tall as War Chant," Drysdale began. "He's got somewhat similar action - maybe a bit more economical than War Chant. Mentally they're quite similar. Both of them like to take in their surroundings. This one needs to get used to things - sort of a Curious George.

"He was fairly late to come around," Drysdale continued. "He was quite small, but he's grown a lot, and matured well. Initially, as a 2-year-old, we were concerned about his size, that he was a bit set. Then he started growing, and now he's a nicely sized horse with good balance. I'd say he's about 15-3."

Ministers Wild Cat was favored in his debut on Santa Anita's opening day, Dec. 26, and was not embarrassed in finishing second to Southern Image. Drysdale administered two very kind, short workouts between races, then unleashed his colt last Saturday to win by nearly eighth lengths, on the lead from the start. Kent Desormeaux, for all his skills, was required only to steer left and weigh out. And for those who need numbers to tell them what they saw, the final seven-furlong time was 1:22.57.

"The first race helped him a great deal," Drysdale noted. "He was stronger and much more focused his second time out. Absolutely, we expected him to move forward."

Now, the trick is to keep going in that direction. For a trainer such as Drysdale, there is never any shortage of time or opportunity with a developing young horse. If Ministers Wild Cat is destined to be among the key players in the 2003 Triple Crown carnival, he will have every chance to prove himself worthy.

But this is the silly season in racing, and any 3-year-old showing an ounce of ability is certain to get the complete treatment of Triple Crown hype, especially if the win comes in Florida or California. Recent Santa Anita maiden winners Ten Most Wanted and Atswhatimtalknbout already are being subjected to Derby speculation. Drysdale was asked if he had picked out a stakes race in which Ministers Wild Cat would next appear, to precede, of course, the inevitable journey toward Kentucky.

"Yeah, right," the trainer said, barely hiding his contempt.

Then it dawned. Little wonder that Drysdale was being conservative with the Derby prospects of War Chant's brother. It was in that same Kentucky Derby of 2000 that War Chant finished a well-beaten ninth, the only poor showing of his shooting-star career. It was probably too much too soon, and it definitely ruined Drysdale's percentage. Without War Chant, the trainer would be a perfect 1 for 1 in America's most famous horse race.