04/13/2005 11:00PM

Slow pace will aid Flower Alley

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NEW YORK - Although the Coolmore Lexington Stakes will be run next Saturday, this is the last weekend of really major Kentucky Derby prep races. Prominent 3-year-olds will attempt to improve their status in the $750,000 at Oaklawn Park.

Arkansas Derby

The most striking thing about this race is the lack of genuine early speed. Afleet Alex, with a sharp half-mile workout Tuesday, may be primed to take advantage of the situation. But I can't take a horse off as dismal an effort as Afleet Alex turned in last time out in the Rebel, lung infection or not. Canteen could be close up early, but he is a little light in the Beyer Speed Figure department. Flower Alley will capitalize on the lack of pace.

Flower Alley showed sprint speed in his first two career starts, and was right on a quick early pace last time out in his upset of the Lane's End. Flower Alley fell back in the middle stages when shuffled back from between horses, but to his credit he rallied stronger than his opponents to prove best.

Despite making what were essentially two runs in the Lane's End, Flower Alley earned a Beyer of 94, which compares well with what any other horse in this field going long. The Lane's End made Flower Alley the only member of the Arkansas Derby field to have won at the nine-furlong distance, and since that was only the third start of his career, Flower Alley has every license to take another step forward Saturday.

Commonwealth Breeders' Cup

A shortage of true front-runners is also a theme of this event. Sir Shackleton was close early when he won the Richter Scale Breeders' Cup in his last start. But he is most effective from off the pace, and that was a strangely run event that actually saw the deep closer Clock Stopper on the lead leaving the backstretch. Cajun Beat used to have sharp early foot, but he hasn't really shown it in a race for more than a year, although I wouldn't be surprised to see him be a pace factor this time. I'm taking Gold Storm, the only true front-runner in the field.

Gold Storm can zip early, as he demonstrated when he disputed the pace in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last fall. He earned solid Beyers of 111 and 109 winning both his starts this year at Fair Grounds, and ran a big race over the Keeneland track last fall when narrowly beaten in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup after missing his break.

Blue Grass

Because the undefeated High Limit is supposed to rate off the early lead for the first time, the pace is also a hot topic in this race. But it's even more interesting that the colts with the two best last-out Beyers come out of races in which they may have been greatly aided by track biases. Speed seemed king when High Limit won the Louisiana Derby, and it is also worth noting that three who finished behind him - Vicarage, Wallstreet Scandal, and Kansas City Boy - all followed with awful performances. Speed may have also had a distinct advantage the day Consolidator won the San Felipe on the pace. The two who finished right behind him, Giacomo and Don't Get Mad, did not distinguish themselves in last week's Santa Anita Derby.

Sun King should be very tough in this race, but the price won't be there. So, I'm going with Bandini, who ran a big race when second last time out in the Fountain of Youth. Bandini was wide around both turns, but still finished fast late to be beaten less than a length by High Fly, who came back to win the Florida Derby. Bandini missed that race with a foot bruise. Two sharp works at Keeneland this month suggest that is no longer a problem.

Saturday

Keeneland: Commonwealth B.C. Stakes
3 and up, 7 furlongs

Approximate post: Eastern-6:10 p.m., Central-5:10 p.m., Mountain-4:10 p.m., Pacific-3:10 p.m.; Lexington, Ky., forecast: Sunny, 69 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Sir Shackleton1061091013-1
2Gators N Bears108110986-1
3Silver Wagon981039312-1
4Cajun Beat1061071034-1
5Lion Tamer1031111078-5
6Gold Storm1091111026-1
7Clock Stopper1021041045-1

Odds by Kristin Sadler

Oaklawn Park: Arkansas Derby
3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: E-6:15 p.m., C-5:15 p.m., M-4:15 p.m., P-3:15 p.m.; Hot Springs, Ar., forecast: Sunny, 76 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Batson Challenge89797020-1
2Andromeda's Hero89798110-1
3Canteen86798115-1
4Rush Bay89778812-1
5Flower Alley9488624-1
6Afleet Alex74106975-2
7Wild Desert9390875-1
8Real Dandy90878420-1
9Cat Shaker86787730-1
10Greater Good9585912-1

Odds by Vance Hanson

Keeneland: Toyota Blue Grass
3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: E-6:46 p.m., C-5:45 p.m., M-4:45 p.m., P-3:45 p.m.; Lexington, Ky., forecast: Sunny, 69 degrees

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Mr Sword90868915-1
2Closing Argument98838515-1
3Spanish Chestnut79889320-1
4Consolidator10586943-1
5High Limit10588905-2
6Sun King91104968-5
7Bandini9890865-1

Odds by Kristin Sadler