09/17/2003 11:00PM

So far, Soto has been just perfect


That's a question begging to be answered as the undefeated Soto faces the biggest test of his career Saturday when he takes on Travers winner Ten Most Wanted in the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

Soto seems to be beating a path to the top of the 3-year-old division. He has shown uncommon ability and versatility in his five career starts, winning over five different tracks and at distances ranging from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles.

In his two-turn races, Soto has used both front-running and late-running tactics, with his most recent score a track-record performance in the Grade 3, $600,000 West Virginia Derby.

"He's a high-class horse," said Michael Dickinson, who trains Soto. "He's a magnificent-looking horse, and he's a very powerful horse. He has huge muscles and a lot of strength."

And a lot of potential. Soto earned a 114 Beyer Speed Figure in his last start, tied for the second highest number among 3-year-olds this year behind the 115 earned by Kafwain.

In addition to his fast time in the West Virginia Derby - he covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:46.20 - the manner in which Soto turned back Dynever to win by a neck was that of a seasoned racehorse.

"He definitely knew what he was doing," said Ramon Dominguez, who rode Soto. "He was very relaxed all the way around, and turning for home, when Dynever went past him, he came back very gamely.

"Although he dug in pretty good, it never felt like he was trying hard. He did it with so much ease. He's a very talented horse."

Soto, a son of Dehere, gave his ownership, the Germany-based Galopp LLC, its first stakes win in the United States last November when he rallied from well back to win the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes over Ten Cents a Shine at Churchill Downs.

But success in stakes is nothing new for Galopp, which has won a record 17 German Derbies, and which operates the oldest stud farm in that country. The ownership is made up of Baroness Karin von Ullman, her son Baron George von Ullman, and his wife, Baroness Carena.

Dickinson looks for a strong race from Soto in the Super Derby, and although the race has a reputation for producing Breeders' Cup Classic starters, he is not in a hurry to plot his next move with the colt. The focus, he said, is all Super Derby.

"I haven't any thoughts past Saturday," said Dickinson.

If Soto remains unbeaten following the Super Derby, Dickinson may have to think about going to the Breeders' Cup to find out just how good his horse really is.