03/25/2007 11:00PM

Synthetic to dirt switch a tricky read


NEW YORK - Hard Spun ran very well winning Saturday's Lane's End Stakes at Turfway Park. He was wide all the way, but that is actually the place to be at tracks with artificial surfaces such as Turfway because it keeps you away from the nasty kickback. Where Hard Spun really impressed was how he strongly drew away from a decent field after being so close to a very quick opening quarter mile in 22.78 seconds.

But precisely where Hard Spun's Lane's End positions him in the greater Kentucky Derby picture is anyone's guess. That is because the Lane's End was run on Polytrack, and the Kentucky Derby will not be. And if you think this is only a minor matter right now, wait until next month. Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes is the next race on Hard Spun's schedule, and as good as he looked Saturday, he might only be fourth choice in the betting, because the Blue Grass is also down as the next start for Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, and Great Hunter. In other words, the Blue Grass has the potential to be this year's strongest prep for the Kentucky Derby. But it will also be run on Polytrack. If the Blue Grass turns out to be as good a race as it threatens to be, the Blue Grass horses coming off Polytrack will be a huge storyline leading to the Derby.

In an attempt to find out how horses who ran well in quality stakes on synthetic surfaces subsequently performed, I looked up the records of the first three finishers in the nine Grade 1 and 2 stakes run last year at Turfway and the fall meets at Keeneland and Hollywood Park. Here is a list of those stakes, and what the first three finishers, in order, did afterward, with an emphasis on how they ran on conventional dirt surfaces:

Lane's End (Turfway) - With a City: Ran just once thereafter, a 13th in the Arkansas Derby.

* Seaside Retreat: Badly beaten in both the Blue Grass (run last year on dirt) and the Kentucky Derby. His only win in seven subsequent starts was on the turf at Woodbine.

* Malameeze: Has not won in seven subsequent starts, six of which were on dirt.

Kentucky Cup Classic (Turfway) - Ball Four: In four starts since, his two best races were his two on dirt, a near miss in the San Antonio and a sixth after setting the pace in the Santa Anita Handicap.

* Perfect Drift: Eighth in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

* Good Reward: Third in the Fayette on Polytrack.

Alcibiades (Keeneland) - Bel Air Beauty: Eighth in the BC Juvenile Fillies.

* Untouched Talent: Never raced again.

* Her Majesty: 13th in the BC Juvenile Fillies.

Breeders' Futurity (Keeneland) - Great Hunter: A distant third in the BC Juvenile, and came back to win the Robert Lewis in his first start this year.

* Circular Quay: A distant second in the BC Juvenile, a troubled fifth in the Risen Star, and won the Louisiana Derby.

* Street Sense: Won the Juvenile in overwhelming fashion, and came back to prevail in last week's thrilling Tampa Bay Derby.

Spinster (Keeneland) - Asi Siempre: Suffered traffic in the BC Distaff, but was a surprising second under the wire.

* Soul Search: Fourth at odds-on in the Maple Leaf on Woodbine's Polytrack.

* Promenade Girl: Fifth at odds-on against Maryland-breds in the Geisha Handicap.

Raven Run (Keeneland) - Leah's Secret: Won the Anne Arundel, then was off the board in the Barbara Fritchie and Shirley Jones BC handicaps.

* Vestrey Lady: Third in a turf sprint at Gulfstream.

* Ex Caelis: Has not raced since.

Bayakoa Handicap (Hollywood) - Foxysox: Finished last in Sunday's Santa Ana Handicap on turf.

* Round Heels: Fifth in an overnight turf race.

* Dona Amelia: Lost all three of her subsequent starts, including the Paseana and Santa Maria handicaps on dirt.

Hollywood Futurity - Stormello: Beaten a nose after setting the pace in the Fountain of Youth.

* Liquidity: A game second to Ravel in the Sham, but followed with a disappointing sixth in the Louisiana Derby.

* Roman Commander: Has not raced since.

Hollywood Starlet - Romance Is Diane: Seventh in the Las Virgenes on dirt, and followed with an eighth on turf in the China Doll Stakes.

* Quick Little Miss: Came right back with a second in the Santa Ynez on dirt, but then finished sixth in the Las Virgenes.

* Down: Has not raced since.

What we found here were several horses who have yet to race again, and several others who never lifted a hoof back on a conventional dirt surface. But we also found several horses who did run quite well switching back to dirt, and one - Street Sense - who clinched a championship after a surface switch, going from Keeneland's Polytrack to the main track at Churchill Downs.

So that would lead one to conclude that switching from Polytrack to dirt will not in itself be much of an obstacle in the way of success in the Kentucky Derby.

If, of course, the horse is good enough.