04/04/2007 12:00AM

Ten-horse derby field lacks a true standout

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Although many of the nation's top-ranked 3-year-olds have been based in Southern California this winter and spring, many of them have hightailed it out of town. Notional and Stormello ran last week in the Florida Derby, Circular Quay went last month to the Louisiana Derby, Cobalt Blue is running in the Illinois Derby on Saturday, and Great Hunter is awaiting next week's Blue Grass Stakes.

Getting that group together would have made the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on Saturday one of the meatiest of the final round of preps for the May 5 Kentucky Derby. Instead, after entries were taken and post positions drawn Wednesday, you might have wanted to resurrect that elderly lady from the old Wendy's commercials to ask, "Where's the beef?"

Ten were entered in the Santa Anita Derby, not a Grade 1 winner among them. Only one, Bwana Bull, has won a graded stakes around two turns. The race is so inscrutable that Jeff Tufts, Santa Anita's morning-line maker, made Liquidity the 5-2 favorite in the 1 1/8-mile race, even though Liquidity is coming off a sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby.

With the lack of a standout, several trainers and owners found themselves emboldened to take a shot in a race that, if nothing else, offers a rich purse. Even those coldly realistic about their shaky Kentucky Derby credentials found themselves tempted by the Grade 1 black type, and the lucrative purse.

"We're not overly optimistic," said Jeff Siegel, who with Barry Irwin runs the Team Valor partnership, which sends out King of the Roxy in the Santa Anita Derby. "Unfortunately, he may have distance limitations.'

Then why run?

"He won the Hutcheson so well, and at this time of year there's so much money out there," Siegel said. "Barry and I are in the horse business, but we're in the entertainment business, too, and we have clients."

Despite Siegel's concerns, Tufts made King of the Roxy the second choice, at 3-1.

Black Seventeen has just two starts, the longest being 6 1/2 furlongs, but he's being given a shot, too. Trainer and co-owner Brian Koriner said, "I couldn't tell him no" when his partner, Wind River Stable's Evan Trommer, asked about the race.

From the rail out, the field is Court the King, Sam P., Bwana Bull, Boutrous, Liquidity, Black Seventeen, Level Red, King of the Roxy, Tiago, and Medici Code. All carry 122 pounds. Level Red, Boutrous, and Sam P. are having blinkers added to their equipment, while Tiago will race without blinkers for the first time.

Medici Code, who will be making his first start in this country, worked a half-mile from the gate in 49 seconds on Wednesday morning at Santa Anita for trainer Darrell Vienna.

At Hollywood Park, Level Red worked a half-mile from the gate in 48.60 seconds for trainer David Hofmans.