02/10/2006 1:00AM

Three under-the-radar live Derby prospects


PHOENIX - The big names we all know - First Samurai, Brother Derek, Bluegrass Cat, Barbaro. But part of the excitement of the Kentucky Derby trail is scraping below the surface, rooting out and uncovering those hidden gems. Here are three candidates who have been flying under the radar and may represent some value down the line:

Refinery - There's little doubt this colt is bred for the game. He's by Victory Gallop, a gallant second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and the spoiler of Real Quiet's Triple Crown bid in the final strides in the 1998 Belmont. Refinery has four multiple-winning siblings, including the stakes winner Shot of Gold, who won 21 of 43 for more than $515,000.

Refinery won a maiden race at six furlongs Nov. 26 at Hollywood Park by more than four lengths, but could only manage fourth in an allowance race at Santa Anita at 1 1/16 miles Dec. 28. He did have an excuse, however: Following that race, Refinery underwent surgery to have an undescended testicle removed, trainer Richard Mandella said.

That surely helped. While he didn't work again until Jan. 14, Refinery returned in another allowance race, this one at a mile at Santa Anita Feb. 3. Drawn poorly in post 8, Refinery nonetheless got a good stalking trip in midpack under Tyler Baze and made a strong move into the lane. He couldn't sustain that run and ended up third behind his very talented stablemate One Union and the promising Bob Baffert-trained colt Point Determined.

He ran very much like a horse who lost his wind in the final furlong, and perhaps not working for nearly two weeks after the surgery took its toll in the eighth furlong. With that run behind him it's not hard to envision Refinery moving forward and thrusting his name in among the other Derby prospects out West looking to shoot down the big names.

Sweetnorthernsaint - It's hard to believe a horse who has been first across the line in his last three starts by a combined 34 lengths would be considered under the radar, but that's the case with this runner. Sweetnorthernsaint has run four times. He debuted on the turf at Colonial Downs and did little, but then went to Laurel Dec. 21 and romped by 16 lengths against maidens. Trouble is, he wreaked havoc at the start and was disqualified. He then moved to the Aqueduct inner track and proved that win was no fluke, winning his maiden by 7 3/4 lengths. The Beyer Speed Figure came back at 102, and surely many pooh-poohed the figure as being one of those fluky performances we see from time to time.

But Sweetnorthernsaint, trained by Michael Trombetta, stamped that win legit as he came back in the Miracle Wood at Laurel Feb. 4. He had to deal with slop and the rail, but after a slow start he simply pulled rider Mario Pino to the lead and kept extending it, and extending it, and extending it, without being asked. The winning margin was 10 lengths, but maybe most importantly the Beyer came back at 102.

Sweetnorthernsaint's sire, Sweetsouthernsaint, seemed destined for the Derby but got hurt after running third in the Holy Bull and was knocked off the Triple Crown trail.

In the last couple years horses that started their careers at Philadelphia Park and Delaware Park went on to big things in the Triple Crown. Could it be time for a horse who started his career at Colonial Downs? SAgood horse can come from anywhere.

Superfly - It seems any 3-year-old trainer Nick Zito sends out comes with a tag attached that says, "potential Derby horse." Everyone saw 25-1 Great Point finish well in the Holy Bull behind Barbaro and thus give Zito a player, but possibly lost on that day's card was the good effort by Superfly. A son of Fusaichi Pegasus, Superfly ran in a seven-furlong allowance race on Feb. 5, the same day as the Holy Bull, Donn, and Hutcheson. On a sloppy track on which the inside must have been a quagmire considering how jockeys kept their horses off the fence, Superfly took all the worst of it. Stuck inside from his rail draw Superfly went head-to-head on the lead. He couldn't maintain that pace all the way, faltering a bit but still holding second.

Superfly is actually bred to go much farther. Not only did his sire win the Kentucky Derby, but Superfly is a full brother to the Zito-trained Andromeda's Hero, who ran on to be third in the Belmont last year and third in the Donn later on that same Feb. 5 card. Superfly has considerably more speed than Andromeda's Hero, who is more of a plodder.

And Superfly is no stranger to top company. He has already gone long three times, including in the Champagne and Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He ended up third behind First Samurai and Henny Hughes in the Champagne and fifth behind those two and champion Stevie Wonderboy in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Brother Derek, currently the rage out West off two more big victories, beat Superfly by just a nose in the BC Juvenile. Sorceror's Stone, Dr. Pleasure, Ivan Denisovich, and Private Vow were among those behind Superfly on that day.