02/06/2008 1:00AM

Time is short for getting fast

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PHILADELPHIA - I did not have time to go through all 448 Triple Crown nominations, especially since so many of them will end up in the witness protection program. Thus, I know nothing of Utah-breds. I know how everyone looks forward to the dissertation on the Ute horses as part of my annual early look at the horses that could end up at Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont Park.

This year, I actually decided to take a rational look at some likely contenders. What better way to begin separating the pack than checking out the eight horses that have compiled triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures?

There certainly could be a horse that is still in the 90-99 Beyer range and improves enough over the next few weeks to get into the mix. But 100 is always the place to start.

War Pass, you know about. His four Beyers - 84, 94, 103, 113. Never behind a horse at any call. Fast early, fast late. Just very, very fast. The colt now has three listed workouts at Palm Meadows. For now, War Pass is the story. If, for some reason, War Pass does not work out, trainer Nick Zito has a very deep bench with 18 other Triple Crown nominees.

Pyro was second to War Pass in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, earning a 105 Beyer. Pyro also hit triple digits with a 100 Beyer when second to War Pass in the Champagne. The colt got an 81 in his debut and a 77 in his second race, a third behind War Pass. Training at Fair Grounds with Steve Asmussen, Pyro is a serious horse.

Bob Black Jack ran that insane six-furlong time (1:06.53) in the Sunshine Millions Dash at Santa Anita, where the surface is faster than the nearby Foothill Freeway. The time computed to a Beyer of 109, still serious stuff. Prior to that race, the Cal-bred had compiled Beyers of 73, 88, 76, and 99 in winning 2 of 4 races. James Kasparoff, who won 4 races from just 30 starters last year, trains the colt. Bob Black Jack accounted for two of the wins.

Lieutenant Ron has raced just once, but it was an awesome 8 1/4-length win at Aqueduct on Nov. 10. The colt, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin for West Point, earned a 102 Beyer that day. Loose on the lead, it's possible that was a one-time thing, but there is evidence to suggest that it was real.

Terry Finley of the West Point outfit said Lieutenant Ron got a stress fracture in his tibia and had been resting in his stall until recently. He is galloping again and close to a work. The best-case scenario is Lieutenant Ron getting back to the races in March. So, everything would have to go right for him to get on the Derby trail.

Second that day in November to Lieutenant Ron was Jockey Ridge, a son of Broken Vow, also making his debut. Trained by Barclay Tagg, Jockey Ridge did not race again until Jan. 18 at Gulfstream Park when he led wire to wire in a maiden race and got a 101 Beyer. That puts Lieutenant Ron's Beyer in a good light.

I don't know what to make of Florida-bred Wise Answer. The colt has won $459,300, running mostly in statebred stakes. His figures are 78, 78, 78, 97, 83, 100, 91, 72 (on grass in the Tropical Park Derby). Colts with this type of profile usually are not a factor by Derby time, but the 100 he earned in mid-October was a visually impressive performance. He is training at Calder with David Brownlee.

Ready's Image got a 105 Beyer in his fourth career start, the Sanford Stakes. Then, he got a 90 when second in the Hopeful and a 51 in the Champagne when a distant last. As patterns go, this is not a positive. Ready's Image is one of 31 nominated by trainer Todd Pletcher, who does not seem all that confident that any of them will be up to winning the Derby. And if the man who wins so many stakes races is not confident, I suggest we look elsewhere.

Gayego has raced three times. Most recently, the colt, trained at Hollywood Park by Paulo Lobo, got a 102 Beyer in the San Pedro Stakes at Santa Anita. He had gotten an 89 and 88 in his first two starts. Gayego has not been beyond 6 1/2 furlongs. Since he is by Gilded Time, you would not think 1 1/4 miles is his game, but he is a very fast horse.

San Rafael winner El Gato Malo, another West Point horse, just missed the 100 Beyer cut with a 99. Any top-10 list certainly would include this son of El Corredor.

Can I say with certainty the Derby winner will come from this list? No.

But as we have melted into February, one thing is certain. If the horse you like does not get into triple-digit Beyer territory soon, you better look elsewhere. Feel free to consult this list the next time you watch your major Derby hope stalk a reasonable pace and begin backing up on the far turn.

It may be still early, but it is getting later quickly. And if a horse can't run fast soon, he is not going to win the Derby.