04/15/2005 12:00AM

Top Beyer no guarantee of Derby success

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PHOENIX - At the risk of jumping the gun I'm going to assume it's safe to say that when Bellamy Road goes in the gate for the Kentucky Derby in a couple weeks he'll be the favorite and go into the race with the highest last-race Beyer Speed Figure.

The 120 Beyer was not only surprising but also unheard of. It's not only the best Beyer by a 3-year-old prepping for the Derby since, well, Andy Beyer starting making his figs public in 1991, it's also higher than any Beyer earned in a Triple Crown race in that time frame. It's higher than any other fig posted this year.

But it guarantees nothing except a bull's-eye square on Bellamy Road's back. Many will be concerned about his front-running style, but much of that is simply a function of his natural, high-galloping speed. Remember, he won his debut from off the pace. And he doesn't look or act speed-crazy.

There's another factor. In Bellamy Road's two smashing wins this year he caught hard, fast racetracks. He obviously relished them, and we've seen many a Derby Day come up with that kind of track. But we've also seen the Churchill strip get bogged down as those late April-early May days often get rain and a completely different type of track. (Remember Sunday Silence and Go for Gin - and Smarty Jones just last year?) The surface could be key.

But let's stick with Bellamy Road's Beyer. It shows he has enormous talent, but it also shows the past. It is not meant as a predictor. It tells you what a horse can do, not what he will do. Let's look at other Derbies and other big Beyer horses:

2004 - Best last race Beyers (BLRBs) belong to The Cliff's Edge (111), Lion Heart (110), Smarty Jones and Pollard's Vision (each 107). Smarty leads Lion Heart and the rest on a merry chase to do the numbers proud, but The Cliff's Edge loses a shoe, and Pollard's Vision makes no dent. The top Beyer in the race (113) belongs to Read the Footnotes, who can't be found.

2003 - Empire Maker (111), and Funny Cide and Ten Most Wanted (110 each) lead the BLRBs. It's another good race for the Beyer believers, as Funny Cide beats Empire Maker, with Peace Rules - who boasts the next-best last-race Beyer (104) - a dogged third. Ten Most Wanted has tons of trouble and is no factor.

2002 - War Emblem boasts the BLRB (112) and the Beyer boys take heat for it. Critics cry, the Illinois Derby is the fastest Derby prep? War Emblem does them proud, leading gate to wire at a huge price. The next-best fig in the race belongs to Came Home, who posted a 111 in a sprint in early February, but that seven-furlong fig earned in early February had little bearing on what happened over 10 furlongs three months later.

2001 - Point Given is a strong choice off a dazzling 110 earned in the Santa Anita Derby. But Point Given doesn't even come close to having the BLRB - Millennium Wind's gaudy 114, earned in the Blue Grass, gives him the honor - but he's no factor. Point Given isn't alone at 110, either - Keats earned the same fig winning the Lexington. None factor in the Derby, as Monarchos powers home first.

2000 - Like Bellamy Road five years later, Fusaichi Pegasus's Wood Memorial is a tour de force, and his 111 Beyer qualifies as the BLRB. He backs it up with a big Derby win. War Chant (107), and The Deputy and More Than Ready (106 each) don't run back to those numbers.

1999 - Charismatic rings up a 108 in the Lexington to tie him with General Challenge (108 in the Santa Anita Derby) for BLRB, but no one believes it. Charismatic makes them pay, posting a longshot Derby victory. General Challenge, a huge horse, is actually lifted off the ground between horses in what amounts to a scrum going into the first turn and loses all chance. Next-best fig horse Menifee (107) makes for what in retrospect should have been a chalk exacta. If only it were that easy.

1998 - Indian Charlie and Halory Hunter get BLRB honors with 111, but Real Quiet, hardly a bum with a 108 and 107 coming in, is the one who backs it up. Revered 2-year-old champ Favorite Trick managed only a 101 in his Derby prep, and runs accordingly. Artax had posted a 108 and 109, hinting at brilliance, which we later was fulfilled, if around one turn.

1997 - The buzz was all about Pulpit, but it's actually Silver Charm and Free House (110 each) who tie for BLRB. They run like it, too, finishing first and third.

1996 - Skip Away's 113 earned in a romp in a sloppy Blue Grass nets him BLRB. That does him no use here. Unbridled's Song had a 114 from a previous race and is gallant for nine furlongs; too bad the Derby is 10. Winner Grindstone comes off 100 earned in a loss in the Arkansas Derby.

1995 - The filly Serena's Song has the top BLRB, a 114 in the Jim Beam, but in the Derby she's hailing a cab at the quarter pole. The next-high last-out fig is Wild Syn's 109. He's splitting the cab with Serena's Song. Thunder Gulch, the winner, was coming off a 101, but had shown at least that he could do better than that since he had earlier posted a 105.

So what does all this mean? Only this - the BLRB guarantees you nothing, good or bad. Big figs have gone into the Derby and lost; big figs have gone into the Derby and won. It might mean only that a horse is a good horse, capable of big thing. Whether that all comes together on the first Saturday in May is another matter entirely.