02/23/2005 12:00AM

Tracking down true Derby outsiders

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PHILADELPHIA - It's that time again.

While everybody else is weighing the relative merits of Rockport Harbor, Declan's Moon, Afleet Alex, and the other top 3-year-olds, a dedicated observer of Triple Crown nominations considers all possibilities.

As a public service to Daily Racing Form readers, I have spent hours in search of the "others" stories, horses that could become the next War Emblem, Funny Cide, or Smarty Jones on the first Saturday in May.

After combing through the 358 early nominations, I have arrived at some conclusions.

The 2005 Kentucky Derby will not be won by a horse from Illinois, New York, or Pennsylvania. And forget Kentucky-breds. Are they still allowed to win this race?

I have narrowed down the possibilities to seven horses from four of our greatest racing states and two foreign countries. I am proud to announce that if the Derby winner is homegrown it will come from Colorado, Indiana, Michigan or, most likely, New Jersey. And if the winner is to come from abroad, I have narrowed it down to Italy or Japan.

Let's start there and finish here.

Italian-bred Becrux won the first four starts of his life. He won his maiden at Livorno, Italy's answer to Timonium, Maryland's Saratoga. Then, he won three straight at San Siro, Italy's Saratoga. Yes, he finished eighth, beaten by 16 3+4 lengths in the Group 1 Gran Criterium, in his final start of 2004.

On Feb. 10, Becrux, making his 3-year-old debut, was 13th of the 16 in the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas. As everybody knows, there is no better preparation for the Derby than the desert. This son of Glen (not Michael) Jordan is just now figuring it all out.

Pride Kim is the pride of Japan. He has won 4 of 6 starts and $688,199. He dominated in the Grade 1 Zen-Nippon Nisai Yushun. A son of Afleet, Pride Kim has not yet made his 3-year-old debut. But my spies in Japan tell me he is working well. And his Japanese speed figures are so large that if I revealed them, people would accuse me of making them up. Don't say you weren't warned when Pride Kim comes roaring down the Churchill stretch on May 7.

There is also the curious case of Emily Bronte's favorite horse, the Japanese-bred Wuthering Heights. Trained then by Aidan O' Brien, this colt made his debut at The Curragh last April. He won his maiden in his second race last May, but has not raced since. The colt now is in training at Palm Meadows, Fla. My spies are trying to find out more, but I do know this colt is by Fusaichi Pegasus (a rare Derby winner from Kentucky) out of the Seattle Slew mare Jeweled Crown. I don't know about you, but I think we have something special here.

How many 2-year-olds won all five of their 2-year-old starts by a combined 26 3/4 lengths? My guess is that the list begins and ends with the Colorado-bred legend Cajun Pepper. He won three races at Arapahoe and two at Sunland, including the Riley Allison Futurity, in which he got an 89 Beyer Speed Figure. He has five listed works this year with two at seven furlongs (1:26.8 and 1:26.6). His 3-year-old debut must be coming soon. Do not miss it.

Snack has started 8 times with 4 wins, 2 seconds, and 2 thirds. He has won almost $100,000, including two stakes at Turfway Park this year. Has there ever been a better Indiana-bred?

Just to get ready for the Derby, Snack made his debut at Churchill on June 25. He was a fast-closing second in that maiden $30,000 claimer. When it is time, Snack, who has also raced at Mountaineer and Hoosier, won't forget where it all started.

Some might consider Michigan-bred Starlits Mission a longshot. After all, he was 105-1 in small stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 22. He was eased after clipping heels, but is back working. Before you dismiss this horse, his 2 wins in 5 starts and earnings of $35,695, consider that he was second in the Michigan Futurity at Great Lakes Downs to the memorable Its His Time. This colt might be the most honest performer to emerge from Michigan since Chris Webber.

Readers of this column will know that I was touting a mythical horse named Horse Jersey last week. Well, that Jersey-bred has come to life.

Park Avenue Ball is for real. This Jersey-bred has started 6 times with 3 wins, 2 seconds, and earnings of $308,600. His only bad race came in the Champagne.

He won the Futurity last year. He was second in the Feb. 5 Hutcheson Stakes to the accomplished Proud Accolade.

Best of all, Park Avenue Ball is trained by Jim Ryerson. Who can forget the scene Derby Week when Ryerson brought Unbridled's Song to Churchill? Remember the colt had that nasty foot problem. Buzz "I'm In Charge Here" Chace did his Alexander Haig imitation. It was so much fun that we really need to do it all again.

In fact, we will do this all again next year. Sadly, I could not find any Utah-breds among the early noms. But rest assured that I will not be overlooking those late noms. If there are important developments at that time, you won't be left out of the loop.