04/27/2006 11:00PM

Treat 'Minister' like an asteroid

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - I don't mean to alarm anyone, but according to the NASA Near Earth Orbit Program website, there is a 1 in 6,250 chance that an asteroid known as 2004 MN4 will strike our planet on Sunday, April 13, 2036, with devastating consequences.

Now that you know about it, what are you planning to do? Are you going straight to the supermarket to stock up on provisions? Are you going to a camping store to buy equipment so you can head for the hills and wait things out?

Probably not. After all, there is a 99.984 percent chance the asteroid won't hit Earth. If it does head our way, there isn't a single thing we can currently do to stop it. So, the smartest thing any of us who don't work for NASA can do is absolutely nothing.

Why am I discussing asteroid 2004 MN4 in a column about the Kentucky Derby? Believe it or not, there is an important lesson the jockeys and trainers of horses who are likely to run in this year's Kentucky Derby can learn from this subject.

Sinister Minister isn't quite as fast as an asteroid speeding toward our planet, but he is a lot closer to matching that description than any other horse in the Kentucky Derby field. So what is the smartest strategy for the jockeys and trainers of other horses to use against him? The only logical answer is the same one used in the asteroid example: The jockeys and trainers of the other horses should do absolutely nothing differently than they would normally do if Sinister Minister were not in the race.

Here is the logic: The only horse in the Kentucky Derby field who can possibly run scorching, out of control, runaway fractions the way Sinister Minister does, and still have any chance of surviving, is Sinister Minister himself. Any horse who dares to try to stay anywhere close to him during the first half of the race is almost certain to flame out and lose by a large margin. If Sinister Minister runs as well in the Kentucky Derby as he did in the Blue Grass Stakes, he will be like the asteroid. He is going to win, and there isn't a single thing anyone can do to stop him.

The more likely scenario, however, is that Sinister Minister will lose. Why have some of the jockeys and trainers of the other horses forgotten that fact and are so worried about him? Many handicappers believe the fair odds on Sinister Minister's chances of winning are between 10-1 and 15-1. That means the chances of Sinister Minister winning are between 6 percent and 9 percent. To phrase it another way, most handicappers believe there is a 91 percent to 94 percent chance that Sinister Minister will lose the Kentucky Derby.

Since that is the most likely scenario, the jockeys and trainers of the other horses should simply pretend that Sinister Minister isn't in the race. That shouldn't be hard to do. Sinister Minister will probably be so far in front during the early going that most of the other horses won't even notice him. The horse in second place will probably think he is in front, so there is no reason for him to go any faster than he has to.

If Sinister Minister continues to run extremely fast, the other horses never will catch a good glimpse of him. If the more likely scenario happens, and Sinister Minister regresses significantly following his career-best performance last time, he might stop badly on the far turn, and fall back so quickly that most of the other horses who sweep past him won't pay much attention to him. Either way, the fast pace Sinister Minister sets would have no impact on the rest of the field.

Don't get me wrong. I will be betting on Sinister Minister, the equine asteroid. I like him more than most other handicappers do, and believe he has about a 12 percent chance of winning (an 88 percent chance of losing). Double-digit odds will be a bargain.

If Sinister Minister does win, make sure you spend all of the money prior to April 13, 2036. Better to be safe than sorry.