12/31/2009 12:00AM

Tropical Derby a launch pad for Lost Aptitude

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MIAMI - A turf race on New Year's Day can hardly be considered a legitimate prep for the big dance - the Kentucky Derby - four months later. But anybody with a sense of history can refer to Barbaro's victory in the 2006 Tropical Park Derby as one case when such a race had an impact.

One trainer who is familiar with this particular subject is Dale Romans, who will send out turf specialist Lost Aptitude as the solid favorite to capture Friday's edition of the $100,000 Tropical Park Derby. The Grade 3, 1 1/8-mile Tropical Park Derby for 3-year-olds can lay claim to its own special piece of racing history as it traditionally is the first graded stakes decided in the U.S. each year.

As was the case when Barbaro came to Calder four years earlier, Lost Aptitude made each of his 2-year-old starts on grass. A son of Aptitude owned by Michael Bruder and Frank Jones Jr., Lost Aptitude finished a wide-running fourth making his career debut going 5 1/2 furlongs at Ellis Park. He has won 3 of his 4 tries since stretching out around two turns, including the Grand Canyon at Churchill Downs by 5 1/4 lengths on Nov. 28.

"He just keeps improving, and since he's run so well on the grass we decided just to keep him there up to this point," said Romans. "But if he runs a good race here, it will be time to give him a shot on the dirt, and so we'll try him in the Fountain of Youth."

Lost Aptitude towers over his 11 rivals in the Tropical Park Derby from a Beyer Speed Figure standpoint, having paired up career-best 93's in his last two starts. Only Cat Park, who finished a distant third in the Grand Canyon, has posted a number even remotely approaching those figures - an 88 winning an entry-level allowance race at Keeneland on Oct. 24.

"The only question mark Friday could be the turf course," said Romans. "You never know what might happen when you try a new track, but grass is grass so he should be okay."

The Tropical Park Derby will be the rubber match between Lost Aptitude and Cat Park, a homebred son of Tale of the Cat owned by George Strawbridge Jr. Cat Park ran down Lost Aptitude to post a one-length victory over a yielding course when the pair first met at Keeneland 10 weeks ago.

Becky's Kitten was defeated by less than six lengths in his 2-year-old finale in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf after chasing the pace and taking up near the three-eighths pole. The Ken and Sarah Ramsey homebred had finished second in Woodbine's Grade 3 Summer Stakes in his previous start.

The local contingent is a good one and includes Our Champion, Gator Tiger, Fly by Phil, and Sunrise Nursery.

Our Champion outfinished Gator Tiger by a neck to win an entry-level allowance race over the turf here on Nov. 29. The victory was the second in three starts on grass for Our Champion.

Fly by Phil has posted two straight impressive victories around two turns over the main track and will be making his grass bow in the Tropical Turf.