04/29/2003 11:00PM

True Derby threats culled to six


LAS VEGAS - The Kentucky Derby is all about the distance, and pedigree plays a key role in determining who should be most and least effective at 1 1/4 miles. Before you can use pedigrees to your advantage, it is necessary to understand the components (sire, dam, damsire) and how each affects racing performance. While the sire and the dam are equally important factors in the pedigree, each plays a different role in determining how the racehorse will run.

The male parts of a pedigree (sire and damsire, or broodmare sire) determine the distance and surface the runner will be most effective. The female parts of a pedigree (dam and her female family, called tail-female) determine racing class. The most important aspect of the pedigree is what this female family has produced, generation after generation. This is the class of the horse.

This year, pedigree handicapping narrows the true contenders to six runners: Empire Maker, Ten Most Wanted, Brancusi, Offlee Wild, Atswhatimtalknbout, and Scrimshaw.

Empire Maker - By stamina influence Unbridled out of Toussaud, the recently named Broodmare of the Year, Empire Maker will only be stronger with each additional furlong beyond one mile. Comfortable at 1 1/8 miles, he should be a terror at 1 1/4 miles and beyond, and we still have not seen his best.

Ten Most Wanted - Deputy Commander has two serious runners from his first crop in the Derby - including this colt - and his stock is going through the roof. A late-developing 3-year-old, Deputy Commander won the Travers Stakes and Super Derby, both at 1 1/4 miles. The Deputy Commander-Criminal Type cross spells abundant stamina, and Ten Most Wanted's female family traces to racing's most important female influence, La Troienne. Ten Most Wanted will be a major factor at 1 1/4 miles.

Brancusi - The second Deputy Commander colt in the field, he also gets a double dose of stamina from his sire and broodmare sire, the 1987 Derby winner, Alysheba. His second dam is the marvelous Group 1 winner Treizieme, and distance will never be a problem for Brancusi.

Offlee Wild - Of all the contenders in this year's Derby, Offlee Wild may offer the best value. By the 1984 Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Wild Again (sire of last year's Belmont Stakes winner, Sarava), Offlee Wild is out of a mare by the 1977 Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew. His dam is a half-sister to Dynaformer, and this phenomenal Darby Dan female family is chock-full of quality and stamina. Offlee Wild should love 1 1/4 miles.

Atswhatimtalknbout - Atswhatimtalknbout is by A.P. Indy out of a mare by Red Ransom, and despite a modest female family, he should relish 1 1/4 miles. If he fails to fire in the Derby, he should be given an opportunity on turf.

Scrimshaw - His sire, Gulch, has already sired 1995 Derby and Belmont winner Thunder Gulch. Lightly raced Scrimshaw, whose victory in the Lexington Stakes indicates he is peaking at the right time, is difficult to dismiss. The presence of Sham as his broodmare sire adds stamina, and Scrimshaw could round out the trifecta or superfecta.

The rest of the field

Funny Cide - His sire, Distorted Humor, last year's leading freshman stallion, was a sprinter-miler who performed well at middle distances. Funny Cide has stamina influences in his pedigree (Slewacide, Little Current, Graustark) to suggest he could get a minor award in the Derby.

Peace Rules - From the immediate family that produced Northern Dancer, Peace Rules's sire, Jules, was mismanaged as a stallion and never received the kind of mares he warranted. His first few crops yielded little of merit and impatient American breeders sent him to Brazil. The Jules-Hold Your Peace cross is questionable beyond nine furlongs.

Sir Cherokee - Sir Cherokee's sire, Cherokee Run, was a champion sprinter-miler, and Chilukki and Yonaguska typify his runners. While Sir Cherokee won at 1 1/8 miles vs. inferior competition, it would be surprising to see him excel at 1 1/4 miles here.

Supah Blitz - His sire, Mecke, should get winners at 1 1/4 miles, but they will be dramatically better on turf, especially at this level.

Buddy Gil - Eastern Echo, Buddy Gil's sire, is by 1967 Horse of the Year Damascus, and out of stakes winner Wild Applause (Northern Dancer). Winner of the Futurity Stakes, Eastern Echo began his stud career at Lane's End Farm with much fanfare. Aside from Swiss Yodeler, he only sired modest stakes winners and was considered a disappointment at stud. Buddy Gil is a bulldog of a racehorse, but the Eastern Echo-For Really cross is highly questionable at 1 1/4 miles.

Indian Express - His sire, Santa Anita Derby winner Indian Charlie, was third in the 1998 Derby as an undefeated favorite. Indian Charlie was easily the best runner by successful speed sire In Excess, and his freshman crop has been a revelation, led by Eugene's Third Son, second in the Arkansas Derby, and Indian Express, second in the Santa Anita Derby. But 1 1/8 miles should be Indian Express's limit.

Ten Cents a Shine - His Devil His Due-Honey Jay cross does not inspire confidence at 1 1/4 miles.

Outta Here - His sire, Dehere, was another sire whom U.S. breeders gave up on prematurely. His runners have tactical speed (for example, Take Charge Lady), but have been best up to 1 1/8 miles. The Dehere-Forty Niner cross will struggle at 1 1/4 miles.

Lone Star Sky - His sire, Conquistador Cielo, essentially sprinted 1 1/2 miles to win the Belmont Stakes over a sea of slop. Conquistador Cielo is by speed influence Mr. Prospector, and his runners have been able to get 1 1/4 miles as older horses, but are best up to 1 1/16 miles.

Eye of the Tiger - His sire, American Chance, was a sprinter-miler who was able to win at middle distances, and his runners are sprinter-milers as well. The American Chance-Phone Trick cross is hardly genetic material for 1 1/4 miles.