03/16/2006 12:00AM

Try to beat these three favorites

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NEW YORK - Saturday is the biggest day yet on the road to the 132nd Kentucky Derby on May 6, with four important Derby prep races at tracks from one end of the country to the other. The preps, from East to West, are the $200,000 Gotham at Aqueduct, the $250,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, the $300,000 Rebel at Oaklawn Park, and the $250,000 San Felipe at Santa Anita.

Gotham

With victories in all three of his starts, a win most recently in the Hutcheson over the still highly ranked Derby aspirant First Samurai, a flashy 110 Beyer Speed Figure, and the backing of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey Edgar Prado, Keyed Entry is the favorite and the one to beat in this race. That is exactly what I will try and do: beat him.

This will be Keyed Entry's first start around two turns, and while he should be able to handle 1 1/16 miles under normal circumstances, he may not with the kind of trip I envision for him. Keyed Entry is quick early, but he will still get early pressure from the stretch-out sprinter Like Now, and he will likely receive pressure in the middle stages from the underrated Maryland shipper Sweetnorthernsaint. If this is how the Gotham develops, then Keyed Entry will have to be much the best to win.

Achilles of Troy is a firm play here. Achilles of Troy, unbeaten and untested since getting Lasix three starts ago, paired up triple-digit Beyers winning stakes races in his last two starts over Aqueduct's inner track. His ability to rate effectively puts him in line to receive a perfect trip.

Rebel

Lawyer Ron ran better winning the Southwest Stakes last time out over Steppenwolfer than some people believe. Even if the Southwest's fractions don't show it, Lawyer Ron ran hard early to open a clear lead over other speed horses, and held determinedly in the stretch. But this is a different race. Private Vow, who might be vulnerable off a four-month layoff, should, being fresh, at least hook up with Lawyer Ron at some point. Lawyer Ron has never before been looked in the eye by a quality opponent like that, and guessing how he will react, at meager odds, is not appealing.

Steppenwolfer, the bet to turn the tables, gained more than 10 lengths during the running of the Southwest, and after going four wide on the far turn, he lost more ground than the three-quarters of a length he was beaten. Steppenwolfer will appreciate the added sixteenth of a mile in this event, and will also like the longer stretch run to the wire. When he was denied in the Southwest, it was in a race with the short stretch of the one-mile run at Oaklawn.

San Felipe

Bob and John's reputation, and the Beyer he received in winning the Sham Stakes last time out, both got a big boost when Sacred Light, a soundly beaten third in the Sham, came back to be beaten less than two lengths by Kentucky Derby future-book favorite Brother Derek when second in the Santa Catalina two weeks ago. But I'm still skeptical. The Sacred Light who finished third in the Sham was nowhere near as good as the Sacred Light who was second in the Santa Catalina. As 3-year-olds will do this time of year, Sacred Light simply improved dramatically from one start to the next. That doesn't suddenly make Bob and John a killer.

I'm going with Refinery, who, in winning his last start, demonstrated dramatic improvement for tangible reasons. That allowance score was Refinery's first start with blinkers, and only his second start after having surgery to remove an undescended testicle. The 96 Beyer that Refinery earned in that victory stacks up well against any figure Bob and John earned before the Sham.

Saturday

Aqueduct: Gotham Stakes
3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles

Approximate post: Eastern-4:50 p.m., Central-3:50 p.m., Mountain-2:50 p.m., Pacific-1:50 p.m.; Ozone Park, N.Y. Forecast: Sunny, 42¦

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Hesanoldsalt71797820-1
2Church Service77736830-1
3Eagle Head9078--30-1
4Like Now100855910-1
5Putonyerdancinshuz79726930-1
6Achilles of Troy104105972-1
7Keyed Entry11096619-5
8Sunshine Alpine93856715-1
9Greeley's Legacy89778020-1
10Sweetnorthernsaint104102813-1
11One Way Flight96758920-1

Odds by Michael Hammersly

Oaklawn: Rebel Stakes
3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles

Approximate post: E-6:40 p.m., C-5:40 p.m., M-4:40 p.m., P-3:40 p.m. ; Hot Springs, Ar. Forecast: Rain, 51¦

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Lawyer Ron95106976-5
2Travelin Leroy50748950-1
3Kip Deville81857630-1
4Nob Hill Deelite84776720-1
5Private Vow9630943-1
6Well Said86837515-1
7Film Fortune86687320-1
8Music School8389748-1
9Red Raymond88856412-1
10Steppenwolfer9493789-2

Odds by Kristin Sadler

Santa Anita: San Felipe Stakes
3 year olds, 1 1/8 miles

Approximate post: E-7:07 p.m., C-6:07 p.m., M-5:07 p.m., P-4:07 p.m.; Arcadia, Ca. Forecast: Slight chance of thunderstorms, 55¦

PPHORSELAST 3 BEYERSODDS
1Point Determined8993943-1
2Racketeer9695688-1
3A. P. Warrior7791886-1
4Refinery9687715-1
5Bob and John10292939-5
6New Joysey Jeff92887715-1
7Blazing Sunset82842320-1
8Sky Diving86915715-1
9Simon Pure9487-12-1

Odds by Michael Hammersly