10/06/2005 11:00PM

Tuck these names away till spring


PHOENIX - The big names you're familiar with - First Samurai, Henny Hughes, Stevie Wonderboy, Private Vow, Sorcerer's Stone, Brother Derek. They are the horses everyone is watching for next year's Kentucky Derby. But it's never too early to scratch under that first level of familiarity and examine other horses who might be there come the first Saturday in May.

* Music School: You don't see too many A. P. Indys come right out and win their debut race, but that's exactly what Music School did at Churchill on June 11. Not only did he win, but he overcame trouble. He ducked in at the start and stumbled badly, and you would think his trainer, Neil Howard, would have been tickled pink to just see him gallop out well and come back in one piece. But under Robby Albarado, Music School got back into stride, circled the field, and gamely prevailed. He was supposed to run next in the Bashford Manor but a lung infection knocked him out. Then it was supposed to be one of the 2-year-old stakes at Saratoga. Alas, that didn't transpire either. So, since it's too late for the Breeders' Cup, he will be pointed for next year. With his pedigree (by a Horse of the Year and out of a sister of Horse of the Year Mineshaft and Grade 1 stakes winner Tomisue's Delight), there's every reason to believe 2006 can be a big season.

* Twisting Road: Eoin Harty knows what it's like to be around top 2- and 3-year-olds. From his days as Bob Baffert's main assistant to his time working for the Godolphin operation Harty has been around top-class horseflesh. He may have top prospect here. Twisting Road has run just once, last Saturday, but it was a most promising first outing. A son of Euro monster Giant's Causeway, who's making quite a name for himself at stud, Twisting Road had the rail for his debut at Santa Anita, steadied early, and trailed the rest of the field after a half-mile. He looked as if he was going nowhere. Twisting Road swung out wide, however, found room to stretch his legs and finished strongly for third. That run hinted at all sorts of promise and surely the pedigree indicates the longer the better. Not only was his sire a six-time Group 1 stakes winner in routes, but there's plenty of stamina on the bottom side as well.

* Mystic Ruler: Certainly it's no secret offspring of Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus can make an immediate impact. It has happened overseas on turf, and certainly here in the States on dirt (Roman Ruler, for example). Mystic Ruler debuted at Saratoga on Aug. 5 for Stanley Hough. He was fairly well regarded at 5-1, and as you would expect from a son of FuPeg he showed tactical speed. What was also nice to see, particularly since it was just his debut, was that he didn't seem to be under any duress to be prominent. It was simply his natural speed. From there, rider Edgar Prado roused him and he stuck his neck out and went for the wire, edging away at the end. It was an impressive way to break into the game. He hasn't worked since, which is disconcerting, but as with Music School there's no reason to rush now. His lone sibling to race is the very classy Chattahoochee War, a Grade 3 stakes winner going long on the turf and five times stakes-placed.

* Bluegrass Cat: What would a list be without a son of Storm Cat or a Todd Pletcher trainee? Bluegrass Cat debuted at Churchill Downs in early June but never really picked up his feet, finishing a disappointing eighth of nine for then-trainer Elliott Walden. Walden has since switched hats and the horse was moved to Pletcher's care. Pletcher gave him plenty of time to regroup and brought Bluegrass Cat back at Belmont on Sept. 24. All he did that day was duel head to head, then blow the race wide open with a big fifth furlong as he went from a head in front to more than five in front. From there he coasted home, winning by more than six lengths for a heady 91 Beyer. The pedigree bodes well on the bottom side, too. He's kin to Lord of the Game, a winner of 8 of 12 for more than $539,000 and a multiple Grade 2 stakes winner.

* A. J. Awesome: He may not have been a match for Bluegrass Cat when he debuted in that same Sept. 24 race, but this son of BC Classic winner Awesome Again hinted at ample promise with a better-than-looked third here. A.J. Awesome ducked in at the start and seemed in a tangle as he was well back early, trying to find his stride. Well, he found it, and despite getting carried out quite wide into the lane and racing greenly he continued on eagerly, looking very much like a horse who will do better with experience and more furlongs. His lone sibling to race, Star Celebrity, has four wins and is stakes placed.