01/30/2004 12:00AM

Uncertainty clouds British 3-year-old picture

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The Epsom Derby is still 125 days away, but British bookies are already offering prices on the great English classic.

Paddy Power quotes the French-trained American Post as its 10-1 co-favorite along with Snow Ridge, trained by Marcus Tregoning. Snow Ridge won the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes and followed with a dull seventh in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes.

With Yeats and Grey Swallow, both trained in Ireland, and the French-based Bago filling out the remainder of the first five places in the early Derby betting, the leading British hopefuls appear to have some ground to make up. At this stage, however, it is all but impossible to predict what will happen on Derby Day on June 5 - or, for that matter, in the 2000 Guineas on May 1.

The run-up to Newmarket's Guineas weekend is, by American standards, couched in secrecy. As many as one-third of the runners in both the 2000 Guineas and the 1000 Guineas the next day will be making their first start of the season, and most of the others will have had only one previous outing.

So unless one pays close attention to reports from the gallops around England, a premium is placed on breeding and juvenile form. At this stage, the two favorites for the 2000 Guineas, One Cool Cat and Grey Swallow, are both trained in Ireland. So where do the leading British 3-year-olds stand?

Perhaps foreigners dominate the British classic betting market because question marks hang over so many of last year's leading juveniles in England. Lucky Story, Milk It Mick, and Three Valleys tied as British highweight colts on the 2-year-old European Classification, but only Lucky Story looks like a viable Guineas candidate.

Lucky Story is a Kris S. half-brother to Grand Prix de Paris winner Dr Fong. A Mark Johnston trainee, Lucky Story concluded his juvenile campaign with four straight wins, the last two coming in the Group 3 Vintage Stakes at six furlongs and the Group 2 Champagne Stakes at seven furlongs.

Johnston may be the canniest trainer in the British Isles and is sure to have Lucky Story ready for the 2000 Guineas without a planned prep. Johnston won the 1994 edition with Mister Baileys that way, so Lucky Story may represent value at the 8-1 at which he is generally quoted for the colts' mile classic.

The Jamie Osborne-trained Milk It Mick, by Millkom, was just a $23,000 yearling purchase. He ran 12 times at age 2 but didn't blossom until grabbing the six-furlong, Group 3 Somerville Tattersalls Stakes and the seven-furlong, Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes in his last two outings. It would be somewhat surprising if he could sustain that level of excellence through the Guineas.

Three Valleys, trained by Roger Charlton for Khalid Abdullah, lost the Dewhurst by a head to Milk It Mick, who was 33-1. Earlier in the season, Three Valleys had cruised to an eight-length blowout in the Group 3 Coventry Stakes over six furlongs at Royal Ascot. By Diesis and from the family of Banks Hill, Three Valleys is supposed to be a good one, but not only did he fail in the Dewhurst and finish third to One Cool Cat in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes, he also was stripped of his victory in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes due to a drug positive.

Balmont was the beneficiary of Three Valleys's bad luck in the Middle Park. Trained by Jeremy Noseda, he also won the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes at six furlongs in August but was only seventh behind Milk It Mick in the seven-furlong Dewhurst. By Stravinsky, Balmont may be limited to sprint distances.

Noseda lost one of Britain's most promising fillies when Godolphin bought the undefeated Carry on Katie after victories in the Group 2 Lowther Stakes and the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes, both at six furlongs. Carry on Katie is by the precocious Fasliyev out of a half-sister to Grise Mine and Kostroma, both group-race winners at 1 1/4 miles. She is wintering in Dubai along with Bayeux, a Red Ransom colt who was second to Milk It Mick in the Somerville Tattersalls. Also in Dubai with Saeed bin Suroor are Byron, a promising Green Desert colt who won the Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes at six furlongs, and Mansfield Park, a Green Desert filly.

Johnston has another strong Guineas/Derby candidate in Pearl of Love. The Peintre Celebre colt won listed and Group 3 races going seven furlongs in England, was a close third to One Cool Cat in the Group 1 National Stakes at the same distance, and concluded his season with a victory in Italy's premier juvenile event, the one-mile Gran Criterium.

The powerful Johnston stable also contains Europe's champion juvenile filly, Attraction. Undefeated after five starts, the daughter of Efisio broke a bone two months after a four-length romp in the Group 2 Cherry Hinton Stakes at six furlongs in July. She faces a difficult road back, although her trainer plans to send her in the 1000 Guineas without a prep.

With the exception of Snow Ridge, it is difficult to predict who will mount Britain's home defense of the Epsom Derby. For the English Oaks, however, trainer Michael Stoute has a Selkirk filly named Red Bloom who could be just the ticket.

Winner of the Group 1 Fillies Mile at Ascot, Red Bloom is from the stouthearted family of Ibn Bey and Roseate Tern. She should stay 1 1/2 miles, as should another Stoute trainee, the Rainbow Quest filly Poise. Godolphin's Japanese-bred Sundrop, a Sunday Silence filly who hails from the family of Breeders' Cup Turf winner Northern Spur, is another to keep on the Oaks short list.