04/02/2008 12:00AM

Who else will run a Big Brown fig?


PHILADELPHIA - The question really did not have an answer when posed two weeks ago. Why have no winners of a Kentucky Derby prep gotten a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure?

There were theories, but no facts. Perhaps it was the effect of an artificial surface, or whatever they are using at Santa Anita these days. Many of the Santa Anita "dirt" races were being run like grass races, with slow paces and sprints to the finish line, the kind of races where fast final times are almost impossible.

Once Santa Anita form had been established, the theory went, it affected how horses were perceived in their next starts there or elsewhere. The theory makes some sense, but perhaps this is not all that complicated.

Maybe, the best 2-year-olds (Pyro and War Pass) just did not progress in normal fashion and ran their best Beyers last year. Perhaps that is all they are ever going to be.

Or there is a chance that almost all of the best horses simply are not fast. Certainly, there should have been more than a few triple-digit Beyers by now, given that we are just days away from most of the final major preps.

It is also possible that the racing gods merely wanted to confuse us before unleashing Big Brown in that off-the-turf eye opener on March 5 at Gulfstream. Word was already out about Big Brown, how the colt was crushing everything in training.

If you saw Big Brown win that day by 12 3/4 lengths and earn a 104 Beyer, you could not help but be impressed. It was an amazing performance.

Everybody saw Big Brown overwhelm the Florida Derby cast last weekend with his speed and power. This was Spend a Buck at Garden State Park in 1985. This was awesome. This was a 106 Beyer, the only triple-digit Beyer of the Derby prep season.

I loved the way Big Brown stretched out the field. That is almost always the sign of a top-class horse.

So Big Brown has settled part of the original question, if not all of it. There is one colt capable of running the kind of Beyer it will take to win the Derby. What we still don't know is, are there are more?

Saturday's Wood Memorial, Illinois Derby, and Santa Anita Derby may supply an answer.

Really, what if War Pass gets loose on the lead in the Wood? We know the colt can run big Beyer Figures. He showed that last year. It is obvious why War Pass did not fire in the Tampa Bay Derby. The colt simply got confused without a clear lead. I would not be surprised if he fires a big one in the Wood. In fact, I hope he does because I would still like to bet against War Pass in the Derby.

One thing that does appear likely about this Derby is that we will have a serious pace, maybe even the kind of meltdown pace that gave us Monarchos and Giacomo. Unless War Pass shows another dimension in the Wood, I am willing to take a stand against him in any race where he is not going to clear the field in reasonable fractions.

Denis of Cork could get into the triple digits at Hawthorne on Saturday. Colonel John or El Gato Malo could make that forward move into triple-digit territory at Santa Anita.

Some horse could run a big one in the Blue Grass or Arkansas Derby a week from Saturday. With those five major preps left, you have to think there will be a horse or horses that are going to find Beyer triple-digit territory.

What about the Larry Jones-trained filly Proud Spell, a late Derby nominee? She ran faster in the Fair Grounds Oaks than Pyro did in the Louisiana Derby and runs in Saturday's Ashland Stakes. Proud Spell ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.01 just before Pyro ran the distance in 1:44.44. Proud Spell got a 99 Beyer. Pyro got a 95.

With the specter of 20 Derby horses emerging from the starting gates on May 3, it is quite difficult to make any pronouncements at this point. We do know Big Brown is more than fast enough to win. We know the colt has raced only three times, but anybody who takes that too seriously has not been paying attention over the last few years. We wait to see if there are others as fast as Big Brown.