12/05/2006 1:00AM

Who should relish Derby distance?


LAS VEGAS - The countdown is on. The 2007 Kentucky Derby, scheduled for May 5, is 21 weeks from this Saturday. It will be difficult to top the banner crop of 3-year-olds that thrilled us this year - the best in many years - but the current group of 2-year-olds has really impressed and there is much to look forward to as the new year begins.

Here is an evaluation of the leading 2-year-olds and their chances to win next spring at 1 1/4 miles by pedigree:

Street Sense: He rocketed to the top of the class after a dazzling performance in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. While the rail-skimming ride over a heavily biased Churchill Downs surface had much to do with his lopsided victory, he nevertheless was superior on the day that it counted. Third in the Breeders' Futurity and Arlington-Washington Futurity, he is an example of an improving young runner who put it all together at the end of the year at 1o1/16 miles.

From the first crop of Street Cry, he is bred to only get better with age and distance. Street Cry was a good juvenile, finishing third behind Macho Uno and Point Given in the 2000 BC Juvenile, but he blossomed as an older runner, winning the Grade 1 Dubai World Cup at 1 1/4 miles as well as the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at 1 1/8 miles. He was also second to the brilliant but ill-fated Left Bank in the Whitney Handicap.

Street Sense is out of a Dixieland Band mare who is a half-sister to stakes winner Binalegend, and his second dam is a half-sister to Mr. Greeley. Inbred 5x4 to the influential Natalma through her daughter Raise the Standard (Hoist the Flag) and son Northern Dancer (Nearctic), he is one of two highly rated juvenile colts who has the Rasmussen Factor or RF (inbreeding to a superior female through different individuals within five generations), a pedigree pattern that is usually an indicator of high class.

Nobiz Like Shobiz: A stunning victory in the Remsen Stakes underscored the high esteem in which he was held before that 6 1/2-length victory over an overmatched field. He is by Albert the Great, a son of 1994 Derby winner Go for Gin who did not race at 2 but started developing at 3, winning the Dwyer Stakes, finishing second in the Travers to Unshaded by a mere nose, and then winning the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles over older runners. At 4, Albert the Great reeled off major victories in the Suburban, Brooklyn, and Widener handicaps, and was second in the Whitney, Pimlico Special, and Donn handicaps and Woodward Stakes, and ended the year finishing third in the BC Classic behind Tiznow and Sakhee.

Out of a Storm Cat mare from a female family cultivated by C.V. Whitney, Nobiz Like Shobiz also has the RF as he is ingeniously inbred 5x4 to one of Whitney's better broodmares, Swoon's Tune, through her daughter Song Sparrow (Tudor Minstrel), the dam of Cormorant, and her daughter, Lilt (Herbager), Nobiz Like Shobiz's third dam. An imposing physical specimen, he should relish 1o1/4 miles.

Tiz Wonderful: A determined winner of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes over a Churchill Downs surface that resembled the golden rail on Breeders' Cup Day, Tiz Wonderful was definitely aided by the biased surface to remain undefeated in three starts. By Horse of the Year Tiznow, who won consecutive runnings of the BC Classic (one over the Churchill Downs strip), he is from the classy James Cox Brady female family of Santorin, who produced Epsom Oaks winner Long Look, Spinaway Stakes winner Meritus, multiple stakes winner Jungle Cove, and Tiz Wonderful's fifth dam, Music Please. Tiz Wonderful's fourth dam, Dancealot, won the Selima Stakes for Woody Stephens, and produced a barrage of quality offspring, including Tights, Whirl Series (the dam of Furiously), Bolger, and Girlfriend, Tiz Wonderful's third dam.

While Tiznow was proven at classic distances, his sire, Cee's Tizzy, is a noted speed influence, and Tiz Wonderful has Hennessy and Mr. Prospector - two strong speed influences - up close in his pedigree. Tiz Wonderful does have stamina influences Tom Rolfe and Round Table in his blood, but they are back in his fourth and fifth generation. Bred to be most effective at middle distances, his class just could be enough to get him 1 1/4 miles, but there is cause for concern.

Circular Quay: Winner of the Hopeful Stakes in Silky Sullivan-type fashion, Circular Quay had an awkward start in the BC Juvenile and dropped to last, so far out of the race during the early going that he appeared to have little chance of having an impact. But he closed the gap between runners on the backstretch, made an explosive move going five-wide on the final turn, and managed to take second place away from Great Hunter, who took a brief lead at the top of the stretch.

Make no mistake, Circular Quay is not just a closing sprinter. By stamina influence Thunder Gulch, winner of the 1995 Derby, Belmont, and Travers, he is out of Spinaway winner Circle of Life. And while his damsire, Belong to Me, is a source of speed, he has more stamina in his pedigree than speed, with such names as Nijinsky II, Alydar, and Round Table. Distance should pose no problem.

Great Hunter: After finishing second over the speed-conducive surfaces of Del Mar and Hollywood Park (before the Cushion Track was installed) in the Del Mar Futurity, Best Pal, and Hollywood Juvenile Championship stakes, Great Hunter was able to show his true ability winning the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland over Circular Quay. Despite a rough trip in the BC Juvenile, he still finished third in a good effort and has the profile of a colt who will excel at 3.

He is from the second crop of stamina influence Aptitude, who was second in the 2000 Kentucky Derby and Belmont. Aptitude won the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and his initial crop yielded Steppenwolfer, who was third in this year's Derby. Great Hunter descends from the good broodmare Indian Nurse, and he is another colt who should be even better next year at longer distances.

Day Pass: Winner of the Nashua Stakes at one mile, Day Pass is by Carson City's best sprinting son, Five Star Day. While Drone, Roberto, and Pretense all aid tremendously in providing much-needed stamina, Day Pass is bred to be a miler who may get nine furlongs, but being at his best at 1 1/4 miles against the best of his generation next spring is a big question mark.

Any Given Saturday: Second in a very game effort to Tiz Wonderful in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, Any Given Saturday has lots of upside. He is by Distorted Humor, Forty Niner's best son at stud. In addition to siring 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide in his first crop, Distorted Humor is also the sire of Flower Alley and Commentator and has steadily ascended the top tier of stallions. His dam, Weekend in Indy, is a half-sister to the classy Second of June, who had to be euthanized this year after breaking down in a workout. Any Given Saturday inherits stamina from damsire A.P. Indy and second damsire Spectacular Bid and should progress into a 3-year-old capable of getting the Derby distance.