03/04/2003 1:00AM

Who's likely to last the distance?


LAS VEGAS - With the Kentucky Derby only eight weeks from this Saturday, the action heats up considerably over the next three weekends with at least 10 prep races. Taking center stage this weekend are the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, both of which are coming up quite strong.

The Louisiana Derby pits the two leading Derby hopefuls, Badge of Silver, winner of the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds, and Kafwain, who won the San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita. The probable field also includes Funny Cide, Commander's Affair, Defrere's Vixen, and Lone Star Sky.

While many 3-year-olds will perform admirably at the 1 1/16-mile distance of both the Louisiana Derby and El Camino Real Derby, the waters get deeper as the Triple Crown preps stretch out to 1 1/8 miles, beginning with the Florida Derby on March 15.

Louisiana Derby

Badge of Silver (by Silver Deputy): With a dazzling performance in the Risen Star Stakes, undefeated Badge of Silver had no problem at 1 1/16 miles. Silver Deputy's offspring possess their sire's speed, and those out of mares by stamina influences have proven effective at classic distances. His two best runners, champion Silverbulletday and Canadian champion Archers Bay, have such a pedigree pattern. Silverbulletday is out of a mare by 1965 Preakness Stakes winner Tom Rolfe (sire of Hoist the Flag) and her second dam is by 1964 Belmont Stakes winner Quadrangle. Archers Bay is out of French Derby winner Val de l'Orne and his second dam is Irish St. Leger winner Caucasus (Nijinsky II). With Silver Hawk (Roberto) as his damsire, and a powerful C.V. Whitney female family, Badge of Silver has the credentials to get 1 1/4 miles.

Kafwain (Cherokee Run): The accomplished Kafwain is a force to respect at 1 1/16 miles, but will he really be as brilliant at 1 1/4 miles? His sire, Cherokee Run, was a champion sprinter at 4 and had so much class he was able to stretch out and finish a strong second to Prairie Bayou in the Preakness Stakes. His runners have always been precocious and he was a champion freshman sire. Blessed with high speed, Cherokee Run's best runners have been champion Chilukki, Yonaguska, and Dream Run, but Cherokee Run's offspring have yet to show the same form beyond 1 1/16 miles.

Funny Cide (Distorted Humor): The offspring of last year's leading freshman sire, Distorted Humor, should be quite capable of getting the Louisiana Derby's 1 1/16-mile distance. Funny Cide also hails from a distinguished Darby Dan female family that includes many stout influences, such as Little Current and Graustark. A question mark at 1 1/4 miles, Funny Cide should be respected at 1 1/16 miles.

Commander's Affair (Deputy Commander): Deputy Commander was a late-blooming son of Deputy Minister who captured the Travers Stakes, Super Derby, and Affirmed Handicap at 3, and Commander's Affair is from his first crop. His runners are proving to be particularly effective beyond one mile, and Commander's Affair is out of a mare by Breeders' Cup Classic winner Black Tie Affair.

El Camino Real Derby

Ministers Wild Cat (Deputy Minister): A half-brother to Breeders' Cup Mile winner War Chant (Danzig), Ministers Wild Cat was the subject of high expectations before he ever raced. He is out of champion 3-year-old filly Hollywood Wildcat, who is by stamina influence Kris S. (Roberto). Although still learning what the game is all about, he won the Golden State Mile on sheer talent, and can step up another level with a victory here.

Ozzie Cat (Storm Cat): Second in the Golden State Derby over a muddy track, Ozzie Cat has a ton of quality in his female family. He is a full brother to stakes winner Apollo Cat and Steady Cat, the dam of Jump Start, and is also a half-brother to Union City, who had a fatal breakdown in the 1993 Preakness. Ozzie Cat's dam is a half-sister to stakes winner and successful sire Miswaki. While the El Camino Real Derby's distance is within his scope, the Kentucky Derby may be a furlong too far.

Mr. Technique (Smart Strike): He is out of a mare by stamina sire Assert (Be My Guest). Since his second dam is by world-class sire Sir Ivor, he should be effective stretching out in distance. He is from the female family of grass champion Manila.

Crackup (Distorted Humor): He won the Cal Cup Juvenile at this distance against statebreds, but was far back in the Santa Catalina Stakes against open company. He will be at his limit at 1 1/16 miles.

Ocean Terrace (Saint Ballado): He has a world of speed, and while dangerous at 1 1/16 miles, it's a big leap to 1 1/4 miles.

Peace Rules (Jules): He is by one of Forty Niner's best-bred sons. Jules is from the family that produced Northern Dancer, Danehill, and Machiavellian. While Peace Rules is a proven talent on turf, he has yet to show the same brilliance on dirt. The male influences in Peace Rules's pedigree are all sources of speed (Hold Your Peace, Greek Answer, Never Bend).