02/12/2003 12:00AM

Your guess is as good as mine


PHILADELPHIA - It's that time again: Time to commence the annual exercise in futility that is picking the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Some might consider it difficult to separate the 446 Triple Crown nominees in the second week of February. But how much more difficult is it than trying to separate the 18 or so that will actually appear in the Churchill Downs starting gate?

I know this: I don't like Vindication.

Other than that, I don't know much as we head into Pool 1.

Trying to make sense of this now is like trying to put a priceless glass pitcher back together after it has shattered on the kitchen floor. It is pointless, but stops nobody from thinking it can be done.

Therefore, I have decided to look at this from several angles. Will any of it matter in the end? Who knows.

We know that D. Wayne Lukas and former Team Lukas assistants Todd Pletcher and Mark Hennig have nominated 61. Is the winner in there somewhere?

We know that the Derby's Holy Trinity of our generation (Lukas, Bob Baffert, and Nick Zito) has 49 nominees. Should we just look there and forget the other 397?

I went for the letters. There are 27 A's. I didn't go to the B's.

Don't know about you, but I happen to love horses with names beginning with X. I was very disappointed to learn there are no X's.

Somebody told me they breed good horses in Kentucky. So I decided to just concentrate on Kentucky-breds. There were 322. I looked elsewhere.

Years ago on one unforgettable sub-freezing day at Bowie, a friend whispered to me that whenever you see a Utah-bred in a race, look no further. The race, he told me, is over. You never ever go against Utah-breds. I never forgot that.

Imagine my excitement when I saw that a single Utah-bred had been nominated. Eureka. The secret had been found.

So, which horse was bred in Utah? Something tells me the horse is not among the 23 individual horses in Pool 1 and who wants a lock Utah- bred as part of the overbet field?

There will be time later to check out the Utah-bred. Right now, it's my secret.

I don't know about you, but I like horses by A.P. Indy and Storm Cat. Think anybody else is aware those two are pretty good sires? Sifting through their 31 offspring should prove fruitful.

Godolphin nominated 19. I figure they have as much chance as Vindication.

To review, there are 446 horses nominated. Only one, barring a dead heat, can win the Derby. From now until then, everybody will have an opinion. And that opinion will change about as often as the sun comes up.

My serious advice is to pay attention, but keep an open mind. Don't fall in love yet. It's way too soon.

This is so much fun because it's so ridiculously difficult. That's the nature of the sport and certainly the nature of its marquee event. There are no shortcuts. Unless, of course, you have access to some really good information.

Anybody seen Chris Harn lately?