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The Derby: th-Atswhatimtalknabout

Jan 21, 2003 12:18 AM

It’s never too early for Derby Fever.

This year, thanks to a plethora of precocious 3-year-olds in Southern California, the racing cognoscente in has been smitten harder and earlier than usual.

Maiden winners Atswhatimtalknabout, Southern Image, Minister’s Wild Cat and Ten Most Wanted have Kentucky Derby future book aficionados running, not walking, to their favorite race book.

With undefeated Breeders?Cup Juvenile champion Vindication looking less than spectacular in his abbreviated work schedule to date, and with February approaching and no agenda announced for the son of Seattle Slew by trainer Bob Baffert, it might be wise, and profitable, to support the aforementioned quartet.

Atswhatimtalknabout won his maiden outing in eye-catching fashion, closing from next-to-last at the quarter pole to win by a half-length going 6?furlongs on Jan. 4. The $900,000 Kentucky-bred son of A.P. Indy is trained by Ron Ellis.

Southern Image won his maiden race by three lengths in 1:15, defeating the highly regarded Minister’s Wild Cat in the process. The Florida-bred son of Halo’s Image is trained by Mike Machowsky.

Minister’s Wild Cat came back to break his maiden by 7?lengths on Jan. 11, and couldn’t have been more impressive. The Kentucky-bred son of Deputy Minister out of the champion mare Hollywood Wildcat is trained by Neil Âí­Drysdale, who won the 2000 Derby with Fusaichi Pegasus.

Ten Most Wanted broke his maiden by daylight on Jan. 5, drawing off with authority through the stretch. The son of Deputy Commander trained by Wally Dollase will make his next start in the 11/8-mile Sham Stakes on Feb. 7.

The Derby is more than three months hence, but it’s never too soon to get an opinion from Gary Young, professional gambler, clocker and bloodstock agent.

"Minister’s Wild Cat was very impressive, but I don’t know how far he wants to go," Young said. "The Ellis horse is a very nice horse. Conformationally, he’s not perfect but he acts like he should like going a distance of ground. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Machowsky horse wound up going long, too. According to pedigree, Minister’s Wild Cat is supposed to be a better horse than Southern Image. But that horse of Dollase’s, Ten Most Wanted, is a pretty good horse, too."

That said, and knowing the Derby is more than three months away on May 3, who is Young’s choice?

"Either Atswhatimtalknabout or Ten Most Wanted."

THE HOMESTRETCH: It didn’t come as a major shock when Eddie Delahoussaye announced his retirement last Monday. He had been hinting at it for months, even before the dreadful spill at Del Mar last Aug. 30 that had sidelined him since and ultimately ended his career after 36 years. He told me at Santa Anita two weeks ago that if doctors didn’t give him a green light to resume riding, he would hang it up. And he told me a couple months before the accident, in the jocks? room at Hollywood Park, that when his career was over, it would be without fanfare, no farewell tour, no celebration in the winner’s circle. He meant it. "No, I really don’t want that," the 51-year-old Hall of Fame rider reaffirmed a day after he announced his retirement. "As for the future, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to take some time off and just go from there." . . . Southern California’s limited horse population will take another hit this summer when trainer Cliff Sise Jr. ships about 25 head to Philadelphia Park under the supervision of his 20-year-old son, Robert. Sise said his move was prompted by the high cost of workmen’s compensation premiums in the Golden State.