It's six weeks until the Kentucky Derby and one horse, Afternoon Deelites, already appears to be a standout.
His credentials are impressive: Las Vegas winter book favorite at 2-1 odds; undefeated and winner of five straight races, including a one-length victory in his last start in the San Felipe Stakes over 1994 2-year-old champ Timber Country; high speed ratings; and to top it off, the colt is surrounded by a team of managers who are undisputedly possessed of star quality.
The horse's owner is a Hollywood celebrity, Academy Award-winning songwriter Burt Bacharach. His trainer is the witty Dick Mandella.
His jockey, Kent Desormeaux, not only ranks as a top rider at the Southern California tracks, but also finds time to put in an occasional appearance on "Baywatch."
But, hard as it might be, forget about Afternoon Deelites winning the 121st Kentucky Derby.
So says Houston chemist Steve Roman, the man whose system of doping out Derby winners based on pedigree and early 2-year-old maturity has proven to be uncannily accurate. Only once since 1929 has Roman's Dosage system -- a ratio quantifying inherited speed to endurance based on four generations of the horse's pedigree -- failed to accurately determine the Derby winner. That was in 1991 with Strike the Gold.
Last year, when it seemed the whole world was loading up on Holy Bull, the horse with the lowest Dosage Index, which indicates the most staying power, wound up the Derby winner. That was 9-1 long shot Go For Gin with a 1.00 Dosage number.
He was one of five horses that qualified as the Derby winner under Roman's rules. The winner should have a Dosage number of 4.00 or lower and he should also have ranked at 116 pounds or higher on the Experimental Free Handicap, a theoretical ranking of horses' ability compiled by a panel of experts at the completion of their 2-year-old season.
Last year, Go For Gin, Blumin Affair, Brocco, Tabasco Cat and Valiant Nature were so-called "dual qualifiers." Three of them -- Go For Gin, Blumin Affair and Brocco-- finished 1, 3 and 4, respectively, in the 14-horse field.
Although Afternoon Deelites ranked second on the 1994 Experimental at 124 pounds to highweighted Timber Country, he's a Derby castoff on pedigree. His Dosage Index is 5.00.
"He's just not a legitimate 1 1/4 -mile Derby prospect," Roman said. "The only way I see him winning the race is if the rest of the field falls apart."
Roman said that Afternoon Deelites is bred to be a high-class miler.
"He is in-bred to Bold Ruler, and that means speed," he said. "But putting all of that and his Dosage Index aside, look at how slow he finished in his last race. Although he beat Timber Country, he was struggling at the end (in a 1 1/16-mile race)."
The only dual qualifiers that appear to be sound and on target to win this year's Derby are Timber Country, Thunder Gulch and the filly Serena's Song, Roman said. All three are trained by D. Wayne Lukas.
"I can't think of any greater accomplishment in racing than to have the 1-2-3 finishers in the Kentucky Derby," Roman said.
Although Lukas has said Serena's Song will run in the Kentucky Oaks and not the Derby, the filly faces males this weekend in the Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park. If she wins decisively, it's quite possible that Lukas might rethink his position. Right now, Roman added, Timber Country, although he has yet to win a race in 1995, and Thunder Gulch, the Florida Derby winner, appear to be Kentucky Derby standouts.
"I anticipate Timber Country coming to hand at the Derby and although the 1 1/4 miles might be stretching it a bit for Thunder Gulch, he's putting out the best speed figures of any 3-year-old so far this season," Roman said.
Timber Country has a Dosage Index of 2.45 and ranked at 126 pounds on the Experimental. Thunder Gulch is right on the cusp of Roman's criteria. His Dosage Index is 4.00 and he was assigned 116 pounds on the Experimental. Serena's Song has a 2.11 Dosage Index and was second highweighted filly on the Experimental to Flanders at 122 pounds.
Other dual qualifiers are Tejano Run and On Target, but both have suffered recent physical problems.
Roman added that although about half of the Derby preps have already been run, with the other half coming up in the next few weeks, "the results don't mean that much. They are a measure of the horse's condition and soundness. But just because a horse wins one of these races, doesn't mean it will win the Derby. Sea Hero was fourth in the Blue Grass right before he won the  Derby. Last year Go For Gin was second in the Wood Memorial prior to the Derby. Pedigree and high class form as a 2-year-old. Those are the two ingredients that have proven over and over again what a horse will do at 1 1/4 miles on the first Saturday in May."
Mobberley's favorite horses
Although Jack Mobberley trained more than 20 stakes winners during his 30-year career at the Maryland tracks, his two favorite horses, All Kings and J. Carl K., weren't among them.
Mobberley, who died early last week from cancer, always thought All Kings, a homebred black colt sired by King's Bishop out of the mare All Ahead, was the most talented runner he had trained. But the horse's record was compromised by physical problems. Even though he never won or placed in a stakes, All Kings won 10 races and more than $120,000. He ended up standing at stud in West Virginia.
J. Carl K. was Mobberley's mount in the Howard County hunt field for 15 years. As a runner, J. Carl K. once equaled the track record for five furlongs at Delaware Park. But he really excelled in his second career as a riding horse.
If there was a lull in the action during a hunt, J. Carl K. stood perfectly quiet while Mobberley cracked jokes or bantered with his friends. But if hounds were in full cry, he was swift enough to carry Mobberley in the hunt's first flight.
Square Cut tries Grade I
Maryland-bred Square Cut takes on Grade I competition for the first time in his West Coast campaign today when he starts against Sandpit and five other horses in the $250,000 San Luis Rey Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
The horse is trained by Joe Devereux, who left Laurel Park with about a half-dozen horses last year to race in California.
In his last start, jockey Chris Antley switched tactics. Instead of setting the pace, he rated Square Cut off early leader Silver Wizard and won the Grade II San Luis Obispo Stakes.
Devereux hopes the newly ratable Square Cut reappears today.
Devereux recently retired stakes-placed Dior's Angel and sold her to Kentucky breeder Craig Wheeler, who is mating her this spring with Storm Bird.
In addition to about eight runners at Santa Anita, Devereux also has three horses at the Aiken Training Center in Aiken, S.C., with Marylander Suzy Haslup.
Trainer Nancy Heil has rebuilt the barn on her Montgomery County farm that was devastated by fire on Jan. 27 and is just about ready to move horses into the building. Heil lost Arlene Kushner's Laurel record holder, Fighting Notion, in the fire. . . . Two of Maryland's fastest racehorses, Montbrook and Secret Odds, have been retired and will stand at farms outside the state. Montbrook will stand in Florida at Ocala Stud and Secret Odds is at Glencrest Farm in Midway, Ky.
ROAD TO TRIPLE CROWN
Date Race (Grade), Track, Winner
1/14 El Camino Real (III), Bay Meadows, Jumron
2/12 San Vicente (III), Santa Anita, Afternoon Deelites
2/18 Fountain Of Youth (II), Gulfstream, Thunder Gulch
3/4 San Rafael (II), Santa Anita, Larry The Legend
3/4 Best Turn (III), Aqueduct, Da Hoss
3/11 Florida Derby (I), Gulfstream, Thunder Gulch
3/19 San Felipe (II), Santa Anita, Afternoon Deelites
3/19 Louisiana Derby (III), Fair Grounds, Petionville
3/25 Gotham (II), Aqueduct, Talkin Man
Yet to come
Date Race (Grade), Track, Winner
4/1 Jim Beam (II), Turfway, --
4/1 Rebel (III), Oaklawn, --
4/8 Santa Anita Derby (I), Santa Anita, --
4/15 Blue Grass (II), Keeneland, --
4/15 Wood Memorial (II), Aqueduct, --
4/22 Arkansas Derby (II), Oaklawn, --
4/22 Federico Tesio (III), Pimlico, --
4/23 Lexington (II), Keeneland, --
4/29 Derby Trial (III), Churchill Downs, --