Forget the Kentucky Derby, Preakness is its own race

Paddy O'Prado prepares for Preakness with gallop at Pimlico yesterday with Faustino Aguilar.
Paddy O'Prado prepares for Preakness with gallop at Pimlico yesterday with Faustino Aguilar.
Posted: May 15, 2010

BALTIMORE - After the Kentucky Derby, just about every trainer and jockey has an excuse - except the winner.

The Preakness is about finding out which excuses were valid and whether the Derby was the true measure of the runners.

This Preakness, however, is a bit different, because seven of the 12 horses did not run in the Derby, and the form of even the most obvious contenders is hardly overwhelming.

Consider that Derby winner Super Saver is only 3-for-7. Paddy O'Prado, third in the Derby, is 1-for-7. Aikenite, Pleasant Prince, Northern Giant and First Dude have won a single race each.

Only Lookin At Lucky, Caracortado and Jackson Bend have won half their races or more.

"I can see us laying a little closer at Pimlico," said Todd Pletcher, Super Saver's trainer.

Which might be a good thing. Or maybe Super Saver's best race will be one in which he has a hot pace in front of him. This race does not figure to have anything like the pace of the Derby. There won't be 20 horses. And it is supposed to be a fast track. So, there really should be fewer excuses.

"I got stopped cold at the quarter-pole," said Paddy O'Prado's jockey, Kent Desormeaux. "If I got through, I would have won. He stumbled real bad at the sixteenth pole. He must have stepped in a hole. My horse, he ran his heart out. He just didn't have the luck."

Or maybe he just wasn't good enough.

Trainer Bob Baffert said he stopped watching Lookin At Lucky after the first of two bumps. The colt made a run, but finished sixth. Lucky surely is better than that, but how much better?

Jockey Calvin Borel knows Churchill Downs better than anybody on earth. But can he win at Pimlico with Super Saver?

"I figured it out last year, so we'll be all right," Borel said.

Last year, he had Rachel Alexandra at Pimlico. Super Saver is a nice colt, but is he that nice?

Pletcher was the guy who could not win a Triple Crown race. Then, he won the 2007 Belmont Stakes with Rags To Riches, beating eventually two-time Horse of the Year Curlin in a stretch duel. Now he's won the Derby. Why not win the Preakness, too?

"My mom said it was the greatest day of her life," Pletcher said of the Derby win. "I'm very fortunate to have very supportive parents. Obviously, my dad introduced me to the game, and I worked with him, and my mom is a huge horse-racing fan and has always been one of my best advisors."

It looked as if there might be a strong Philadelphia Park connection in this Preakness, but Tony Dutrow did not like the way A Little Warm was training. So he did not enter the colt.

Derek Ryan, however, did enter Schoolyard Dreams. The colt broke his maiden at the Pha last November and trained there after he finished fourth in the Wood Memorial. Now at Monmouth Park, Schoolyard Dreams was the last of the 12 on the scene, after being vanned down I-95 early yesterday morning.

Mike Machowsky was at Pimlico 6 years ago when the terrific Southern Image won the Pimlico Special after winning the Santa Anita Handicap. He brings the tough gelding Caracortado to the Triple Crown stage after not being pointed for the Derby because of insufficient graded stakes earnings. The horse has gained 29 points since his last start, a fourth in the Santa Anita Derby. And, naturally, he had an excuse in that race.

"If you look at the replay, my horse had as much trouble, if not more trouble than Lookin At Lucky," Machowsky said. "He checked, fell back to almost last and came four and five wide."

Baffert and Wayne Lukas have won the Preakness nine times between them, but the last win was 8 years ago. Lukas is in with Afleet Alex' son Dublin and the seemingly overmatched Northern Giant.

Pletcher actually has a second horse in Aikenite, a colt that has kept top company, but has not won since winning his Saratoga debut last August.

Rick Dutrow is not bragging on Yawanna Twist as he did on Big Brown 2 years ago. But the colt is not bad, with two wins and two seconds in four career starts.

Nick Zito promises Jackson Bend will be a lot closer to the pace than he was in the Derby. But the trainer is reserving the stable star, Ice Box, for the Belmont Stakes in 3 weeks.

Out of all that will come the Preakness winner, a horse that will need no excuses.

Barbaro's brother in Dixie

It really has been 4 years since Barbaro was the most impressive winner of the Derby in decades. And 4 years since the Triple Crown dream died a few hundred yards into the Preakness when the colt's right rear leg was shattered.

In today's Dixie Stakes at Pimlico, the race before the Preakness, Barbaro's full brother, Nicanor, makes his stakes debut. The 4-year-old colt is giving away a lot of experience to a very tough group of stakes horses, including $1 million-earner Just As Well, who is trained by Jonathan Sheppard, the Chester County neighbor of Nicanor's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson.

The Dixie is to be run at 1 1/8 miles on grass. There was always some debate about Barbaro - better on grass or dirt. The colt never lost on either surface until he was injured.

Nicanor is only 2-for-6, with three dirt starts and three grass starts. Both his wins are on grass, so that might be his preferred surface. Today, everybody will see whether he is good enough not only to win on grass, but also to win against some very good competition.

Black-Eyed Susan Stakes

Acting Happy, ridden by Jose Lezcano, won yesterday's Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. No Such Word was second, and Tidal Pool, ridden by Calvin Borel, finished third.

Jockeys Kent Desormeaux (Seeking the Title) and Julien Leparoux (Diva Delight) fell off their mounts when Diva Delight and C C's Pal appeared to click heels in the far turn. Neither jockey appeared to be hurt. *

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