LOOKING FOR A MAGIC TWIST IN BALTIMORE...TWELVE HOPING FOR SECOND DELIVERY (OR BETTER ?) IN PREAKNESS 133
By Jim Hurley:
For a few days after the Kentucky Derby, while the racing world was trying to catch the breath shortened by Big Brown's vacuum creating whorl through the Churchill Downs stretch, it appeared as though all but a short handful of challengers would try him in the Preakness. But hope springs eternal, so when post positions were drawn on Wednesday afternoon, there we were with a field of thirteen, including eleven newcomers that don't yet know any better, and one intrepid returnee (Gayego), who had two minutes plus to get a solid rear-end idea of what Big Brown made of him and others in the Kentucky Derby.Hey Byrn - Much was made of the fact that no horse has ever won the Preakness from post thirteen, but with the defection of Behindatthebar due to a foot injury, the colt is no longer saddled with that unlucky number. There are a lot of things to like about the son of Put It Back. Most of all is his ability to win races. He has been triumphant in three of his last four, including the Grade III Holy Bull at the Preakness distance in his last. Trainer Eddie Plesa was hoping to get this guy into the Derby, but just as was the case with a number of others, the colt came up short in graded earnings. He may not have beaten much in the Holy Bull or in a second level mile and an eighth allowance three races back, but it was the ease with which he dispatched those fields that was impressive. Obviously bettors will hold his 15 lengths beat by Big Brown in the Florida Derby against him, but it is worth noting that he was slammed pretty hard at the start in that race and never was able to get into his recent comfort zone of stalking and pressing the early pace. Like many in the race, his breeding questions his ability to get a distance of ground, but those are the ones he is running against so they share his supposed liability while other than Big Brown, none in here but this guy has proven an ability to win beyond nine furlongs. It is probably also important to consider that in his three wins from his last four races, he didn't get up in the final strides but assumed the lead by at least the furlong marker. This attribute could go a long way towards putting him in contention by mid-stretch. Chucky Lopez, who rode him for the first time and so adroitly in the Holy Bull once more takes the reins. You can probably expect a solid effort.
"I think we could all be in trouble if he [Big Brown] runs the same race he ran in the Derby. We're hoping to pick up the pieces, but it is a horse race. A lot of things can happen. It would be a shame not to be in there and not have the opportunity to win. He's doing well, and he has a good win over the track"
Trainer Graham Motion, on Ichabod Crane, who won the Tesio Stakes here on April 19th
"If Big Brown runs his race, it looks like he's the winner. We're all here to try our best and see what happens."
Trainer Paddy Gallagher, who will send out Yankee Bravo
"Second money, probably."
Trainer Ken McPeek, when asked why there were as many as twelve challengers to Big Brown.
Expecting An On Time Delivery - Hoping For A Flat Tire
Whether or not they know what the word means, every horse player is experientially aware that thoroughbred racing is fraught with irony.
For those who skipped English Class in general and Vocabulary in particular in order to get an early start in mastering the Sport of Kings, irony is not the material used in making horseshoes and is not the kind of constitution you need to win the Triple Crown. Irony is in essence the incongruity between what might be expected and what actually happens.
For instance, in 1995, I vividly remember promising to jump off the roof of the clubhouse, if, as one of my associates suggested, Federico Tesio Stakes émigré Oliver's Twist won that year's running. Well, only a rough trip by that locally based runner put Timber Country in the winner's circle as the long shot checked in second and kept me off the roof and from going off the roof. In 2002, trainer Nancy Alberts almost pulled off the ultimate shocker as 45-1 shot Magic Weisner, exiting a solid rally in the Federico Tesio, came within ¾ of a length of catching War Emblem. Ironically, by falling just short, he set up that year's Derby and Preakness winner for the ultimate upset when another minor Maryland Stakes (the Sir Barton) undercard winner, Sarava, returned three weeks later to upset the Belmont Stakes and War Emblem's Triple Crown bid at 70-1.
So it is a stretch to envision last out Federico Tesio Stakes winner Icabad Crane finding a hollow in the stretch and creating a legend? Probably! Will it be mutual suicide to bet against Big Brown, who on the race track at Churchill Downs and on paper appears to have little standing in his way of heading to the Big Apple as the fourth horse of this new millennium in search of the Triple Crown? Most likely! But as trainer Nick Zito would say (with liberties taken), they don't run these races on paper they run them on dirt, or perhaps in the future, attic material.
And the thing about this year's Preakness is...it isn't going to be any easier for the public to find the two or three that would be projected to finish behind Big Brown than it would to find one who might pull the upset. Let's face it...you can be about 99% certain saying that a loss by Big Brown in the Preakness isn't going to be caused by what one or more of the other twelve does, but by what Big Brown doesn't...ironically speaking.
Who has a chance? Who doesn't? Who knows?
Let's take a look from the rail out.
The Preakness Preview
Macho Again - The son of sharp young sire Macho Uno finally beat a name rival last time out when he conquered Kodiak Kowboy in the Derby Trial a week before the Kentucky Derby. But I'm not sure that necessarily signifies this guy is ready for the better ones in here as KK has pretty much defined himself as a sprinter and is on a bit of a slide. Macho Again's class is probably better defined by his 12 ¾ length loss to derby no-show Adriano in the Grade II Lane's End and 13 length loss as a juvenile behind Racecar Rhapsody when those two hooked up in a MSW at Keeneland. It is also noteworthy that although the Dallas Stewart Trainee has won three times, the Derby Trial distance of 7 ½ panels has been his longest success to date. In both the one mile Grade III Lecomte and the mile and an eighth Grade III Lane's End he tracked the pace from mid-pack, never got in threatening position and lost considerable ground through the lane. If you are looking for positives you can cling to the fact that he is bred to get the distance, and in this era of maladroit transfer from synthetic to traditional dirt, the colt can at least lay claim to have won his last two over an old-time surface. Has only had one work in the 21 days since the Derby Trial, a slow half mile breeze last Saturday. Julien Leparoux returns and like a number of his rivals, the colt picks up considerable weight, adding nine pounds since his last. Will probably press or stalk down the backstretch, but appears limited when they start running for real down the lane.
Tres Borraches - It appeared as though his Grade II Arkansas Derby race was decent enough, given the fact that he set and pressed the pace along with Gayego until they past the quarter pole. At that point it looked as though he was going to plummet backwards, but after being passed by Indian Sun he dug in along the rail and came back a bit for the show behind Gayego and Z Fortune. However, given the way those two didn't show up in Louisville, one might question just how strong his Oaklawn run was. He has finished third twice on traditional dirt and does have tactical speed, so he could settle into good position from this post and save ground. But he still has to prove he has the heart to win and the no-how. He is one of five horses in the race that have never won a race other than their maiden breaker. He also needed :39 3/5 to run the last three furlongs of the 9 furlong Arkansas Derby, so another sixteenth might be that much tougher. If everything goes right he could take third or fourth by default, but that defines just about every one of the eleven that are challenging the Derby winner. Tyler Baze makes the trip east to handle the assignment fro trainer Beau Greeley after getting aboard for the first time at Oaklawn, and he is among the group picking up considerable weight, adding eight pounds from his last.
Icabad Crane - Could be this year's Max Weisner or Oliver's Twist, a pair of three-year olds that exited the Federico Tesio and ran second at huge odds in the 2002 and 1995 Preakness respectively. I'm sure that would be more than satisfactory for trainer Graham Motion, who is adept at getting horses to step up and perform well in stakes. Like Big Brown, Icabad Crane enters the Preakness with only four lifetime races. Unlike Big Brown, the NYSB colt has yet to win, place or even face graded rivals. In his lone test vs anything close to those he will face on Saturday the son of Jump Start finished s talking third behind Big Glen and Miner's Claim in the 100K Rushaway Stakes at Turfway Park. But those two were nowhere to be seen when they tested graded company one race later, so Motion will definitely have to work his magic if he hopes for a Tesio magic twist. On the plus side, the colt is bred for distance with sire Jump Start a son of A.p. Indy and the dam Adorahy (a relatively accomplished race horse) being a daughter of Rahy. Those lines also help over a wet surface as this guy showed when he broke his maiden on a muddy Aqueduct surface in his debut. Jeremy Rose, who has a healthy 30% win rate (mostly on the mid-Atlantic circuit) in 2008 will once again take the assignment after climbing aboard for the first time to grab the Tesio victory.
Yankee Bravo - By the overall standards of the eleven challengers to the 1-2 favorite, this guy may have the most untarnished credentials. A three time winner from five career races, the Patrick Gallagher trainee missed the Kentucky Derby due to a lack of graded earnings and has continued to work forwardly after last placing fourth in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby. On the down side, the one-two finishers from that race, Colonel John and Bob Black Jack were absolutely miserable in the Kentucky Derby. On the upside, Yankee Bravo ran a much better race in the Santa Anita Derby than appears on paper, and has already proven an ability to run on traditional dirt. In the santa Anita Derby he was settled back off the early pace by regular rider Alex Solis and got stuck down along the rail, which for that and many days was absolutely the worst part of the race track. Solis had to wait for room with a colt eager to move and once he did get out he moved up well while losing ground and finished the final three panels in :36 1/5. He was beaten 4 lengths for it all in a race that saw the eventual second and third place finishers stay on the front end through a soft :47 2/5 half while Colonel John got a solid trip to catch them late. Yankee Bravo also had to wait for room and altered course to the outside when he finished third, beaten 3 ½ lengths by Pyro in the Grade II Louisiana Derby at fair Grounds. He's never run a bad race, has turned in three serious works at Hollywood since his last and figures to handle the distance. He could step up.
Behindatthebar - Late Scratch
Racecar Rhapsody - There seems to be a lot of buzz around this colt. Maybe it's the Ken McPeek upset thing (Sarava at 70-1 in the 2002 Belmont) or the fact that Robbie Albarado, who rode Curlin to victory here in last year's Preakness is aboard. Or perhaps it's just that he has looked good doing just enough to tease, but much too late in four straight graded stakes races since breaking his maiden at Keeneland in October of 2007. There is no question the son of Tale Of The Cat gives you an effort every time out. He is also ultra consistent as his four graded stakes tries have fallen within the 92-97 BRIS speed figure rating in each. But this will be only his third start as a three-year old and the previous two have been fourth place finishes in the Grade II Lane's End and Grade II Lexington. Although the idea that Pimlico favors speed continues to pervade the consensus mind-set, closers do just as well over this surface. But this guy always comes so late to the dance that one has to wonder how he will do here after not getting it done against rivals that have made no impact at all on the Triple Crown scene after doing well in those preps. These are always the most difficult kind of runner to leave off a ticket because they are always threatening to finally make that big run...and this guy has also shown that he can handle traditional dirt. But despite his "good looks" he is one of those five runners without a second lifetime win. Based on his ML of 30-1 he'll probably be one of the few "underlays" in here, but hitting the board is not impossible, he has turned in a pair of solid five furlong drills in preparation. As far as being the one that pulls the improbable upset, he is pretty far down on that list as the eligibility for NW2L status and McPeek's 4% success rate in graded stakes would signal.
Big Brown - How much time should I spend in exhortation? How about none? You don't need me to tell you that if the colt loses it will be most assuredly due to one mishap or another on his part and not the exploits of any of his eleven challengers. If he should stub a hoof, let's hope it occurs because he doesn't like a drying out or still wet surface or the two weeks break after competing following comfortable interludes in between races or because he has been away from his Florida base for a few weeks now after spending the entire winter and spring there. Let's hope for that and not what befell Barbaro in 2006. He should win the race...and if you are going to cash a ticket it will come from correctly aligning his opponents behind him.
Kentucky Bear - As this year's suspect three-year old crop continues to grow, the lesser they've shown the fruits of their labors, the better it might be. This guy is a prime example. He has only had three career races, so has only had one occasion on which he drew negative attention. Of course he is also still eligible for NW2L status, but his debut win and third place Grade I Blue Grass effort showed enough to make him considerable. In his debut he swamped MSW opponents going a mile at Gulfstream. The son of Mr. Greeley was in hand early in that test and drew off at will when asked. He completed his final quarter in sharp time without being urged and ran away from speedy Samba Rooster, who came within 50 yards of wiring the Grade II Lexington. After getting a bad start that turned into a tough trip in the Grade II Fountain of Youth, trainer Reade Baker gave the colt another 7 weeks and was rewarded with a solid effort in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes. The son of Mr Greely is definitely going to have to grow up in a hurry, but if his last three works are any indication, he could be sitting on a huge race. Before leaving Kentucky he turned in a pair of five furlong bullets, negotiating a best of twenty breeze (notably) over a muddy CD surface in :59 3/5 on 4/26 and then a best of nine handy work in :59 flat on May 3. He arrived at Pimlico last week and was out for a five furlong breeze in 1:01 flat over a sloppy surface last Saturday. Baker has brought Kentucky jock Jamie Theriot, who gave the colt a good ride in the Blue Grass to Maryland with him and he is only picking up three pounds after carrying 123 in the Keeneland Stakes. There are a lot of things to like, so he wouldn't be a total surprise if he continiues his march to maturity.
Stevil - Trainer Nick Zito says this guy is going to hit the board on Saturday. Maybe he thinks he's Richard Dutrow. Or perhaps the conditioner means that the son of Maria's Mon is going to bear out at the top of the stretch and hit a support board on the outer fence. One of the ignominious quintet that has yet to win a race other than the maiden breaker, the colt was last seen closing some ground to finish fourth in the Blue Grass. Here we go again, but ironically, in that race he posted his bets career BRIS speed figure, a 94...over the synthetic surface the trainer so abhors. In his last two traditional dirt races he made little impact at 95-1 when he started and finished well back of the top four in the Grade II Louisiana Derby and was beaten 9 lengths going a mile in a Gulfstream entry allowance on January 30. Obviously I'm being a bit tongue-in-cheek with Zito's prediction, and my respect for the guy is well documented. But since winning this race with Louis Quatorze in 1996, the trainer has been 0-12 with his entrants. On the plus side, Stevil was beaten only a length by Yankee Bravo in the LAD and a length by Kentucky Bear in the Blue Grass and John Velazquez has taken the assignment. Zito is always easier to root for than against, but this guy may need much more than a rooting section...especially if he is carrying real dollars.
Riley Tucker - The key here is trainer Bill Mott. The conditioner is among the most patient of horsemen, and if he doesn't think a horse is ready for the rigors of this sort of competition he won't press the issue. A quick glance at the past performance lines for this son of Harlan's Holiday doesn't scream encouragement, but Mott must have seen something he liked about the colt's efforts iu his last two races in order to send him to Baltimore. Two races back the colt was slated for the grass in the Transylvania Stakes on opening day at Keeneland. But that test was washed off the lawn and the trainer left him in to face seven rivals on the synthetic main track. He showed good tactical speed and though he couldn't get to the winner, did finish second after getting bumped solidly at the break and racing four wide for much of the race. Encouraged enough to abandon the turf experiment for a while the colt was sent out 15 days later in the Grade II Lexington, a definitely uncharacteristic Mott maneuver and the horse tracked the runaway pace of Samba Rooster, made a move off the turn and hung late when Behindatthebar assumed control. On the plus side, the colt has good juvenile foundation placing in graded stakes at Belmont and Arlington after winning his debut and has hit the board in his last three. On the negative end, he is the fifth and final of his group to still be eligible for a second career victory and hasn't exactly set the world on fire in his morning drills. But I'll wrap up where I started. This is Bill Mott, and he never runs for the sake of running, and Edgar Prado, who has been aboard three times (1-1-1) takes the mount. It may be a bet on faith, but you could do a lot worse than Bill Mott...especially in a field as ill-defined behind the favorite as this one.
Giant Moon - If you want to use Grade I Wood Memorial winner Tale Of Ekati's useful fourth place finish in the Kentucky Derby as a barometer, then this guy's two lengths beaten try against that one in Aqueduct's premier Derby prep probably flatters him. Most conversation has focused on his absolutely horrendous performance in the Grade III Gotham over a sloppy and sealed race track, but that doesn't figure to be anywhere close to the surface he figures to race over on Saturday as the rains are expected to abate and the track will probably be labeled "good." If that is the case the NYSB son of Giant's Causeway looks pretty good if you use his restricted Sleepy Hollow Stakes win in career start number two back in October of last year. Trainer Richard Schosberg has continued to build on the speed that is the colt's best attribute. He worked him a half mile in :47 3/5 on Tuesday before leaving Belmont and prior to that oversaw a 1:13 flat six furlong breeze surrounded by a trio of lively five furlong works since the colt competed in the Wood. In addition, the colt appears to like his races spaced. He was victorious in the Sleepy Hollow off a 5 ½ week break, won the Damon Runyon following a seven week layoff and now runs six weeks after the Wood. He has consistent speed, and only in the Gotham debacle did he fail to have a quick turn of foot early. Even in the Wood, when his past performance line places him 2 ¼ lengths off the pace at first call and 6 back at second call, it should be noted that he went the half in :46 2/5 and six furlongs in 1:12 2/5 behind War Pass and actually had a faster final three furlongs than Tale of Ekati. Jockey Ramon Dominguez, who rode him to two victories before suffering the defeat in the Gotham is back aboard after skipping the Wood. Before Dominguez, the colt opened his career with two wins under the direction of Kent Desormeaux. You know...that irony thing.
Gayego - If he regains his Arkansas Derby form he has every right to follow Big Brown down the stretch inside the furlong marker. If he runs back to the Kentucky Derby try there will be many questions as to why trainer Paulo Lobo and Cubanacan Stables made the last minute decision to enter after originally planning a break. Prior to the Derby the son of Gilded Time had given every indication he was a competitive race horse. He had never finished worse than second in five career races (3-2-0) and was a Grade II winner and Grade II placed success story. The Arkansas Derby was seminal in that it proved the colt was not just a synthetic track wonder and that he had the possibility of out-running his breeding, which says a mile is the zenith. All of that could come right back to the fore on Saturday. But it is also possible that everything caught up with him in the Derby. It was his third race in seven weeks and the first time in a two turn race that he was not allowed to settle into stride...getting away sluggishly from the gate. It appears to be a real demand to now ask this guy to make a fourth start in nine weeks...and most strikingly, do so after flying from Kentucky to southern California and back again in such a short period of time. This is a race horse with plenty of potential, but more than one has been ruined by unrealistic demands. Let's just hope that the limelight that his Cuban immigrant owners had shine on them during the Derby pre-race whirl isn't the real reason they re-considered. Jockey Mike Smith keeps the faith, but he can't carry the colt, an this seems like a tough situation.
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