BALTIMORE - Remember Dortmund?
Six weeks ago, after running away with the Santa Anita Derby, he was an undefeated monster and the leader of the 3-year-olds. Then came the Kentucky Derby, when Dortmund set a pressured pace and faded to third behind stablemate American Pharoah and Firing Line, beaten by three lengths.
Now all the talk is about those two, and whether Firing Line can reverse the Derby exacta in Saturday's Preakness Stakes. Now Dortmund is being considered a distant second to Pharoah, who will be odds-on to head to Belmont Park with a shot at the Triple Crown.
If Dortmund could talk, the long-bodied chestnut colt would say: "Hey, what about me? You'll be getting around 7-2 on a horse who's lost one time -- one time! -- and don't forget I had colic a week before the Derby. I'm fine now. You'll be betting dollars to win dimes on Pharoah, and Firing Line has twice as many seconds as wins. I'm 6-for-7, and my research tells me many Derby also-rans rebounded to win the Preakness.
"Why not me?"
His trainer hasn't given up on him, even though he's saving all his superlatives for American Pharoah. Asked Thursday about Dortmund's diminished stature, Bob Baffert said, "He was undefeated and still ran a very gallant race to be third. Down the backstretch, I thought he was going very well, and then he got tired. The track was pretty deep.
"He can jump up. I'm expecting another big effort."
Perhaps a change in tactics by Martin Garcia might help. In Dortmund's four races this year, he led. Maybe he would do better stalking and pouncing, as he did in his three wins as a 2-year-old. Garcia used that approach in his 2010 Preakness score on Baffert's Lookin At Lucky.
The Derby fractions were moderate, but Dortmund wasn't out there alone, with Firing Line close up and never giving him a breather. Sometimes having company on a moderate pace takes more out of a horse than if he's going quickly on his own. Maybe all Dortmund needs is a change of pace by not being asked to set it.
Although the Preakness has only eight runners to the Derby's 18, the consensus is there will be more early speed. American Pharoah, Dortmund and Mr. Z, in posts 1-3, respectively, are quick and will have to move early to establish position. Firing Line, on the far outside with wily Gary Stevens, prefers to stalk, and new shooter Divining Rod has speed. Only closer Danzig Moon and no-hopers Bodhisattva and Tale of Verve seem sure to be far back entering the first turn.
Baffert said six-time Preakness winner D. Wayne Lukas told him he didn't think either American Pharoah or Dortmund brought his "A" game to the Derby. Firing Line ran the race of his life, and trainer Simon Callaghan needs him to max out again.
"Coming back after two weeks, not everyone is going to fire," Callaghan said. "We hope our horse will."
Trying to beat the Derby winner at Pimlico hasn't worked well this millennium, with nine of the last 18 repeating. American Pharoah is 4-5 on the morning line, so although he's the horse to beat, he's not necessarily the one to bet, unless you're wagering a few hundred.
Baffert was asked if he thought Dortmund could beat Pharoah. "You never know," he said. "I just send them out there, and I'm just hoping I finish 1-2."
That would be fine with me, as long as Dortmund is ahead of American Pharoah, and Danzig Moon closes to edge Firing Line for third.