BALTIMORE - The Kentucky Derby's 20-horse field included many who never had won without going wire to wire or pressing the pace. The question was how many would battle for the early lead. Two weeks later, there's not a confirmed front-runner to be found for the 135th running of the Preakness Stakes Saturday.
Injuries to A Little Warm and Hurricane Ike knocked out likely pacesetters, leaving the Preakness lead open for whoever wants it. Of its 12 entries, only Derby hero Super Saver has led throughout. Instead of sitting sixth and rallying up the rail, might jockey Calvin Borel change tactics and gun from the gate?
Calvin became a first-name celebrity for last-to-first Derby masterpieces on Street Sense and Mine That Bird. Yet "Bo-rail'' came up on Louisiana's bush tracks, where speed ruled, so he knows how to win from in front. That's what he did in last year's Preakness with Rachel Alexandra.
Or maybe the leader will be Jackson Bend, whose 4-furlong work in :46 3/5 should have him revved up. "If he can get away from the gate good, we'll be all right,'' trainer Nick Zito said,
Mike Machowsky could tell Paul Atkinson to send Caracortado. "I'm thinking I might put my horse on the lead or in the race early,'' Machowsky said.
Super Saver's trainer, Todd Pletcher, isn't worried about how the race will shape up. "I think Super Saver has a tactical edge because he's not relying on the trip like the rest of them,'' Pletcher said. "If it's a slow pace, he'll be there. If it's a fast pace, he can settle like he did last time. Super Saver got a great trip because he was able to put himself in all the right spots, and every time Calvin needed him to do something, he did it.''
The Preakness pace scenario often is the opposite of the Derby's, and history should repeat again. Sidney's Candy chased Conveyance through hot fractions of 22.63 and 46.16 seconds, guaranteeing they would be done after a mile. Don't expect anything approaching those quarter- or half-mile times Saturday at Pimlico, but don't expect the front-runner to be walking. "There will be no easy lead,'' trainer Bob Baffert said.
There are seven new shooters, but it's hard to make a case for Northern Giant, Yawanna Twist, Aikenite, Pleasant Prince, Caracortado and First Dude. Schoolyard Dreams is the one non-Derby runner who looks dangerous, and he's the only horse in the field to have finished ahead of Super Saver. (They were second and third, a half-length apart, in the Tampa Bay Derby.) And if Schoolyard Dreams goes off at anywhere near his 15-1 morning line, he'll easily be the value play of the race.
A repeat win by Super Saver would be no surprise, and neither would a rebound by Lookin At Lucky.
"I think the Preakness is for the guys who got beat,'' Baffert said. "It's the 'what if' race, and we've got a chance to redeem ourselves.''
Many well-bet Derby flops, including Baffert's Point Given in 2001, scored at Pimlico. "I'm giving 'Lucky' one more shot at the classics,'' Baffert said. "We won't run in the Belmont. I know how these jockeys think, so I can map out the race for Martin Garcia, who'll be riding it for the first time. It will be exciting to see what happens there.''