by Trevor Whenham - 05/15/2006
If you believe what you read in both the traditional media and the racing press, there is no point in running the Preakness, or the Belmont for that matter, because Barbaro has already won the Triple Crown. I'm as excited as anyone else, and I desperately hope that he does pull it off, but it is way too early to say it's a done deal. If I've learned anything in the last 10 years, it's that the Triple Crown isn't over until the horse crosses the finish line at Belmont. With eight horses currently pointed towards the Preakness, an argument against a Barbaro win can be made, and a case can be built for any of the other runners (some cases stronger than others, of course). To make the next week interesting, here's a devil's advocate's look at the Preakness field:
Barbaro - This horse went from the second choice in the race before the Derby to unbeatable wonder horse after the race in just over two minutes in Louisville. The impressive nature of his race merits the praise and attention, but this is still the same horse that people didn't like enough to send off as favorite in Kentucky. There are a lot of questions that people seem to be ignoring. We don't know how a horse will run in the Preakness after having five weeks off before winning the Derby because it hasn't happened in decades. We don't know how Barbaro will come back after a break of two weeks, because he has never come back that quickly. We don't know how the untraditional training methods between the races, including time in a large exercise pen at the Fair Hill training facility instead of on the track at Pimlico, will impact the performance. Barbaro is impressive, and he is unquestionably the favorite, but there are questions that need to be considered. He got the only perfect trip in the Derby and he took full advantage of it, but he might not be so lucky this time around. If the odds end up as low as they could, there might not be value in betting on the Derby champ.
Sweetnorthernsaint - A horse that was the favorite in the biggest race of the year is suddenly being ignored against a far smaller and shallower field just two weeks later. That makes me nervous. If you look at his Derby, you see a race that was disastrous, but not without reason for hope. He got too far back in 12th, made a great move up to 3rd, but had to burn up too much gas and faded to 7th. In a smaller field, and one without the excess of blazing speed up front that the Derby had, Sweetnorthernsaint won't be able to get in as much trouble, and that move he made in the Derby could be good enough to win it all. His trainer is based in Maryland, his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, started out in Maryland, and the horse is based in Maryland, so he has home field advantage on his side.
Brother Derek - It would be hard for a horse to have a worse trip in the Derby, and it takes a very good horse to finish as well as Brother Derek did in spite of it all. As his jockey, Alex Solis, said after the race, he never had a chance. He lost his shoe at some point, maybe as soon as the post parade. He went into the first turn five wide. That was bad, but much better than the last turn, where he ended up nine wide. He lost a ton of ground, but still managed to turn in a blazing final quarter to end up fourth. Better luck could mean a much better result. At the very least Derek can't end up nine wide with only eight, or fewer, horses in the field.
Bernardini - The royal family of Dubai is going to win a Triple Crown race sooner or later, and the Sheik hopes that it will be in this spot. Bernardini is making a huge jump in class coming into this race, but he has done that before. He jumped from his maiden race to graded company in the Withers, and cruised to a four-length win. The length of this race will be new to him, but his breeding says he will be able to handle it.
Like Now, Hemingway's Key, Ah Day, Diabolical - I don't feel any better about any of these horses than anyone else does, but some horse has to win, and one of these horses could find a way to get it done. You could look at Nick Zito's experience helping Hemingway's Key, or Like Now's ability to win a graded stakes as a longshot, as he did at 36-1 in the Gotham. Ah Day's connections may supplement him for the race even though that will cost $100,000, so maybe they know something that we don't. Or maybe Diabolical's home barn right next door to Barbaro's at Fair Hill could give him some good karma. None of those are particularly good arguments, but strange things have happened in horse racing before, and they will happen again.