Although it’s a crap shoot trying to determine who is the best of the rest, let’s look at the strengths of some of the others to try to find the horse or horses who have the most upside.
Second choice should be between Kentucky Bear and Behindatthebar, with Gayego getting some play, despite his 17th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
With the defection of Harlem Rocker, and Recapturetheglory before him, Kentucky Bear could very well be the buzz horse, having been at Pimlico for over a week already, and his confident trainer Reade Baker showing absolutely no fear of Big Brown.
Kentucky Bear is the one horse we know little about, due to his brief, but topsy-turvy career, and because of that, he could be more talented than people think. In his career debut at Gulfstream on Jan. 21, he came from sixth in a one-mile race to blow away his opposition by 6 1/2 lengths. With instructions from owner Danny Dion to get him to the Kentucky Derby if possible, Baker, knowing the colt desperately needed graded earnings, threw him right in the grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II). But that turned into a disaster when the son of Mr. Greeley bled in the race and grabbed a quarter.
Out for seven weeks, Kentucky Bear, after a series of excellent works, returned in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) where he finished a strong third at odds of 27-1. It wasn’t enough to get him into the Kentucky Derby, but set him up well for the Preakness, especially after two brilliants works at Churchill Downs and Keeneland.
Although Kentucky Bear has an enormous amount of talent, and has put on 75 pounds since the Blue Grass, he does have a couple of issues he needs to work out. He is still green and has yet to change leads in a race. In the Blue Grass, he began drifting in as soon as he straightened into the stretch. When jockey Jamie Theriot went to a series of left-handed whips, he started drifting out. As soon as Theriot put the whip away he drifted in again, all the while stuck on his left lead. For him to still finish third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths and closing his final eighth in about :12 1/5, shows just how much untapped talent he has. Who knows how good this colt will be once he starts figuring it all out. Baker is confident he will show everyone in the Preakness.
Behindatthebar, who was being considered for the Kentucky Derby for a while, obviously has ability, as evidenced by his victory in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (gr. II), in which he came from far back with a strong late run. But his three career wins and a second have all been on synthetic surfaces, and in his only race on dirt, he finished a dull fifth in the El Camino Real Derby (gr. III) at Bay Meadows. He’s worked well at Belmont Park, but who knows what we’ll see from him in the Preakness. His action is not the prettiest, as he paddles his left leg noticeably. If he handles the dirt at Pimlico the same way he’s handled synthetic surfaces he’ll no doubt be a factor on Saturday.
The only other Kentucky Derby starter in addition to Big Brown likely will be Arkansas Derby (gr. II) winner Gayego, who had a nightmare trip in the Run for the Roses, which saw him fade to 17th after breaking slowly, getting leaned on by Big Brown and winding up in a major traffic jam going by the finish line the first time. While being squeezed by Adriano on his inside and Big Brown on his outside, he continuously threw his head in the air as he nearly ran up on Recapturetheglory’s heels. He was then steered to the outside and got hung five-to-six wide going into the first turn. After that, he was pretty much done, racing on the outside about a half-dozen lengths off the lead before steadily retreating to the back of the pack.
If the pace is fast, then watch out for Racecar Rhapsody to come charging from far back. Although he was fourth in the Lexington Stakes, as he’s been in his last three starts, he possesses an explosive late kick. In the Lexington, he was undaunted when Salute the Sarge drifted in badly on him after turning for home. He responded by shoving Salute the Sarge out of his way. He leveled off beautifully and came flying late, beaten only two lengths, while making up a dozen lengths in the last quarter mile, even with the shortened stretch at Keeneland. And this was only his second start of the year. He’s never run a bad race and has a big shot of hitting the board in the Preakness.
One longshot to pay particular attention to is Macho Again, who has shown on several occasions during his career that he is a tough, hard-nosed competitor who is capable of big things on any given day. Throw out his two starts on Polytrack and he has three victories and two seconds in six starts, including an impressive score in the Derby Trial Stakes in his last start.
In the Derby Trial, he made a big move around the turn, with Majestic Warrior charging up on his outside. With horses on both sides of him, he seemed to relish the competition and shrugged it off when Majestic Warrior ducked in on him after turning for home. He battled gamely down the stretch after a :23 4/5 quarter, and despite drifting out a bit, was able to collar a rallying Kodiak Kowboy on his inside, winning by a half-length and then opening up several lengths after the wire. One thing consistent about him is his ability to come home fast and look horses in the eye without backing down.
The big question is the distance of the Preakness. He hasn’t won beyond 7 1/2 furlongs and his two worst performances have come at a mile on dirt and 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack. His pedigree indicates he should stretch out OK, but how far we have no idea. He is a rare, refreshing outcross whose dam traces to Kentucky Derby winner Proud Clarion through Marlboro Cup (gr. I) winner Proud Birdie, and his tail-female family traces to Vertex, winner of the Pimlico Special, Gulfstream Park Handicap, Grey Lag, and other major stakes. Vertex has sired top-class horses Lucky Debonair, winner of the Kentucky Derby, Santa Anita Handicap, Blue Grass Stakes, and Santa Anita Derby; Top Knight, winner of the Flamingo, Florida Derby, and Champagne; Vertee, winner of the Widener Handicap; Tunex, winner of the Met Mile; and Freetex, winner of the Monmouth Invitational and Ohio Derby. And, of course, his paternal grandsire Holy Bull sired Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo. Macho Again, despite his ancestors, still has to prove he’s not just a one-turn horse, but the talent and the grit are there.
We’ll go into several other longshots with credentials in the next couple of days, including one of our favorites, Stevil, who is just now coming into his own.
As for Big Brown, there isn’t much to tell other than he’s had only two gallops in the 10 days since the Derby due to bad weather in Kentucky. Rick Dutrow doesn’t seem fazed by it, and this horse has already shown on numerous occasions that rules don’t apply to him.