Preakness Notes: Solis Hoping to Lead Early

A daily compilation of notes on the candidates for the 2006 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) assembled by the publicity department at Pimlico Race Course.

BARBARO – The Kentucky Derby sponsored by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner jogged two miles at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. Friday morning before his scheduled 1 p.m. departure by van to Pimlico Race Course.

Trainer Michael Matz reported that assistant/exercise rider Peter Brette would accompany the even-money morning-line favorite for Saturday's $1 million Preakness Stakes during the 60-mile drive.

Brette has developed such a close bond with Barbaro that he admits to becoming possessive at times.

"I get to ride him every day and, for 30 minutes, he's my horse. I own him. I do everything for him. He's mine," Brett said earlier in the week. "That's quite a pleasure, and I get paid for it also."

Although Matz is quick to give credit to his exercise rider/assistant for Barbaro's Kentucky Derby win, Brette said the credit must ultimately go to his boss.

"I just thought as good as he was on turf, he just wouldn't be that good on dirt," Brette admitted. "It was Michael who said, 'He's a 3-year-old in America, we've got to run him on dirt.' You can't wait until the end of his 3-year-old career and run him on dirt, because if he went on and won by 10, we'd look pretty stupid."

BROTHER DEREK – During a visit to Pimlico Friday morning, jockey Alex Solis said the Preakness strategy is something of a work in progress.

Solis and Brother Derek will start from post No. 5, just to the inside of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro.

"We just have to get a clean break," said Solis, who captured the 1986 Preakness aboard Snow Chief. "Then it's going to be a mind game to see what everybody is going to do."

Solis said he expects the race to really take shape in the first eighth of a mile and smiled when asked which rider had the toughest decision to make early in the race.

"We all do," Solis said. "Everybody wants to secure a good position and keep your horse comfortable. It's tough for everybody."

Solis said his focus has to be on Brother Derek before he can react to the others in the field.

"I have to key on my horse," Solis said. "That's the main thing I have to worry about, just giving my horse the best ride that I can and put him in a good position. I have to concentrate on mine. When I get mine to a good position then we'll worry about what everybody is doing."

And where would Solis like to be in the first turn?

"Hopefully, a few lengths in front and stay there," Solis said.

In the Kentucky Derby, Brother Derek broke from post 18 in the field of 20 and was wide the entire race. He closed hard in the stretch, something he never had to do before in his career, and finished in a dead-heat for fourth with Jazil.

"It was amazing," Solis said. "At the five-sixteenths (pole), I had to make a decision. I said, 'If I don't make a move now, I'm not going to even hit the board.' I'm glad that I did, because, even though I had to come nine wide, he showed what kind of horse he is. He kept trying. He never gave up. I was very proud of him."

Solis agreed that his colt might have gained stature in defeat because of the way he finished.

"He's a great horse," Solis said. "I just love the horse. He's just so talented. I came back this morning and watched him and it doesn't look like he lost any weight. Actually, he looks even stronger and bigger."

Solis acknowledged that the disappointing result of the Derby increases the incentive to do well in the Preakness.

"It's such a prestigious race, for one," Solis said. "And the other thing is we felt that Brother Derek is probably the best 3-year-old in the country. That's why he's here, to prove that."

SWEETNORTHERNSAINT – Jockey Kent Desormeaux knows what kind of horse it takes to win at Pimlico, and trainer Mike Trombetta hopes the former Maryland riding champion and 1998 Preakness winner (Real Quiet) is on the money in his prediction that the Illinois Derby(gr. II) winner won't be worse than second on Saturday.

"I hope he's right,'' Trombetta said Friday morning after taking the Laurel Park-based gelding onto his home track for a mile jog. Trombetta said he plans to have his first Preakness runner on the grounds "around 6:30 a.m.'' on Saturday.

Bred in Florida by Eduardo Azpurua, the colt made his 2-year-old debut last summer in a turf race at Colonial Downs. He finished 12th of 14 for then-trainer Leo Azpurua Sr.

"I think he was gelded about a month after that first race," said Trombetta, who took over the training shortly after the debut, gave him three months off and removed the blinkers from that first race. Sweetnorthernsaint proceeded to win his first three races on dirt for Trombetta by a combined 33 ¾ lengths. His only loss on dirt before the Kentucky Derby was by less than a length in the March 18 Gotham (gr. III) at Aqueduct.

"He's doing well and I feel very good about him," Trombetta said. "I think he's carrying his weight very well. He's a calm, cool relaxed horse right now."

Desormeaux, who is riding at Belmont Park these days, is looking forward to the challenge of a rematch with the Derby winner.

"This time I hope he will break alertly," Desormeaux said. "In a perfect situation, I will be in front of him or be on Barbaro's hip. I don't know which, but it will be one of those. My horse essentially went to school in the Kentucky Derby. What a terrible day to take your lesson."

BERNARDINI – The Withers Stakes (gr. III) winner, who has prepared for the Preakness Stakes at Belmont Park, is scheduled to arrive at Pimlico by van in mid-afternoon Friday.

"He's on his way," said trainer Albertrani, who sent the son of A.P. Indy to the track to jog and gallop 1-1/4 miles Friday morning.

DIABOLICAL – Before accompanying Barbaro on a van ride to Pimlico, Diabolical galloped 1 3/4 miles under exercise rider Holly Webster at Fair Hill Training Center.

"He's ready to go," said trainer Steve Klesaris.

Ramon Dominguez will ride Diabolical after teaming with the son of Artax for an impressive allowance victory at Delaware Park to earn the trip to Pimlico.

"Ramon is an accomplished rider. He's a great position rider," Klesaris said. "He gives a horse the opportunity to relax under him and he's got a good head on his shoulders."

GREELEY'S LEGACY – Trainer George Weaver said that Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro presents a difficult challenge for the other horses in the Preakness field.

"His race was so monstrous in the Derby that if he duplicates that race, which he may very well do, he's got to be tough to beat," Weaver said. "There is no other way you can say it. But there are so many horses that can run a big race in Louisville, but when you come to Preakness you have to do it again.

"You just never know. With Afleet Alex, I think most people would say the Derby wasn't his best race. But he made a dramatic move forward into the Preakness. But there have been a lot of horses that have made dramatic moves forward or moves backward. But I don't think he's the only horse. Brother Derek has a right to be right there. And I think Bernardini is extremely talented. From everything I've heard, that horse is very well thought of by trainers and everybody else in the business."

Greeley's Legacy galloped a mile at Belmont Park Friday morning.

Though his colt typically makes a late run, Weaver said he is versatile enough to adapt to the scenario that develops.

"I really don't feel like my horse is a type of horse that needs a lot of speed," Weaver said. "Because my horse is really not a pace player, he's kind of a mid-pack to stalker type, it wouldn't hurt my feelings if a couple of the speed horses used up a lot of their energy in the first parts of the race. It would help us get by them and keep making a move forward as they come off the turn and go for the wire."

HEMINGWAY'S KEY – Trainer Nick Zito took his long shot to the gate for some schooling and he galloped more than a mile on the eve of the 10th anniversary of his trainer's only Preakness victory with Louis Quatorze.

None of the trainers in this field has come close to the familiarity with Pimlico that the Hall of Fame conditioner has here. Hemingway's Key will be Zito's 17th Preakness starter, far more than the other eight other trainers with a starter combined.

"The turns are a little funny," Zito said Friday morning outside the stakes barn. "People have said that over the years. With a horse like Barbaro, as big as he is, as long as he's in the clear I think he'll be fine. The one thing that he's got going for him is that he's undefeated. That word itself sums it up."

As for his colt, Zito hopes that jockey Jeremy Rose's familiarity with the track will be one of the factors that gives him a bit of an advantage should the Derby winner falter.

"I was lucky to get him," Zito said of last year's Preakness and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner. "I think he's a really good kid. He rode a lot of horses for us in Florida. And look what he did last year with Afleet Alex. That was amazing."

Seven of the trainers saddling horses on Saturday will be competing in their first Preakness. Other than Zito, only Kiaran McLaughlin (Like Now) has any experience in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. He was ninth with Closing Argument last year and eighth with Allied Forces behind Louis Quatorze.

"(Barbaro) is definitely the horse to beat," said Zito, who is hoping the removal of blinkers helps bring his George Steinbrenner-owned colt around. "There are some wonderful horses in the race, some horses of unknown quality – Bernardini. And, of course, Brother Derek is a good horse. On paper, (Barbaro) looks tremendous. It's his race to lose. I'd like to see this horse I've got that I can't figure out at least get a piece of the money. Then I'd be happy."

LIKE NOW – Veteran trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said some of the stars of the Preakness field might 'bounce' – or regress in performance – because they ran so recently, which could help his gelding.

"I think that the big horses have a big, big chance to react off of two weeks rest, Barbaro and Brother Derek," McLaughlin said. "And Bernardini is only three weeks. They're coming off huge efforts. I believe in my heart we have a big chance if they don't show up with their A-plus games."

McLaughlin acknowledged that if Barbaro is as strong as he was in the Derby, the competition wouldl be hard-pressed to defeat him.

"He has to regress," McLaughlin said. "I don't think that he can be beat straight up. But being back in two weeks is the biggest 'bounce' angle that you can have as a trainer and a horse. Back in two weeks is not what anyone wants to do nowadays.

"Obviously, Michael Matz feels the same way by giving him eight weeks and five weeks (between races), but he is such a superior horse, maybe, that he'll overcome it if you ran him back in one week."

Like Now trotted over the sloppy main track at Belmont Park Friday morning and was shipped by van to Pimlico.

PLATINUM COUPLE – Trainer Joe Lostritto looked remarkably serene Friday morning, puffing on his pipe as he walked on the track side of the stakes barn the day before the biggest race of his career with daughter, Lee. His New York-bred seemed equally calm and comfortable in his new surroundings.

"I came back last night about 10 o'clock and he was sound asleep,'' Lostritto said. "I tried to talk to him, and he didn't give a damn. He's doing great, really great.''

Lostritto took the gray colt onto the track shortly after the morning break and he jogged around the track a couple of times. He said he'd prefer to see a fast track for the Preakness, a probability in light of recent weather reports that call for partly cloudy skies on Saturday after some rain tonight.

"He finished fifth in the Wood,'' Lostritto said. "The track was awful. If it hadn't been for the track, I think it would have been a lot closer. I think he could have finished second for sure. I would prefer a dry track.''

Lostritto is taking his colt a lot more seriously than oddsmaker Frank Carulli, who made him the longest shot in the field at 50-1.

"It's a game of dreams, and I really believe he could take it,'' said Lostritto, a devoted family man who plans to have all seven of his children here for the race, including daughter Dana, who is pregnant with twins. "If I win the race, she promised to name them Joseph and Josephine."