Steve Haskin's Preakness Report: Now or Never For Barbaro's Foes

Following the massacre at Churchill Downs on May 6, the initial reaction was that Barbaro's opponents in the Preakness (gr. I) have as much chance of victory as Don Quixote had battling windmills. But, although Barbaro should once again be a formidable foe, there is no reason to quiver and hide from the fiend of Fair Hill.

When looking at Barbaro's 6 1/2-length winning margin and :24 1/5 final quarter in the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the obvious conclusion is that it is going to take a super effort by one horse and a regression by Barbaro (which doesn't seem likely) to reverse the Derby result.

And that could very well be the case. But that still shouldn't dissuade anyone with a talented, classy 3-year-old from taking one more shot at him before he runs amok at Belmont Park on June 10.

In the end, it may prove to be a futile endeavor, but after studying the battle scene at Churchill, there appears to be several reasons to at least give it a try.

Barbaro's victory was not unexpected, but the enormity of it was to most people. So, is Barbaro, who had won his only two dirt races by three-quarters of a length and a half-length, suddenly that far superior to his opponents, several of whom came into the Derby with equal or better credentials in regard to speed figures, dominance, and times?

The Derby shaped up as a wide-open race, with three pure speed horses and a flock of talented stalkers, each hoping to get the perfect trip. Well, of all of them, only Barbaro got the perfect trip. Sitting in the garden spot in fourth, he had the good fortune of having all three speed horses collapse, two of them during a :26 1/5 fourth quarter. The other, Sharp Humor, had given Barbaro a stiff battle in the Florida Derby (gr. I), but was virtually eased in the Derby after suffering what was diagnosed as a fractured knee.

With most of the other top-class stalkers and second-tier horses –- Brother Derek, Sweetnorthernsaint, Lawyer Ron, Bob and John, Point Determined, A.P. Warrior, Deputy Glitters, and Flashy Bull –- all either having the trip from hell or not running a lick, Barbaro was able to cruise to the lead in that slow quarter and open three quick lengths on his ill-fated foes. While he was doing that, the others were either toiling at the back of the pack, being fanned eight, nine, and 10-wide or more, or bogged down and squeezed on the rail. One, Lawyer Ron, was found to have a chip in his ankle and was scheduled to undergo surgery Friday.

Barbaro was able to fly home in one of the fastest final quarters in Derby history. But it must be noted that Brother Derek, despite being five wide on the first turn and nine wide turning for home, and losing a shoe, was able to close his final quarter in :24 3/5, which is pretty sensational in its own right. And little Jazil, who came from dead-last in the 20-horse field, also closed his final quarter in about :24 1/5. All one had to do was watch Barbaro's jockey, Edgar Prado, looking back over his right shoulder and left shoulder nearing the quarter pole to realize he already had the race won.

The only other horses within striking distance who were having a clean trip behind Barbaro were 30-1 Bluegrass Cat, who wound up finishing second, and Showing Up (sixth), who, with only three career starts, was not ready for such a demanding race and had little chance to win going in.

So, of the leading contenders, Brother Derek, Lawyer Ron, and Sweetnorthernsaint, who was bounced around coming out of the gate like a three-cushion billiard shot, dropping far out of it, all were severely compromised for one reason or another.

Brother Derek ran his heart out, but had no shot after losing so much ground, and the only two natural closers to be around at the finish – Steppenwolfer and Jazil – simply came on late, well after Barbaro had busted the race wide open.

This is in no way meant to diminish Barbaro's performance, which was one of the most impressive in Derby history. It is merely an attempt to show that the Preakness may be more competitive than many people think.

The Belmont Stakes (gr. I), however, is another matter altogether. Barbaro and Belmont should go together like Barnum and Bailey, bread and butter, bed and get the picture. So, now is the time to try to stop this runaway train before it comes hurtling into New York at breakneck speed.

If Barbaro does make it past the Preakness, among those who will be waiting for him in the Belmont are Steppenwolfer, Sunriver, Jazil, Deputy Glitters, and possibly Bluegrass Cat. That is a pretty potent bunch of well-bred horses, who will at least try to make things interesting for Barbaro should he be attempting to sweep the Triple Crown.

Updating other Derby starters, trainer John Shirreffs said, other than suffering a number of cuts and scrapes on his legs, A. P. Warrior came out of his 18th-place finish in good shape, and will be pointed for the Swaps Stakes (gr. II) at Hollywood Park.

Bob Baffert said 17th-place finisher Bob and John had a "horrible trip from the start," while Point Determined, who finished ninth, "needed to be closer to the pace, and didn't like Churchill." As for 16th-place finisher Sinister Minister, Baffert said he pretty much used himself up in his spectacular victory in the Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I). Baffert said he hasn't decided yet whether Bob and John or Point Determined will come back in the Preakness.

Tom Albertrani said Deputy Glitters, normally a stalker, was way too far back, and then had to go 11-wide at the top of stretch. He felt the son of Deputy Commander ran a big race to finish eighth, and looks forward running him next in the Belmont Stakes.