- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2005

The Preakness Stakes might be overbooked.

The first 14-horse Preakness field — the race’s maximum — since 1992 seems assured after trainer Nick Zito committed Noble Causeway and Sun King yesterday to Saturday’s 130th running at Pimlico Race Course. If Zito decides to enter fellow Kentucky Derby runner High Fly after a workout today, then Golden Man — the entrant with the lowest career earnings — will be bumped when the field is drawn tomorrow.

Giacomo trainer John Shirreffs had joked few would fear his 50-1 upset Derby winner, and that has proved true: At least four Triple Crown newcomers could join as many as 10 Derby runners should High Fly enter. The Preakness record of 18 starters, set in 1928, might have been threatened if Pimlico’s tight turns didn’t prevent an auxiliary gate for six extra horses.

“Lesser horses that weren’t in the Derby or in big races are saying, ‘I have a nice 3-year-old training well. Let’s try the Preakness,’ ” Closing Argument trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. “So no, [a full field] doesn’t really surprise me at this time.”

Afleet Alex trainer Tim Ritchey said poor efforts by several Derby contenders — and the belief they could do better — left trainers willing to try again. Pimlico bettors have banked on a “bounce” theory for many years. Snow Chief (1986), Hansel (1991), Louis Quatorze (1996) and Point Given (2001) rebounded from bad Derbies to win the Preakness.

“A lot of horses that faltered in the Derby will probably come back and run big races in the Preakness,” Ritchey said.

Trainer King Leatherbury’s Malibu Moonshine and trainer Robert Bailes’ Scrappy T both will try to become the first local to win the Preakness since 1982. During that span, only Red Bullet (2000) has taken the Preakness after bypassing the Derby.

“We need to run our race, but we need some of the heavy hitters to not run theirs,” Leatherbury said.

The Derby’s top two finishers — Giacomo and Closing Argument, respectively — probably will be underdogs to the third-place finisher, Afleet Alex, in the morning line. Afleet Alex, the only colt stabled at the Preakness Stakes barn until many others arrive tomorrow from Churchill Downs, continued his unusual habit of twice-daily jogs at Pimlico yesterday.

“He had his ears up and looked like he was enjoying himself the whole three miles of the second routine,” Ritchey said. “We just need to have a little more luck than we had in the Derby.”

Giacomo trained so well at Churchill that Shirreffs ignored advice from Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, whose Gate Dancer won the 1984 Preakness, to work once over the Baltimore track. Giacomo may work a half-mile today at Churchill before coming to Pimlico tomorrow.

“I thought it best to leave him at Churchill instead of uprooting him from his familiar surroundings,” Shirreffs said. “I thought it might be too stressful on him [coming early].”

Zito is trying to rebound from an embarrassing Derby in which favorite Bellamy Road’s seventh-place finish was the best of his five runners. Bellamy Road is sidelined with a shin injury, but Noble Causeway (14th) should get some respect after a bad Derby trip. Sun King (15th) worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:011/5 at Churchill after a surprisingly poor Derby. High Fly (10th) needs a good outing today to be entered.

Closing Argument, who was a half-length back of Giacomo at 70-1, worked five-eighths of a mile in 49 seconds at Belmont Park.

“He went faster than I thought he would go,” McLaughlin said. “He’s been just amazing.”

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