Wednesday, May 18, 2005

BALTIMORE — Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo is the fourth choice in Saturday’s 130th Preakness Stakes as the track oddsmaker yesterday favored three horses Giacomo defeated at Churchill Downs.

Derby third-place finisher Afleet Alex is the 5-2 morning-line choice for the Preakness. Pimlico oddsmaker Frank Carulli opted for the ?bounce theory? often used by Pimlico bettors backing Derby disappointments to make High Fly the 9-2 second choice while Derby runner-up Closing Argument was 5-1 and Giacomo 6-1.

Giacomo was the second largest long-shot Derby winner ever at 50-1. However, the first maximum 14-horse Preakness field since 1992 — including the top three Derby finishers and 10 Derby runners for the first time since 1999 — showed few believe Giacomo can repeat. Giacomo trainer John Shirreffs wasn’t surprised or bothered by long odds.

?There’s a comfort feeling,? he said. ?There’s not a lot of pressure. If Giacomo was 1-5 there would be a lot of pressure.?

Afleet Alex is the fashionable pick because he was the only top Derby contender to run respectably. Malibu Moonshine trainer King Leatherbury labeled Afleet Alex as ?the horse to beat.?

?Afleet Alex is simply the most logical winner,? Leatherbury said. ?I think the horses most likely to beat him are the ones who were well backed but ran poorly in the Derby.?

Said Afleet Alex trainer Tim Ritchey: ?A lot of people were talking about him being the favorite. It doesn’t surprise me. To be the Preakness favorite is something special. Hopefully, we’ll live up to it.?

Trainer Nick Zito becomes the fourth trainer with three Preakness entrants, but only the second in 82 years. Zito’s High Fly was 10th in the Derby. Noble Causeway (10-1) and Sun King (15-1) were ranked lukewarm contenders by Carulli.

?Sometimes enduring is winning,? Zito said. ?That’s what we’re trying to do. You must play the game and that’s what we’re doing now.?

The post position draw delivered no jarring impact on the race’s early strategy. Giacomo and Afleet Alex drew Nos.12 and 13, respectively, to let them drop behind the expected early front-runners.

The Preakness’ tighter turns and 1 3/16 miles — one-sixteenth mile shorter than the Derby — could lead to another quick scramble to the front. Shirreffs isn’t worried about the early pace since Giacomo figures to challenge late.

?I don’t think there’s any strategy,? he said. ?Our horse is not going to steal the race.?

Full house

Giacomo was among 10 horses arriving from Louisville for 14 stakes races tomorrow and Saturday. The gray colt settled into stall 40, which has housed many prominent Triple Crown runners.

?What an honor to go into that stall,? Shirreffs said. ?What an honor to look up and see [among the names on the plaque] Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid. Awesome.?

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