- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2005

BALTIMORE — Giacomo wants respect, trainer Nick Zito seeks redemption and Malibu Moonshine trainer King Leatherbury just hopes to avoid embarrassment.

The Triple Crown is threatening to become an equine lottery again as today’s 130th Preakness Stakes offers another maximum field, with Going Wild and Malibu Moonshine the only throwouts. Despite Giacomo’s stunning victory in the Kentucky Derby at 50-1 odds, there are plenty of doubts about the gray colt.

“I just believe we have a bunch of really nice 3-year-olds this year,” said trainer Robert Bailes, who is entering Scrappy T. “The outstanding 3-year-old hasn’t stood out yet. [Giacomo] might be one of them. I just think you have a lot of horses that are all on that same level right now.”

Opinions are strong and diverse throughout Pimlico Race Course about perhaps the deepest Preakness field since Point Given won in 2001. Mostly, handicappers are arguing about Giacomo’s ability to pull off consecutive shockers after winning only one of his first seven races before the Derby.

“If he runs that same race [as the Derby], it’s good enough to win the Preakness,” Closing Argument trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

Still, everyone wants Giacomo to become racing’s fourth straight double crown winner before declaring him the generation’s standout. The 14 Preakness runners — including 10 Derby horses — are the most since 1992, and there’s no shortage of contenders.

• Zito is entering Noble Causeway, Sun King and High Fly after his entire five-horse Derby contingent failed to crack the top six. High Fly is the 9-2 second choice after finishing 10th in the Derby. Noble Causeway, who struggled with traffic troubles before finishing 14th at Churchill Downs, could be a sleeper.

Zito’s Louis Quatorze won the 1996 Preakness after finishing 16th in the Derby. While Zito has been unusually quiet since he was humbled in the Derby, he is a solid horsemen. The Zito-trained Birdstone denied Smarty Jones’ Triple Crown bid last year in the Belmont Stakes.

“Redemption’s a very strong word,” Zito said. “We’d like to turn it around. I’d like these horses to run much, much better. That would be a plus for me.”

• Afleet Alex was the 5-2 morning line choice after finishing third in the Derby as the only expected contender to run well. He looked like he would win momentarily at the 16th pole.

• Closing Argument only lost the Derby by a half-length and never has been worse than third in eight career starts. His 71-1 Derby odds were overlooked by Giacomo’s payoff, but he may be a more worthy contender.

• Greeley’s Galaxy is the emerging “wise guy” selection. Handicappers liked the Illinois Derby winner’s midrace acceleration in the Kentucky Derby en route to an 11th-place finish.

• Scrappy T is the best new shooter, though only Red Bullet (2000) has won the Preakness after skipping the Derby since 1983. On appearance alone, he’s worth a second look.

Ultimately, the early pace might decide the Preakness, much like it did the Derby. Another blistering start could melt the front-runners and play to Giacomo’s strength as a late-runner. Regardless, the colt figures to stay much closer to the lead this time.

“It was crazy in the Derby,” Afleet Alex trainer Tim Ritchey said. “I would hope it’s a more controlled pace, but you have some of the best riders in the world, so they’re not going to make the same mistake twice. If there is somebody out there rolling on the front end, I think they’re going to sit back a little bit and let him go and gather him up at the three-eighths pole.”

Otherwise, crazy finishes might become the Triple Crown’s norm.

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