- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Just three days after returning from Kentucky last week, Michael Trombetta summed up the feelings of each trainer preparing to run his horse on two weeks rest in the Preakness Stakes.

“Next Saturday is going to creep up pretty quickly,” he said.

Just as quickly, “next Saturday” has become “this Saturday” for Trombetta, Michael Matz and Dan Hendricks.

For the first time in their lives, Barbaro (trained by Matz), Brother Derek (Hendricks) and Sweetnorthernsaint (Trombetta) will run on short rest — a mere 12 days off between the two longest races of their short careers. The Kentucky Derby, won by Barbaro, was a 11/4-mile test; the Preakness Stakes will be 1 3/16 miles at Pimlico Race Course.

On one hand, the two weeks become less complicated for the trainers. With so little time between tough races, they don’t have to overthink when to work the horse. On the other hand, it gets complicated because they have to decide when to jog and gallop (light workouts) their runners.

If how a horse will perform in front of 150,000 people, in a 20-horse field and at the 11/4-mile distance is the great unknown, so is guessing how a horse will perform on the shortest rest it’s likely to get in its career.

“I don’t think anybody can tell you that they know because if they did, they’d be lying,” Matz said. “That’s the hard part about this. If a horse trains well up to a race and then runs well, you say, ‘He’s run well because he’s trained well.’ I don’t know for sure, but he seems happy and if he continues to act that way, I don’t see any reason why he won’t run a good race. But you never know.”

Because of, in part, Barbaro’s impressive six-length victory in the Derby and the fact many talented 3-year-olds are being prepared for the 11/2-mile Belmont Stakes on June 10, a field of nine to 10 is expected to be drawn for the Preakness. The post position draw is today at 5 p.m.

Barring a last-minute entry, the three Derby horses entered in the Preakness would be the fewest since 1980. Last year, 10 Derby horses ran in the Preakness.

Each horse running the Derby-Preakness double has been prepared for the rigors of potentially running three times in five Saturdays.

• Barbaro has raced only six times (winning each race) and has averaged 40.8 off days between races. His shortest rest between races is 32 days and he had 54 off days before his first Grade I race (the Florida Derby) and 33 off days before the Kentucky Derby.

“To come back in two weeks is difficult for any 3-year-old, especially one that hasn’t raced an awful lot,” Matz said. “We had a plan to keep this horse as fresh as possible. It’s the job of the trainer now to figure out if they need some work, if they need no work and what’s best for them to get them to run well on race day.”

Barbaro was the second favorite (behind Sweetnorthernsaint) in the Derby but is likely a strong favorite in the Preakness.

• Brother Derek has raced nine times and has averaged 42.8 off days between races, but taking away his 112-day break after his first race, that average drops to 32.9 off days. Brother Derek’s shortest break is 25 off days and he had the traditional 26 off days between his final prep race and the Kentucky Derby.

Although not to the extent that Barbaro was rested, Brother Derek got 47 off days between the San Rafael on Jan. 14 and Santa Catalina on March 4.

“With four or five weeks between races, you map out each work and then go accordingly,” Hendricks said. “The difference here is that we’re not going to work him. We’ll have a strong gallop [today in Kentucky] before he leaves.”

• Sweetnorthernsaint has raced seven times and like Brother Derek, his average rest is skewed because of a long layoff after his first race. Take away his 141-day break because he was gelded, Sweetnorthernsaint has averaged 25.2 off days between races, including breaks of 19 and 15 days. He had 26 off days between the Illinois and Kentucky Derbys.

“It changes your tactics,” Trombetta said. “Even if you’re going to work him, you don’t work him as aggressively. I’ve elected the option of not breezing him so I’m going to try and freshen him up and bring and alert horse into the race.”

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