- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

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BALTIMORE — Two years ago, trainer Robbie Bailes made his Preakness Stakes debut with a horse, Scrappy T, that he thought had a legitimate shot at winning. And he was right — Scrappy T finished second at 13-1.

Expectations are different the second time around for Bailes, a Virginia native who will saddle 30-1 long shot Mint Slewlep in tomorrow’s Preakness.

“With Mint Slewlep, I’m not really sure,” Bailes said. “That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the talent, but does he have enough racing experience under him?”

Mint Slewlep has earned only $64,304 in his seven-race career, winning twice.

“If I had to compare, Mint Slewlep has a really good mind and a lot of ability, but Scrappy T was just an absolutely awesome athlete,” Bailes said. “If I could give Slappy T the mind of Mint Slewlep, we would have been that far ahead this year.”

Mint Slewlep fell behind the schedule of other Derby contenders when he didn’t make his first 2007 start until March 10, a fifth-place finish in the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Following a win against allowance competition, he was fourth in the Withers at Aqueduct in his last effort.

“The track bias was inside speed and we were outside and got checked up a couple times, so I definitely thought he was better than that,” Bailes said. “If I didn’t think we had the best horse in the race, we wouldn’t have come here.”

Mint Slewlep has only made one start of longer than a mile and one start of two turns, so he is one of the less experienced horses in the field.

“The more distance the better for him,” Bailes said. “In the Gotham, the pace was so slow and he got hung up in the back of the field, and a horse almost fell in front of him. It may not have cost him a win, but he probably would have been third or fourth.”

The Preakness is a special race for Bailes, who is the son of former trainer Meredith Bailes, who worked at Meadow Farm in Doswell, Va. The farm produced Secretariat and Riva Ridge. Colonial Downs in New Kent County, Va., has a stakes race named in Meredith’s honor.

Robbie Bailes attended his first Preakness in 1980, when Codex defeated Genuine Risk. Immediately after the race, Genuine Risk jockey Jacinto Vasquez raised an objection, claiming Codex veered into his horse’s racing path. The result held up, though.

Bailes’ first Preakness was highlighted by Scrappy T moving into the path of Afleet Alex, who almost tumbled to the ground but rebounded to win.

Humble beginnings

Just as he did two weeks in Kentucky, Hard Spun trainer Larry Jones is enjoying every minute of the Triple Crown races.

“I never dreamed I would ever be a part of it, especially with a live horse,” he said. “I got started with an $800 horse that my dad thought I could outrun, and I started out as an owner because no one really wanted to give me a shot. I’m kind of glad I didn’t get to start at the top, because if you achieve something too quick, you really don’t appreciate it. This might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us. We hope it’s not.”

Staying home

Xchanger, expected to be one of the early pace-setters, won’t arrive at Pimlico until tomorrow morning. He is being stabled about an hour north of Baltimore at the Fair Hill Training Center, home last year to Barbaro.

“It’s the best place to train a stable,” trainer Mark Shuman said. “There are so many tracks that we ship to really easily.”

Xchanger is the only Preakness horse to have a race over the Pimlico track. He won the Tesio Stakes in his last start.

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