- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 19, 2007

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BALTIMORE. — It’s amusing how the outlook of most thoroughbred trainers involved with the Triple Crown series changes in the two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

Before Kentucky Derby: The field is wide open, a dozen horses have the ability to win, my horse has a great shot.

Before Preakness Stakes: The Derby winner is clearly the horse to beat, my colt needs a mini-miracle, we’re all running for second money.

Although they’re not conceding today’s Preakness to Derby winner Street Sense, they’re not exactly brimming with confidence. The lone exceptions are Hard Spun trainer Larry Jones and Curlin trainer Steve Asmussen, the two colts most able to beat Street Sense.

“What all of us have to hope for is that Street Sense doesn’t run as well as he did two weeks ago,” said Todd Pletcher, who will saddle King of the Roxy and Circular Quay. “If he’s the same horse that we’ve seen at Churchill, we’re all running for second.”

Q: Your Kentucky Derby pick didn’t work too well did it?

A: Thanks for bringing that up. Great Hunter — my hunch pick since I loathe picking any of the top three or four favorites because what’s the fun in that? — finished 13th, about an acre behind Street Sense.

But the Preakness is an easier race to forecast because there are nine horses, not 20, and fewer variables are involved. Traffic shouldn’t be a big problem during the race, and there are a couple horses who I have thrown out of the equation.

Q: The top four favorites all raced in the Derby. Are the new “shooters” who would appear to be fresher that underwhelming, or are the favorites that much better?

A: Both. Street Sense, Hard Spun, Curlin and Circular Quay — 1-2-3-6 in Kentucky — are all solid horses, particularly the first three. They should be a lock to put in your first trifecta box (even though it will pay about 34 cents).

The five newcomers to the Triple Crown series don’t do much for me. Only King of the Roxy, second in the Santa Anita Derby, appears to have the ability to contend, but he’s coming back from a 42-day layoff.

Q: So you’re throwing out the other four newcomers?

A: Mint Slewlep, Xchanger and C P West have been eliminated from my equations, although if I get an inch to bet a superfecta, I might include Mint Slewlep. Flying First Class isn’t a great colt, and front-runners don’t usually win the Preakness. But don’t count out D. Wayne Lukas throwing an upset.

Q: Because Curlin is racing for only the fifth time in his life, it appears Street Sense and Hard Spun are the two clear favorites. What are the factors that will compromise their chances?

A: First, Street Sense. Can he run a huge race away from Churchill Downs? Can he win if he has to race four- or five-wide? Can he run big on the two-week layoff?

For Hard Spun: With a quicker expected up front, will he want a piece of the lead or can he rate?

Q: If those questions can’t be answered, who are some of the candidates who can come in and still the race?

A: Three stand out. 1. Curlin ran a respectable third in the Derby, and trainer Asmussen wants him closer to the front early on today. 2. Circular Quay is the best closer in the field, and he undoubtedly will benefit from Xchanger and Flying First Class locking up in a speed duel. 3. King of the Roxy was second in the Santa Anita Derby and is the freshest horse in the field.

Q: You mentioned two Pletcher horses in that answer — Circular Quay and King of the Roxy. How much should be made of his 0-for-lifetime record in Triple Crown races?

A: Too much is being made of Pletcher’s inability to win the Derby, Preakness or Belmont. Throw out the Preakness — this is only his second appearance in the race, and Impeachment ran second in 2000.

He is 0-for-17 in the Derby but check out the prices of his five runners this year: 11-1, 14-1, 42-1, 7-1 and 20-1. Pletcher has never had the best horse in any of the Triple Crown races he has entered.

Q: Prediction time. Who ya got?

A: Win — Street Sense. Yes, he’s the favorite, and there won’t be much fun in that, but his effort in the Derby was impressive and appeared to take so little out of him. He’s ready to ignite Triple Crown talk.

Place — King of the Roxy. He’s a stalker, which is a perfect style for this race, and after being rested for six weeks, he’s ready to run a huge race.

Show — Hard Spun. Mario Pino winning at Pimlico would be the best story of the day, but I think the colt will be too close to the early speed to have anything left for the stretch.

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