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Pimlico awaits Big Brown's arrival for Preakness
By David Ginsburg | Associated Press
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Published: 5/14/2008 12:06 AM

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BALTIMORE -- For the better part of a week, the only sounds around the stakes barn at Pimlico Race Course have been raindrops, a few birds chirping and the clomp-clomp-clomp of one horse strutting around the stable.

Until being joined by Hey Byrn on Tuesday morning, Kentucky Bear was the lone Preakness entrant in the barn. Stall 40, reserved for the Kentucky Derby champion, is as empty as an abandoned apartment.

On the other side of the barn, Kentucky Bear has had the run of the place. There once was a time when trainers thought it absolutely necessary to allow their horses to get acclimated to their surroundings before a big race, but the rows of empty stalls at Pimlico this week indicate that tactic is no longer required.

The handlers of Kentucky Bear, however, are definitely old school. They brought the horse to Pimlico on May 7 and have been holed up in Baltimore ever since.

"He's been able to work well over the track and settled in really well, so I think it's an advantage," assistant trainer Cassie Garcia said Tuesday. "I think it depends on the horse, their trainer and their schedule. Maybe the other horses are better at home, so they keep them there."

Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown is slated to arrive late this afternoon.

Icabad Crane and Behindatthebar aren't expected to show up until the morning of the race.

So, on Tuesday morning, only six of the 40 stalls were filled. Four were occupied by horses competing in races Friday, including Highest Class, who's running in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, and Grasshopper, who will compete in the Pimlico Special. Both are trained by Neil Howard.

"It depends on your horse. We have a nervous filly, so she got here Friday," said Joe DeSantis, Howard's assistant. "It's the best thing we did, because of how she is. You see how quiet it is here. The race track's been quiet and she's been wonderful. For a horse that needs a little time, I think to be here early is a big benefit. We got to work on the track this morning in complete peace."

Kentucky Bear can use every perceived advantage he can get in the Preakness. This will be the fourth career race for the chestnut colt, who finished third in his last time out in the Blue Grass Stakes.

"It went really good. Maybe if he moved a bit earlier he would have been right there, but that was only his third race," Garcia said. "He was a little bit green. But he came out of it very confident and with a little bit more experience."

Kentucky Bear did not qualify for the Derby, but Garcia hopes that works to his advantage.

"It was a little disappointing, but it might be a blessing in the end because he'll have a little more time to get ready. He's not going to be too tired," she said. "We kind of knew because he was a little bit down on the list and it probably would have taken a couple miracles to get in. But it didn't really bother me that much. It might have been a little much for him the first time out."

Garcia, who took Kentucky Bear on a gallop twice around the Pimlico track on Tuesday, believes the horse is peaking at just the right time.

"He's just been working really good. Ever since the Blue Grass he's improved more and more," she said. "He's matured, he's put on weight and muscle. He just looks great, he feels awesome, so I think he has a good chance."

Garcia concedes that Big Brown will be the favorite, and rightfully so.

"He's a superstar. That horse is very nice," she said. "But you never know what can happen in a race, right?"

It appeared that Big Brown would be the first Derby winner in 60 years to run in the Preakness against a field consisting entirely of new shooters. But Gayego, who finished 17th at Churchill Downs, joined the fray Tuesday.