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Where to look for some green after Big Brown pulls away
By Joe Kristufek | Daily Herald Handicapper

Exercise rider Michelle Nevin jogs Preakness entry and Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The 133rd running of the Preakness horse race will be held Saturday.


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Published: 5/16/2008 11:04 AM | Updated: 5/16/2008 7:58 PM

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Isn't this is supposed to be the easy one?

That hasn't been the case the last three years as the Kentucky Derby winner has failed to capture the Preakness each time.

In 2005, Alfeet Alex, the horse that probably should have won the Derby, nearly fell but took the Preakness as the Derby's upset winner, Giacomo, was a dull third.

In 2006, Kentucky Derby champ Barbaro broke down, and Bernardini won the Preakness for fun.

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Last year, Curlin caught Street Sense in the final jumps, denying a Triple Crown opportunity.

There's a Big Brown chance that this mini-streak of Derby winners losing the Preakness will end today, and that a date with destiny will be set for June 7.

This year's run marks the 30th anniversary of Affirmed, our last Triple Crown winner.

We have gotten close several times in recent years. From 1997 to 2004, six of the eight Derby winners -- Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones -- sipped from the Preakness cup but were denied their place in history at the Belmont Stakes.

All of those horses were good. In my humble opinion, Smarty Jones was exceptional, but not since 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat has there been as much hype for a 3-year-old as this year's Kentucky Derby winner, Big Brown.

He's undefeated in four starts, and only the ill-fated Derby runner-up, the filly Eight Belles, has closed within 5 lengths of him. Big Brown overcame post 12 to win the Florida Derby for fun, and despite drawing the 20-hole for his run at the roses, trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. snickered and said it didn't matter.

He said he had the best horse in the race. He said Big Brown couldn't lose.

And he was right.

Today, only one other Derby horse, 17th-place finisher Gayego, will dare face the beast again. The other 11 Preakness entrants weren't good enough to make the Derby cut.

Even if Big Brown were to regress off his remarkable Derby performance and another horse were to run the race of his life, it would be difficult to envision a Preakness upset.

Upsets rarely happen in the Preakness anyway, and one of this magnitude would be an all-time shocker.

Big Brown is like Cigar was in his heyday. Keep him wide and out of trouble, and he'll win.

A victory would set up a potential Belmont Stakes showdown with Casino Drive, the Japanese invader who parlayed a monstrous maiden win in his native land into an equally impressive score last Saturday in New York in the Grade II Peter Pan.

By now you can gather who I'm "picking" to win the Preakness. Other horses have to round out the gimmicks. Here are my choices to potentially do so:

Riley Tucker: Outside of Tres Borrachos, Big Brown and Gayego, I really don't see a ton of speed signed on for the Preakness. Many of the other runners are deep-closing types, so I'm looking for second-flight horses to run along for the place and show spots.

This Harlan's Holiday colt is still eligible for a first-level allowance, but he has run several good races against graded-stakes competition. He put the blinkers back on for his recent third-place run in the Lexington.

I like the spacing between his races, and I think he'll appreciate the move back to a dirt surface. He lured Edgar Prado to ride, and Prado did a lot of damage in Maryland before rising to national prominence.

Giant Moon: After winning the first four races of his career, this son of Giant's Causeway was considered to be one of the top Derby contenders coming out of New York. He got beat 47 lengths in the Gotham, but the track was a sea of slop, and the fog so thick you couldn't see two feet in front of you. Toss it out.

He bounced back to run a nice fourth in the Grade I Wood, beaten by only 2 lengths that day by Tale of Ekati, who finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby. He's trained well, and jockey Ramon Dominguez knows his way around Pimlico.

Yankee Bravo: The connections of this son of Yankee Gentleman had every intention of running in the Kentucky Derby, but they didn't have enough graded-stakes earnings to get there.

A winner of a pair of minor stakes in California, he stepped up to the plate for the Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and finished a fast-closing third behind Pyro. Backed down to odds of 9-2 for the Santa Anita Derby, he again ran a big race but settled for fourth behind Colonel John.

He has held his own against some of the better horses in the division, and you have to like the way he has finished his races. The pedigree doesn't suggest he'll relish today's distance, but the game plan is probably to sit back and make one big run, which should put him in position to pass the majority of his discouraged rivals.

Gayego: The most accomplished runner in the field outside of Big Brown, and the only horse to face the beast two weeks ago in the Derby, the connections made a last-minute decision to run in the Preakness. Perhaps he didn't get a fair crack in the Derby. Annoyed by the loud crowd while standing in outside gate 19, he got off to a sluggish start, was rank early on, and simply never got involved. Very consistent prior to the Derby debacle, he returns with blinkers for a shot at redemption.

If he brings his "A" game and Big Brown bounces off his monstrous Derby run, perhaps he's the horse who can give the chalk a run for his money.

Preakness facts

What: The 133rd Preakness

When: Saturday, 5:15 p.m.

Where: Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore


Field: Thirteen 3-year-olds

Distance: 1 3-16 miles

Favorite: Big Brown, 1-2

Total purse: $1 million

Winner's share: $600,000

Weather forecast: Temperatures in the mid 70s with a 30 percent chance of showers

2007 winner: Curlin