May 12, 2006
Barbaro - Simply Amazing
By: by Jeff Frank, Contributing Editor; SPORTS NETWORK
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Hours after the Kentucky Derby, I began jotting down notes on how to begin my next horse racing column. A less than original thought began with, "Not since Smarty Jones has a speed horse with Pennsylvania/Delaware connections won the Run for the Roses." Then I contemplated another angle, "He wasn’t the Derby favorite but Barbaro will be odds-on in the Preakness." Finally, after deliberating another day, letting it all sink in, I settled with this:
Move over Seattle Slew and Affirmed, here comes Barbaro. Hell, why not go for the throat out of the gate?
Not since Triple Crown winner Assault won the Derby in 1946 has a horse defeated its opponents by more than six lengths. It was a breathtaking performance, reminiscent of the 1985 race when Spend a Buck cruised to his 5 ¾-length victory.
The Michael Matz-trained colt won by 6 ½ and returned $14.20, $8.00 and $6.00 across the board. Bluegrass Cat finished a distant second and brought back $28.40 and $15.40 for place and show, while Steppenwolfer, who closed for third, paid $7.80 to show.
After the race, the crowd buzzed with anticipation of what could be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 when Affirmed did the trick. This current 28- year stretch is the longest drought since Sir Barton became the first of 11 Triple Crown victors way back in 1919. The last undefeated horse to sweep the Derby, Preakness and Belmont was 1977’s Seattle Slew. If Barbaro wins all three, he will become only the second undefeated Triple Crown winner in horse racing history and he couldn’t have begun his three-pronged journey any easier.
Despite nearly stumbling out of the gate, jockey Edgar Prado settled his colt nicely and placed him fifth as the field passed the stands the first time. The undefeated star sat three-to-four lengths behind the sizzling pace down the backstretch, then grabbed the lead at the five-sixteenths pole. From there, it was just a matter of how many lengths he would win by because no horse within striking distance could run the final quarter-mile in under 25 seconds. To Barbaro’s credit, he came home in 24 1/5 after pressing a hotly contested pace.
Here’s another indication of how impressive the Dynaformer colt ran. For the first time in eons, only a handful of Kentucky Derby starters will challenge him in the Preakness. As of this writing, only two are definite for the second leg of racing’s Triple Crown. Post time favorite, Sweetnorthernsaint, and morning line favorite, Brother Derek. Trainer Bob Holthus was going to send 12th place finisher Lawyer Ron to Baltimore, but the horse has an inflamed hind ankle and will not run. Bob Baffert is undecided about two of his three Derby starters: Point Determined, who ran 9th, and 17th-place finisher Bob and John. According to Baffert, only Sinister Minister will not go to Pimlico.
After defeating 19 other three-year-olds in the Kentucky Derby, Barbaro may only see seven to eight other horses alongside him in the gate for the Preakness. A few fresh faces are emerging, but it’s highly unlikely any of them has a shot to win. Also, since 1983, only one horse that did not run in the Derby won the Preakness, that being Red Bullet in 2000.
Of the newcomers, Bernardini has the best chance at finishing in the money. The A.P. Indy colt won the Withers at Aqueduct on April 29 by 3 ¾ lengths in 1:35 for the mile. Unfortunately, Bernardini has only three career starts, which puts him behind the eight ball when matched up against the more seasoned horses coming out of Kentucky.
Kiaran McLaughlin, who had two starters in the Derby, plans to race just one in the Preakness. Jazil, who finished in a dead-heat for fourth with Brother Derek, will be pointed for the Belmont, while 14th place finisher Flashy Bull will race elsewhere. McLaughlin’s lone Preakness entrant, Like Now, finished second in the Coolmore Lexington in his last start to Showing up, who ran a credible sixth in the Run for the Roses. Like Now is a speedball that will ensure an honest pace at Pimlico.
Another definite starter is Simon Pure, who finished fourth, beaten by over 10 lengths in the Arkansas Derby. In his prior race, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained three-year-old was off the board in the San Felipe at Santa Anita.
Finally, High Finance, winner of two straight, is a possibility for trainer Richard Violette Jr. However, Bernardini defeated him in a maiden race back in March at Gulfstream and both horses have yet to race over a mile.
Six times in the past nine years, the Derby winner came right back to win the Preakness, including four in the last five years. So history will be on Barbaro’s side. The connections of Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint hope that more recent history, namely 2005, will give their horses a leg up on May 20. Last year, Afleet Alex won the Preakness after finishing third at Churchill.
So what sort of chances do Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint have? Well, Brother Derek had won four straight races prior to the Derby, but got saddled with post 18 and was wide the entire race. He rallied to finish in the dead- heat for fourth with Jazil, beaten by nine and a half lengths. Barbaro dazzled all with his 24 1/5 final quarter-mile, nevertheless, Brother Derek came home three ticks faster with his 23 3/5 final quarter-mile.
Sweetnorthernsaint ran his final quarter-mile in 26 1/5 and stumbled home in seventh, 13 lengths behind Barbaro. He, too, had his excuses. A.P. Warrior bumped him at the start, and jockey Kent Desormeaux had to steady him twice during the early part of the race.
With cleaner trips, both Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint could wreck the Barbaro Triple Crown party that will be anticipated for three long weeks between the Preakness and the Belmont.
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