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May 19, 2006

Where have all the horses gone

By: By Don Agriss - Horse Racing Editor, SPORTS NETWORK

Baltimore, MD (Sports Network) - As of the Tuesday before the 131st Preakness Stakes, only nine thoroughbreds are definite starters for the second jewel of racing's Triple Crown. Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint are the only three coming out of the Run for the Roses.

Joining those three are Withers Stakes winner Bernardini, Gotham Stakes victor Like Now, Hemingway's Key and Diabolical. Possible starters also include Platinum Couple and Greeley's Legacy.

Whether eight or ten horses break from the starting gate, Barbaro will be the odds-on favorite for the 1 3/16 miles race. His tremendous victory in the Kentucky Derby has apparently chased away all but a brave few rivals.

Even Smarty Jones had nine rivals to defeat in 2004 after his solid win in the Run for the Roses. Last year, Giacomo's Kentucky Derby win did nothing to prevent a full field of 14 from starting in the Preakness.

It's obvious there is no fever for the Preakness Stakes that many have for the Kentucky Derby. 'Derby Fever' has a lot more ring to it than 'Preakness Fever'.

Even veteran trainers such as Wayne Catalano can find reasons not to run in the $1 million classic. As to his reason for not starting Lewis Michael at Pimlico, Catalano stated, "We decided to go to the Peter Pan (Stakes). Belmont's a bigger track, and we like the setup. We'd love to come to the Preakness, but there's a lot of speed in the race and we didn't think it was in our best interest."

Then again the small field can actually attract three-year-olds with lesser ability. Trainer King Leatherbury is looking to starting Ah Day in the Preakness Stakes for that reason. "The short field is making us consider the Preakness more strongly," said Leatherbury.

It is unusual that just three horses from the Kentucky Derby go on to run in the middle jewel of racing's Triple Crown. In 2005, 10 of the 14 starters in the Preakness ran in the Kentucky Derby.

Not all Triple Crown races are created equal. The Kentucky Derby is the premier event on the calendar. The Belmont Stakes, the third jewel, has become the second most important race. Many horses are held back from the Preakness Stakes and pointed toward the 1 1/2 mile Belmont Stakes.

Two suggestions to make the Preakness more attractive: put the race three weeks after the Kentucky Derby and raise the purse to $2 million.

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