Derby rivals pose challenge

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BALTIMORE (AP) – A Kentucky Derby loser isn’t necessarily a Preakness loser.

Afleet Alex proved that last year by rebounding to win not just the Preakness but the Belmont Stakes. Point Given did the same thing in 2001. And while 20 of the past 22 Preakness winners also ran in the Derby, more than half – 12 – didn’t win the first of the three Triple Crown races.

With that in mind, the trainers of Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint hope history is on their side Saturday.

“There are a lot of nice horses that get an opportunity to run in the Derby every year that don’t always get the best chance to win the race,” said Sweetnorthernsaint’s trainer, Michael Trombetta. “I’m going to give favoritism to the horses who went a mile-and-a-quarter and are shortening up.”

A nine-horse field and a two-week turnaround could be the great equalizers for rivals of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. At least that’s what Trombetta and Brother Derek’s trainer, Dan Hendricks, are hoping.

Barbaro’s win in the Derby was so overpowering against a 20-horse field that Brother Derek (fourth) and Sweetnorthernsaint (seventh) are the only Derby rivals coming back to face the handsome colt at Pimlico. Their roles are reversed this time – Barbaro is the even-money favorite, Brother Derek is 3-1 and Sweetnorthernsaint 4-1. In Louisville, Brother Derek was the early favorite and Sweetnorthernsaint went off as the top choice on Derby day.

Barbaro ran his unbeaten record to 6-for-6 with a 61/2-length victory in the Derby – the largest winning margin since Triple Crown winner Assault won by eight lengths 60 years ago. While Barbaro and Edgar Prado had clear sailing in the 1 1/4-mile race at Churchill Downs, his chief rivals were compromised nearly everywhere on the track.

Brother Derek, leaving from the far outside No. 18 post under Alex Solis, was forced to stay wide most of the race but still made a late run and dead-heated for fourth. Sweetnorthernsaint, with Kent Desormeaux aboard, got off to a slow start, made a run around the far turn but faded to seventh.

“I always said the Preakness should be our race more than the Derby,” Hendricks said Thursday at the Pimlico stakes barn. “You’ve got to run in the Derby with a top horse. The Preakness should be a cleaner-run race. There is more certainty. You can run your race and not worry about four or five speed horses.”

A win for Barbaro in the Preakness would set up a seventh Triple Crown try over the last 10 years in the Belmont Stakes. The son of Dynaformer will be the sixth unbeaten Derby winner entering the Preakness. The last three won (Smarty Jones, Seattle Slew and Majestic Prince).

It’s been 28 years since Affirmed became the last Triple Crown champion, and there aren’t many rooting against Barbaro.

“I hate to see him not win it this year because I think he is a deserving horse to win it,” Hendricks said. “But we’re out to win. That’s all there is to it.”

Desormeaux, who won the Preakness in 1998 with Real Quiet, is looking forward to another chance at Barbaro.

“Barbaro may be the best horse that ever looked through a bridle, but I would at least like to challenge him with an unaltered trip,” the jockey said.

Trombetta’s confidence is growing, too. “Time heals all wounds,” the Maryland-based trainer said. “It takes a little bit to get over it. I got a good horse and I got him home healthy. We’re working real hard to win this race.”

The rest of the field for the 1 3-16-mile race is filled with new shooters, with Withers winner Bernardini (8-1) and Gotham winner Like Now (12-1) the most formidable of the group. Long shots include Greeley’s Legacy (20-1), Diabolical and Hemingway’s Key (both 30-1) and Platinum Couple (50-1).

Michael Matz, who trains Barbaro, has kept a low profile at Fair Hill Training Center 60 miles away in Elkton, Md. But his colt has thrived in the tranquil setting, his gallops looking more powerful every day.

“We’re probably not as fresh going into the Preakness than we were in the Derby, but the three of us are all in the same boat,” Matz said, referring to Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint. “But Barbaro’s a big strong colt and I’m sure he’ll hold his own.”

Unlike the Derby, the three favorites will line up next to each other in the starting gate: Brother Derek breaks from the No. 5 gate, Barbaro from No. 6 and Sweetnorthernsaint from No. 7.

AP-ES-05-18-06 1825EDT

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