05/15/2006 12:00AM

Barbaro's opposition growing

Brother Derek plays with handler Francisco Alvarado at Churchill Downs on Monday. The colt will ship to Pimlico for the Preakness on Wednesday.

FAIR HILL, Md. - Nine days must be ancient history. In the immediate aftermath of the Kentucky Derby on May 6, it seemed that few trainers were willing to challenge Barbaro, the overpowering winner of the Kentucky Derby, in the 131st Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course.

But that victory must seem so long ago, lost amidst the rain that lashed Pimlico in the morning and afternoon on Monday, and which delayed Barbaro's daily gallop here at the Fair Hill training center on Monday morning. The trainers of Diabolical, Greeley's Legacy, and Platinum Couple all indicated on Monday that they could take on Barbaro - as well as well-regarded Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint - in the Preakness on Saturday. So, in the space of 48 hours, the Preakness went from appearing to be a six- or seven-horse field to a race that might have as many as 10 entered on Wednesday.

The Preakness field is also expected to include Bernardini, Hemingway's Key, and Like Now. Ah Day, a gelding who would have to be supplemented to the race for $100,000 because he was not an original nominee to the Triple Crown, is possible. If all 10 enter, the Preakness will have three horses who ran in the Derby, and seven who skipped it and then were thrown into the deep end of the pool.

As at the Derby, the Preakness has a two-step entry and post-position process. On Wednesday morning, a traditional blind draw will be held to determine the order in which post positions will be selected. Then, Wednesday evening at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore's Inner Harbor area, trainers or owners representing each runner will choose their posts.

All the action for this Preakness is taking place away from Pimlico the first part of the week. Barbaro is at tranquil Fair Hill, and likely will remain here until Friday. Sweetnorthernsaint, who trains at Laurel, is not scheduled to arrive at Pimlico until the morning of the race. Bernardini and Like Now are not expected to ship from New York to Pimlico until Friday. The first horses scheduled to arrive at Pimlico will be Brother Derek and Hemingway's Key, who are due Wednesday.

Barbaro remained in his stall until late Monday morning as trainer Michael Matz waited out morning rain showers. He asked Mike and Sally Goswell, who run Fair Hill, if they would drag and roll the wood-chip surface - which Matz prefers to train on during wet weather instead of the conventional dirt surface - so it would be fresh for Barbaro.

"They were very accommodating, and I'm very grateful," Matz said. "I just wanted to go when the weather suits us."

Shortly after 10 a.m., Barbaro and his regular exercise rider, Peter Brette, made their way to the wood-chip track, accompanied by Matz on his pony. It is a lengthy walk to the track, so Barbaro jogged only about six furlongs once on the track before turning around for his gallop, covering about 1 3/8 miles. There were only three other horses on the track at the time, and only about a dozen people watching him train. It wasn't exactly Derby Week at Churchill Downs.

"I don't see any sense in leaving here," Matz said. "I'll probably come down Friday afternoon as opposed to Saturday morning. I don't think I want to go the day of - it might be too much of a hassle. If he goes Friday night, he can go around the track once on Saturday morning."

With rain forecast for much of the week, according to The Weather Channel, Matz can take advantage of the wood-chip surface.

"It's good in the rain," he said.

After periods of steady rain on Monday, the forecast was for showers on Tuesday, clearing Wednesday, possible thunderstorms Thursday and Friday, and partly cloudy on Saturday. The high temperature each day this week is forecast for the low 70's.

On Monday, Greeley's Legacy and Platinum Couple became the latest horses to be considered for the Preakness. They joined Ah Day and Diabolical, who were announced as contenders over the weekend.

Greeley's Legacy, trained by George Weaver, finished fourth in the Lexington Stakes in his last start. He also was fourth in the Gotham Stakes in March. He worked five furlongs at Belmont Park on Sunday in 58.69 seconds, the fastest time of 63 at the distance. Javier Castellano was aboard for the work, but he already has committed to Bernardini for the Preakness.

Weaver said he is leaning toward running Greeley's Legacy in the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard Saturday, but said the Preakness and the Peter Pan at Belmont - also on Saturday - are under consideration. Ah Day is also possible for the Sir Barton if he does not go in the Preakness.

Platinum Couple has won twice in nine starts, with one of those victories coming against New York-breds in the Damon Runyon Stakes at Aqueduct on Dec. 11. He was fifth most recently in the Wood Memorial, which was won by Bob and John.

Platinum Couple breezed four furlongs in 51.24 Monday at Belmont over a sealed, wet racetrack.

"We're going to kick it around and see how he comes out of the breeze and talk about it [Tuesday],'' said co-owner Glenn Lostritto, whose father, Joseph, trains Platinum Couple. "Last night, my son [Glenn Jr.], who is 9, said, 'If George Mason can do it, why can't we?'"

Neither Greeley's Legacy nor Platinum Couple had a confirmed rider as of Monday.

Diabolical, who worked four furlongs in 48.64 on Sunday at Fair Hill, is definite for the race, according to Steve Klesaris, his trainer and co-owner. Diabolical most recently won an allowance race on April 25 at Delaware Park. Ramon Dominguez has the mount.

On Sunday at Saratoga, Hemingway's Key breezed five furlongs in 1:00.28 on the Oklahoma training track with exercise rider Maxine Correa. He worked in company with Nick Zito-trained stablemate Hesanoldsalt, who was given the same time. Hesanoldsalt is running in the Peter Pan.

Jeremy Rose will ride Hemingway's Key. He is scheduled to ride at Delaware Park earlier in the day, then take a helicopter from the track to Martin State Airport, located about 15 miles from Pimlico. If all goes smoothly, Rose will ride both Hemingway's Key in the Preakness and Little Cliff in the Sir Barton, both for Zito.

- additional reporting by David Grening

Preakness contenders

Horses pointing for the 131st Preakness at Pimlico on May 20.

BarbaroM. MatzE. Prado1st, Ky. Derby
BernardiniT. AlbertraniJ. Castellano1st, Withers
Brother DerekD. HendricksA. Solis4th*, Ky. Derby
DiabolicalS. KlesarisR. Dominguez1st, Allowance
Hemingway's KeyN. ZitoJ. Rose8th, Lexington
Like NowK. McLaughlinG. Gomez2nd, Lexington
SweetnorthernsaintM. TrombettaK. Desormeaux7th, Ky. Derby
Possible entrants
Ah DayK. LeatherburyR. Fogelsonger1st, Tesio
Greeley's LegacyGeorge Weaverunknown4th, Lexington
Platinum CoupleJoe Lostrittounknown5th, Wood

* - Dead heat