05/16/2006 11:00PM

Bernardini best of six new shooters

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Bernardini will try to become the first non-Derby starter to win the Preakness since 2000.

BALTIMORE - Only two of the 19 horses Barbaro whipped in the Kentucky Derby are game enough to try him again in Saturday's $1 million . Handicappers will certainly make a case for Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint, who had troubled trips while finishing fourth and seventh, respectively, behind Barbaro two weeks ago.

And while history suggests the Preakness winner usually comes out of the Kentucky Derby field, at least one of the six newcomers to the Triple Crown scene deserves strong consideration in the 131st Preakness at Pimlico.

Bernardini has run only three times, has never raced beyond one mile or around two turns, and beat only three horses in last month's Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. Still, he just may have the talent to become the first non-Derby starter to win the Preakness since Red Bullet knocked off 1-5 favorite Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. In the last 25 runnings, only three non-Derby starters - Aloma's Ruler (1982), Deputed Testamony (1983), and Red Bullet - have won the Preakness. In four of the last five Preaknesses, a non-Derby starter finished second to a Derby graduate.

Six of the nine Preakness entrants this year did not run in the Derby. In addition to Bernardini, the other non-Derby starters are Diabolical, Greeley's Legacy, Hemingway's Key, Like Now, and Platinum Couple.

Bernardini is a regally bred son of Grade 1 winners A.P. Indy and Cara Rafaela owned and bred by Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stable and trained by Tom Albertrani. Bernardini didn't come to Albertrani in New York until mid-September, and by the time he was ready to run the winter weather had arrived and Aqueduct went on a two-week hiatus.

Bernardini debuted in a six-furlong maiden race on Jan. 7 at Gulfstream Park, finishing fourth behind Exclusive Quality, a subsequent stakes-winning sprinter. The now-retired Jerry Bailey rode him that day and told Albertrani, "The light bulb just didn't go on yet.''

Since his debut, Albertrani said, "the light bulb has gone on - 300 watts.''

Bernardini got sick, however, and didn't make it to the races until March 4, when he won a one-mile maiden race by 7 3/4 lengths at Gulfstream. Another ailment and a bruised foot kept Bernardini away from the races until April 29, when he won the Withers by 3 3/4 lengths. He ran one mile in 1:35.07 and won under a vigorous hand ride as jockey Javier Castellano dropped his whip.

"I thought it was a very impressive race,'' said Albertrani. "Although there were only four runners in there and Luxembourg was really the only one I thought we had to beat that day, I was just more impressed with the way he did it. He's got a big cruising speed, he can accelerate when you want him to, and he's going to want to go longer.''

Albertrani, who saddled Deputy Glitters to a ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, said Bernardini's lack of racing experience isn't a concern to him. "He doesn't give you the indication that he really needs more races,'' Albertrani said. "He does everything very professionally.''

While Bernardini looks like a speed horse on paper, Albertrani believes he can rate, something he will need to do in the Preakness.

Like Now needs to relax early

As a 2-year-old, Like Now had done only enough to warrant running in maiden claiming races. At 3, he has improved to the point where he was able to win the Fred "Cappy'' Capossela Stakes at six furlongs, upset the two-turn Gotham Stakes at 36-1 and, most recently, finish a game second in the Grade 2 Lexington at Keeneland.

Since Like Now is a gelding, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin didn't see the need to run him back in two weeks in a 20-horse field in the Kentucky Derby. Like Now figures to be part of the early pace, though McLaughlin said that may depend on where he draws in relation to Brother Derek.

"I always felt like he could rate and come from off of it a little bit, but knowing the horse, he's going to leave there running,'' McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said the key to Like Now's ability to get the 1 3/16 miles of the Preakness is how hard he is used in the early part of the race. McLaughlin said that in the Lexington Like Now "wasn't stopping."

"He came back on to be second," McLaughlin said. "The Gotham, good horses were running at him and he wasn't stopping. It's more the first half-mile we've got to work on.''

Greeley's Legacy wil be finishing

There hasn't been a Preakness winner sent off at odds above 10-1 since Deputed Testamony ($31) won over a sloppy track in 1983. Diabolical, Greeley's Legacy, Hemingway's Key, and Platinum Couple all figure to be more than 10-1, and it would be a surprise if any of them were to win.

Of that quartet, perhaps the horse with the best chance to work his way into a top-four finish is Greeley's Legacy, trained by George Weaver. A son of Mr. Greeley, Greeley's Legacy ran well in two of his three graded stakes tries around two turns. He finished fourth, beaten 1 1/4 lengths, in the Gotham, when he was boxed along the inside in the stretch. In the Lexington, he finished fourth, beaten 4 1/2 lengths after a wide trip.

In between, he was beaten 26 lengths in the Wood Memorial on a sloppy track he didn't handle, Weaver said.

Weaver said he believes there is ample speed in the Preakness to set up Greeley's Legacy, who on Sunday worked 58.69 seconds over Belmont Park's main track.

"My horse isn't one of those where you wonder if he'll get the distance and you don't know how he's going to run from the quarter pole home,'' said Weaver, a former assistant to Todd Pletcher. "I think he has the ability to compete. If I can get back to his Gotham race, I think we can be right in the thick of things.''

Zito looking ahead with Hemingway's Key

Nick Zito has run 16 horses in the Preakness, few as seemingly overmatched as the George Steinbrenner-owned Hemingway's Key appears to be. After winning both of his starts at 2, Hemingway's Key is winless in four stakes tries at 3.

Zito said Hemingway's Key may not have cared for the sloppy track in the Holy Bull or the Polytrack in the Lane's End. He said he thought Hemingway's Key ran well in the Fountain of Youth, where he was beaten 7 1/2 lengths, but he was shocked when the horse was beaten nine lengths in the Lexington.

Zito is taking blinkers off Hemingway's Key and hopes the Preakness could set him up well for the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

"It sounds like you can't run a horse in the Preakness to get him ready for the Belmont, but in my mind, this horse, you can't get him tired. He runs all day,'' Zito said.

Diabolical finished second to Barbaro in the Laurel Futurity last November and third to Bluegrass Cat in the Nashua last October. Trainer and part-owner Steve Klesaris would be thrilled for either one of those finishes again.

Diabolical comes off a front-running win in an entry-level allowance win at Delaware Park on April 25, and Klesaris said he believes the horse is more relaxed now than he was as a 2-year-old.

Trainer Joe Lostritto said he believes Platinum Couple is a true distance horse and with the right pace scenario he could make his presence felt. Platinum Couple looks to be in way over his head in this field, however.

Skipping the Derby

The last Preakness winner not to run in the Kentucky Derby was Red Bullet, who upset Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000. Since then, 30 non-Derby starters have participated in the Preakness with four of them finishing second and one finishing third. Here is a look at the 30:

2005Scrappy T1st, Withers13-12nd
Malibu Moonshine1st, Tesio24-18th
Hal's Image1st, Unbridled23-111th
Galloping Grocer3rd, Times Square26-114th
2004Rock Hard Ten3rd, SA Derby6-12nd
Eddington3rd, Wood Mem12-13rd
Sir Shackleton1st, Derby Trial37-16th
Little Matth Man7th, Wood Mem45-18th
Water Cannon1st, Tesio39-110th
2003Midway Road1st, nw2x allow20-12nd
Senor Swinger1st, Crown Royal Turf9-2(c)5th
New York Hero5th, Withers19-16th
Foufa's Warrior3rd, Crown Royal22-17th
Cherokee's Boy1st, Tesio9-18th
Kissin Saint3rd, Wood10-110th
2002Magic Weisner2nd, Tesio45-12nd
Easyfromthegitgo3rd, Lexington23-15th
U S S Tinosa5th SA, Derby10-16th
Crimson Hero2nd, Lexington14-17th
Straight Gin4th, Blue Grass28-19th
Menacing Dennis2nd, Snow Chief51-110th
Table Limit1st, N2L allow23-111th
Booklet2nd, Blue Grass9-112th
Equality2nd, Aventura27-113th
2001Griffinite3rd, Lexingto59-15th
Marciano1st, Tesio46-17th
Bay Eagle4th, Lexington88-18th
Percy Hope1st, Lone Star Derby52-19th
Richly Blended1st, Withers17-110th
Mr. John2nd, Lexington20-111th

* (c) - Senor Swinger was coupled with Scrimshaw, who ran 11th in Derby and third in the Preakness.