05/11/2009 12:00AM

Big Drama adds a little drama to day

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Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Jockey John Velazquez rides Big Drama for the first time during a half-mile workout Monday morning at Pimlico Race Course.

BALTIMORE - One hop at the eighth pole, and Big Drama added just a sliver of drama to an otherwise sleepy morning here at Pimlico Race Course.

Big Drama, who arrived last Tuesday from Florida, was one of only two Preakness horses on the Pimlico grounds as of Monday morning, sharing an entire barn with Papa Clem, who got in Saturday night after traveling by van from Kentucky. And Big Drama was the only horse at Pimlico to post a timed workout Monday.

In Pimlico's unusual configuration, several barns - including the Preakness barn - are situated next to the grandstand. Those front-side barns were nearly deserted Monday, with only the two Preakness horses, plus one other stakes horse in from Laurel. But this whole racetrack is slow in the morning. The main Pimlico stable area houses only about 100 horses, and there never were more than a few animals exercising at any moment Monday. The gulf between early Preakness Week Pimlico and the Churchill Downs Derby Week madhouse hardly could feel starker.

Big Drama knows nothing of the Derby scene. He was back at trainer David Fawkes's Calder base during Derby Week, prepping for his run in the Preakness, and it was there that Big Drama's most important work was done before he left home. His half-mile drill here Monday was intended mainly to give the horse a faster-paced feel for the local track surface and to give jockey John Velazquez a feel for the horse. Velazquez, who flew from New York on Sunday night, had never ridden Big Drama before Monday.

The pair went out to work shortly after 8 a.m., and galloping into the breeze around the clubhouse turn and down the backstretch, Velazquez said he felt Big Drama getting strong.

"I wanted to be cautious with him," Velazquez said.

He took a snug hold as Big Drama broke off at barely more than a gallop, going his opening eighth in 13 seconds, his first quarter in 25.20. Velazquez let Big Drama out a notch on the turn, and Big Drama immediately quickened, rolling into the stretch at a good pace. But just before the eighth pole, Big Drama tried to jump something on the track, quickly getting back on stride as he came past the finish in 50 seconds, finishing strongly as he galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.60.

"He jumped the tire tracks at the eighth pole," Velazquez said to Fawkes, as the trainer went down to the rail as horse and rider jogged back after the breeze. "Those are gonna be there on race day. He's gonna need a shadow roll."

Fawkes demurred. "He's never jumped anything before," he told Velazquez.

Velazquez said Big Drama had worked well.

"He was just waiting for me to ask him to do something," he said.

Big Drama has run an opening quarter-mile in less than 22 seconds, and it was surprising to see such an obviously fast horse work in such relaxed fashion.

"He's so smart and he's extremely handy," said Fawkes, who will be making his Triple Crown debut. "Out of the Triple Crown races, I thought this one would suit him best, given his tactical speed and his handiness."

Big Drama has finished first in his six starts since his career debut but was disqualified from first to second after setting a seven-furlong track record in the March 28 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream. Big Drama overcame trouble to win a $400,000 division of the Florida Stallion Stakes in his two-turn debut last September and adapted to night racing and a bullring-style racetrack in winning the Delta Jackpot on Dec. 5.

The earnings from that $750,000 race would have gotten Big Drama into the Kentucky Derby, but the colt kicked himself in January. The injury was relatively minor, but it put Fawkes far enough behind that he and owner-breeder Harold Queen quickly ruled out the Derby. Still, though Big Drama has just the one seven-furlong start at 3, Fawkes is confident he has come north with a horse ready to run.

"In my opinion, this horse is very fit," Fawkes said. "His color's good, his weight is good - he's coming into this race perfect."

Hooh Why on rail for Black-Eyed Susan

Historically, the winner of the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes would be the prime player in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, the featured race Friday at Pimlico. But most of racing history does not include synthetic surfaces, and it is an open question whether Hooh Why, 24-1 upset winner of the April 3 Ashland, even will be favored in the Grade 2, $150,000 Black-Eyed Susan.

Friday's 13-race card, which includes six stakes, was drawn Sunday, and the Black-Eyed Susan got 10 entries. Hooh Why, who drew the rail, has made 10 of her 11 starts on synthetics and finished third in the $65,000 Sandpiper Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in her lone dirt try.

The more obvious alternatives to Hooh Why are Payton d'Oro, who is 3 for 3 since being stretched out from sprints to routes; Casanova Move, twice second to Justwhistledixie in Gulfstream Park dirt stakes; and Don't Forget Gil, second to the talented Dream Play in the Grade 2 Comely last month at Aqueduct.

Immediately preceding the Black-Eyed Susan is the Miss Preakness, a Grade 3 sprint for 3-year-old fillies that may be the equal of the Friday feature. The race marks the 3-year-old debut of Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes winner Mani Bhavan and also lured the talented fillies Heart Ashley and Gatorette.

Also worthy of note is the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint, a five-furlong dash with an excellent core of Heros Reward, Mr. Nightlinger, and Smart Enough.

Hull opts to skip the Preakness

Hull, the unbeaten winner of the Derby Trial, will not be entered in the Preakness and will instead by pointed to the Woody Stephens Stakes on Belmont Day, said Barry Irwin, president of Team Valor Stable, which co-owns Hull with Heiligbrodt Racing Stable and Gary Barber.

"When we came up with the idea of running in the Preakness, there was no Big Drama, no Rachel Alexandra," Irwin said. "I don't like the way the race is shaping up for our horse. There are too many question marks. He's going the right way, and I don't want to mess him up."

Without Hull, the Preakness pace figures to be slower, since Hull has raced on or just off the lead in fast-paced one-turn races in his three victories.

* Preakness probable Friesan Fire arrived late Monday afternoon and is scheduled to work Tuesday morning. Also expected to breeze is Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher Papa Clem, who had a 1 1/2-mile gallop Monday.