05/12/2006 11:00PM

Defection of Baffert's duo leaves just six probables

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Brother Derek (above) is one of only two Kentucky Derby also-rans expected to face Barbaro.

The more trainer Bob Baffert thought about it, the less he liked the idea of going against Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner, in next Saturday's Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. So on Saturday, Baffert pulled both Bob and John and Point Determined from consideration, leaving just five horses scheduled to take on Barbaro in the second leg of the Triple Crown.

If only six are entered on Wednesday, the field will be the smallest for the Preakness since 1979, when Spectacular Bid beat four rivals. The Preakness has had fewer than 10 starters just once in the last 15 years, when eight ran in 2000.

Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus was the horse who scared most everyone away in 2000, but he was upset at odds of 1-5 by Red Bullet, who had skipped the Derby. This year's race has just two horses besides Barbaro emerging from the Derby - Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint - and three newcomers - Bernardini, Hemingway's Key, and Like Now.

Trainer King Leatherbury told Pimlico's media department on Saturday that there was a slight chance he would run Ah Day, the Tesio Stakes winner, in the Preakness. Ah Day was not an original nominee to the Triple Crown, and thus would have to be supplemented to the Preakness for $100,000. Ah Day worked five furlongs on Saturday at Laurel in 59 seconds, the best time of 26 at the distance. He is more likely to run on Saturday's undercard, in the Sir Barton Stakes.

Baffert was in Dallas on Saturday to send out Wanna Runner in the Lone Star Derby. He said both Bob and John and Point Determined were scheduled to fly back to California from Kentucky on Monday, and both would be pointed toward the third leg of the Triple Crown, the June 10 Belmont Stakes.

Baffert said the only way he would reconsider the Preakness would be if something unforeseen were to befall Barbaro before the plane leaves on Monday, and even if that happened, only Bob and John would go to the Preakness. Point Determined is out, no matter what, Baffert said.

"If something happened to Barbaro, then Bob and John might go," Baffert said. "The window's open a crack, and only for that reason. Both of them might run in the Belmont. I don't want to hook Barbaro right now. We need to get him softened up after the Preakness."

With Bob and John out of the Preakness, Garrett Gomez, who rode Bob and John in the Derby, has picked up the mount on Like Now, according to Ron Anderson, Gomez's agent. Like Now, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, finished second in the Lexington Stakes with Fernando Jara in his last start.

Brother Derek, who finished in a dead heat for fourth in the Derby, returned to the track at Churchill Downs on Saturday for the first time since the race. He remained there, in the barn of trainer Wally Dollase, while trainer Dan Hendricks came back to California this week to oversee his stable at Santa Anita.

"Everything's good," said Hendricks, who was at Hollywood Park on Saturday. "He's going to fly up to Baltimore on Tuesday. They moved it up a day on me, but the flight is in the afternoon, so he'll be able to gallop that morning before he flies, so it'll work out fine."

Cisco Alvarado, Hendricks's assistant, will accompany Brother Derek from Kentucky. Hendricks will see the colt again on Wednesday, after he arrives in Baltimore for that evening's post-position draw.

Neither Brother Derek nor Sweetnorthernsaint is scheduled to have a workout this week, and Barbaro might not either, according to trainer Michael Matz. Since all three just ran in the Derby, and are coming back in the Preakness for what should be the only time in their lives they will have just two weeks between starts, their trainers said they are cognizant of not doing too much.

"It changes your tactics," said Mike Trombetta, who trains Sweetnorthernsaint. "You're trying to keep your horse fresh. I'll mix up his training a little, just to keep him fresh. Next Saturday creeps up quick."

"Coming back in two weeks is difficult for any 3-year-old," Matz said. "You want to have as fresh a horse as possible. It was a big effort at a mile and a quarter, and now he's cutting back to a mile and three-sixteenths. There's not too much you need to do in terms of fitness. Whether he'll have an easy work, or no work, that's the job of the trainer, to feel you're doing what's best, and make sure he gives a maximum performance on race day."

Preakness contenders

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

HORSETRAINERJOCKEYLAST RACE
Barbaro M. Matz E. Prado 1st, Ky. Derby
Bernardini T. Albertrani J. Castellano 1st, Withers
Brother Derek D. Hendricks A. Solis 4th*, Ky. Derby
Hemingway's Key N. Zito J. Rose 8th, Lexington
Like Now K. McLaughlin G. Gomez 2nd, Lexington
Sweetnorthernsaint M. Trombetta K. Desormeaux 7th, Ky. Derby
Possible entrants
Ah Day K. Leatherbury R. Fogelsonger 1st, Tesio
* - Dead heat