05/13/2004 12:00AM

Five new shooters take aim at Smarty


BALTIMORE - In most years, handicappers can easily dismiss Preakness starters who did not compete in the Kentucky Derby.

Of 96 horses who tried since 1983, Red Bullet is the only one to win the Preakness without starting in the Derby. Red Bullet was probably good enough to have run in the Derby, but his trainer, Joe Orseno, didn't think it was the right thing to do. After Red Bullet finished second in the Wood Memorial, Orseno set his designs on the Preakness. His plan worked to perfection when Red Bullet upended Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, the same horse who beat Red Bullet in the Wood.

This year, 5 of the 11 horses entered in the Preakness did not run in the Derby. Two of them - Rock Hard Ten and Eddington - are unique in that both were entered in the Derby but were excluded from an overflow field because of lack of sufficient earnings in graded stakes races.

Though neither Eddington nor Rock Hard Ten has won a stakes race, they figure to receive plenty of support from bettors looking to play against Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones.

Mark Hennig, the trainer of Eddington, believes one reason non-Derby starters have had difficulty in the Preakness is that they weren't true distance horses. Running in the Derby, Hennig said, gave horses "that added stamina that they maybe didn't come by naturally.''

Hennig believes that stamina is something Eddington comes by naturally and that the 1 3/16 miles of the Preakness is a distance Eddington will love. Eddington, a son of Unbridled, is a pure galloper. The question is whether he has been battle-tested enough to withstand a stretch duel with the more seasoned 3-year-olds such as Smarty Jones, Lion Heart, and Imperialism, the top three finishers in the Kentucky Derby.

Eddington had an easy time winning his maiden and entry-level allowance races at Gulfstream. In two stakes tries, Eddington finished third in the one-turn mile Gotham and third, beaten one-half length in the Wood Memorial.

"I think the Wood was the best chance he had to learn a lot and get a little added conditioning because he had to run,'' Hennig said. "It wasn't like he galloped them into the ground. The two races he won in Florida, he won them by the quarter pole.''

Hennig said he liked how Eddington fought back after Master David passed him in the stretch of the Wood. Hennig felt that perhaps had Eddington seen Master David earlier he could have come back to get second. For that reason, Hennig is opening up Eddington's blinkers a little bit.

That two-time Preakness-winning rider Jerry Bailey has shown so much confidence in Eddington "is something that everybody should take notice of,'' Hennig said. "He's qualified to know what he's talking about.''

Rock Hard Ten is the Preakness wildcard. He has only run three times in his career and, according to historian Bill Mooney, no Preakness has been won by a horse with three or less starts.

Trainer Jason Orman said he wasn't even thinking Kentucky Derby when he started Rock Hard Ten for the first time on Feb. 7. But after Rock Hard Ten won his first two starts so impressively, Orman decided to give him a chance in the Santa Anita Derby. Rock Hard Ten was running a strong race in the Santa Anita Derby, but ducked in when hit right-handed with the whip in the stretch. Though he finished second, Rock Hard Ten was placed third for interfering with Imperialism in the stretch.

David Flores was on him that day. Gary Stevens had been on him in his first two starts and will be back aboard Saturday.

"It might have made a difference because Gary knew the horse better,'' Orman said. "In all fairness, David had only been on the horse one time.''

Orman knows that Rock Hard Ten may lack the experience to win a race like the Preakness, but he sees enough to give the horse a chance to compete.

"His talent and he's a pretty smart horse who handles everything quite well - that's why we decided to take a chance,'' Orman said. "I'm not necessarily expecting him to win. I'd like to see him run the same kind of race he ran in the Santa Anita Derby, and I'd be happy.''

Sir Shackleton, the Derby Trial winner; Little Matth Man; and Water Cannon have all failed to register 90 on the Beyer Speed Figure scale. Still, their connections see fit to take a shot in the Preakness.

Sir Shackleton has won three consecutive races, but has never raced around two turns or beyond one mile.

"This is a horse that's coming around at the right time,'' trainer Nick Zito said. "He's a fighter. He took a step up [winning the Derby Trial] and he came back with a real good work. This is a good step because if he runs well he can go on to the next one.''

Water Cannon brings a five-race winning streak into the Preakness, all coinciding with the addition of blinkers. Water Cannon won all three of Maryland's stakes for 3-year-olds and will try to become the first Maryland-bred since Deputed Testamony in 1983 to win the Preakness.

"When you have a horse performing like this, and the race is at your home track, I think you should take your best shot,'' trainer Linda Albert said. "Opportunities like this don't come along every day.''

Little Matth Man, who won the Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct in February, is a stretch-runner who could be used on a superfecta ticket. Trainer Martin Ciresa believes that Little Matth Man displaced his palate in the Wood Memorial when he finished seventh behind Tapit.

Ciresa felt Little Matth Man had a better shot to do well in the Preakness than waiting for the Belmont.

"My theory is Smarty Jones has a tendency to punish his opponents; I don't think they run that good second time around against him,'' he said. "I don't believe Lion Heart will make it quite as far. Rock Hard Ten and Eddington I hope try to get to [Smarty Jones] a little earlier than they want, and I can lay back and make my run down the lane and hope I have horse left to go chase him.''