05/19/2005 12:00AM

Giacomo gets little respect


Afleet Alex ran down to the level of his competition when he finished third in the low-rated Kentucky Derby. Assuming that the subpar effort was an aberration, and that he returns to his best previous form, Afleet Alex enters the Preakness with fitting credentials.

Afleet Alex is dead fit off two solid recent routes. Though he regressed in Kentucky, his blowout victory one back in the Arkansas Derby earned a super 108 Beyer Speed Figure. Seven of the last eight Preakness winners previously ran 108 or higher. Afleet Alex last year won a Grade 1 and placed in two others. This year, his races in Arkansas and Kentucky re-established him as a division leader. Afleet Alex adapts to pace, benefits by the shorter distance, and embodies the key elements of a worthy Preakness winner.

But the favorite is no lock. He was outrun by Closing Argument, who produced the single best performance in the Derby. Closing Argument raced close to a hot pace, beat Afleet Alex to every position, and only weakened late. If the pace is slower, Closing Argument may hold farther. But is he good enough? He would be the first Preakness winner since at least 1991 to have not previously earned a triple-digit Beyer.

Pickings are slim from here down. Scrappy T and Galloping Grocer enter on improving patterns. Scrappy T reached a new plateau winning the Grade 3 Withers. His pressing style means he will provide a thrill to the stretch, and he has never finished off the board. Galloping Grocer, a star 2-year-old, has had a sketchy 3-year-old campaign. But he improved last time chasing fast fractions, and appears to be coming back around.

Giacomo will try to do what 6 of the last 8 Derby winners have done - win the Preakness. However, the 2005 Derby was a slow race that fell apart for Giacomo. It's difficult to imagine it happening again two weeks later. Giacomo could run the same race he ran in Kentucky, and if history holds, it would get him only a minor placing.

High Fly would benefit from softer fractions, but his winter-spring form established at Gulfstream and Keeneland is dubious. Noble Causeway, Wilko, High Limit, and Greeley's Galaxy are good horses who may have been exposed when they finished nowhere in the Derby. The others are off form or not good enough.

* Afleet Alex

* Closing Argument

* Scrappy T

* Galloping Grocer