05/16/2007 12:00AM

Looking past the Derby contingent

Email

BALTIMORE - Is there a Bernardini among them?

That is the question many handicappers looking to beat Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in Saturday's $1 million Preakness - or seeking a longshot exacta horse - will be asking as they pore over the past performances of five horses who did not participate in the Run for the Roses but who are running in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

When Bernardini won last year's Preakness at 12-1 odds, he became just the fourth non-Derby starter in 26 years to win. In four of the last six Preaknesses, a non-Derby starter finished second at a decent price.

This year's newcomers - C P West, Flying First Class, King of the Roxy, Mint Slewlep, and Xchanger - all figure to be double-digit odds. On the surface, the trainers behind this quintet appear to have more firepower than the horses themselves. Still, as bettors have learned over the years, it can be detrimental to readily dismiss horses in big races sent out by the likes of D. Wayne Lukas (Flying First Class), Nick Zito (C P West), and Todd Pletcher (King of the Roxy).

Just two years ago, trainer Robbie Bailes finished second in the Preakness with non-Derby starter Scrappy T, who received more notoriety for bearing out into Afleet Alex at the top of the stretch in the Preakness than for finishing five lengths clear of Derby winner Giacomo. This year, Bailes will saddle Mint Slewlep, who figures to be the longest shot on the board.

Finally, how can you dismiss a horse sent out by a trainer who is batting .470 at the meet? Trainer Mark Shuman, who is 9 for 19 at Pimlico, sends out Federico Tesio winner Xchanger in the Preakness. In 2002, Tesio winner Magic Weisner ran second in the Preakness at 45-1 to Derby winner War Emblem.

King of the Roxy may be the newcomer with the best chance of making an impact in the Preakness. An Ohio-bred son of Littleexpectations, King of the Roxy won the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont at 2 and the Hutcheson at 3. The Hutcheson, run at 7 1/2 furlongs at Gulfstream, was impressive from the standpoint that it was King of the Roxy's first start in five months.

In the Santa Anita Derby, his first start at 1 1/8 miles and around two turns, King of the Roxy moved to the lead in upper stretch, but weakened late as he was passed by Tiago, losing by a half-length.

"We feel like the horse is doing very well," said Pletcher, who also will send out Kentucky Derby sixth-place finisher Circular Quay. "He needs to step his game up a notch. He ran very well in the Hutcheson and very well in the Santa Anita Derby. This race is obviously tougher than both of those races at a distance longer than both of those. He's got to run the race of his life."

Garrett Gomez will ride King of the Roxy.

Lukas hopes to be flying high

Lukas has won five Preaknesses, four with horses coming out of the Derby. Codex, his first Preakness winner in 1980, was coming out of a win in the Hollywood Derby.

Flying First Class, Lukas's record 32nd Preakness starter, is coming off a solid victory in the Derby Trial, a 7 1/2-furlong race at Churchill Downs on April 28. He was beaten double-digit lengths in his two tries around two turns, the Rebel and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park. Lukas said Flying First Class was undertrained for the Rebel and had ample trouble in the Arkansas Derby.

"When he came back in the Derby Trial he validated he is a very good horse," Lukas said. "I think he's got a natural cruising speed; he fools everybody that's been on him. Whether he gets a mile and three-sixteenths is everybody's guess. But that's true of all of them; it's a new race."

Lukas virtually guaranteed that Flying First Class will be the pacesetter under Mark Guidry.

C P West needs career best

Zito would probably be happy if C P West could duplicate the third-place finish of Hemingway's Key from a year ago. Hemingway's Key entered the Preakness off four ugly-looking past performance lines, including an eighth-place finish in the Lexington.

But as Zito is fond of saying, "If you're not in it, you can't even lose."

C P West, a debut winner at Saratoga, finished second to King of the Roxy in the Futurity. After an eighth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he had chips surgically taken out of both ankles.

In two starts this year, he finished second in an allowance and second in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. He was a bit disappointing in the Withers as he drifted out a path or two in the stretch while losing ground in the final furlong. This will be C P West's first try beyond 1 1/16 miles.

Can Xchanger flash Tesio magic?

Xchanger was no match for Curlin in the Grade 3 Rebel, but his trainer, Mark Shuman, believes there was a reason for that.

Xchanger's jockey, John Jacinto, had just gotten booted off Flying First Class. Shuman said he instructed Jacinto to get his horse off the pace. Instead Jacinto sent his horse to the front - ahead of Flying First Class, who was chasing in second. Xchanger finished seventh while Flying First Class ran eighth.

"All he could say to me afterward is we beat that nice horse of Lukas's," Shuman said.

In the Tesio, Xchanger was on the lead, but Ramon Dominguez had a strong hold of him. He took command entering the far turn and won the race geared down the final sixteenth as Dominguez took several peeks back.

"One thing about Ramon, he saves horse," Shuman said. "You don't want to be head and head against this kind, you want to be about a length off of them with a smart jock. I think he's capable of being rated that way if he needed to be."

Bailes hopes for Scrappy reprise

In 2005, Scrappy T used a win in the Withers as a springboard to a terrific effort in the Preakness.

Robbie Bailes, who trained Scrappy T, was hoping to do the same with Mint Slewlep, a Slew City Slew colt he and owner Marshall Dowell have been high on for a long time. However, Mint Slewlep finished fourth in the Withers, a race in which he didn't have the best of trips.

Mint Slewlep was last of seven and racing between horses down the backstretch. He got squeezed a little bit down the backside and again entering the far turn, losing valuable ground. In the stretch, C P West came out in his path, forcing Mint Slewlep out more.

"I don't think the track really played out too fair on his part," Bailes said. "It was one of those days speed and the rail kept going, and we were on the opposite end on both cases."

Mint Slewlep has won twice, both in one-turn mile events at Laurel Park.

"I think he's not a one-dimensional horse," Bailes said. "If the pace is fast we can take him off of it; if it's a slow pace he's got the type of gear we can keep close. I'm not quite sure how good he is, if he's good enough to compete with this bunch or not. We'll find out."

Alan Garcia, who has had a terrific winter and spring in New York, makes his first ride in a Triple Crown race aboard Mint Slewlep.