05/12/2003 12:00AM

Never count out Bailey in a big race


BALTIMORE - There is rarely a dull moment along the Triple Crown trail, and just when the 128th Preakness appeared becalmed, it was rescued from the grip of serenity by some photographs.

Recent history has underscored the importance of investigating all charges. Having done so, and with no evidence to support allegations that a joint was employed in the the stretch run of the Kentucky Derby, it is time to move on to the next substantive issues.

Where the Preakness field looked cozy in the immediate aftermath of the Derby, there are now prospects for a full field of about a dozen. Some of the names are not awe-inspiring, but then Funny Cide paid $27.60 when he upset the Derby. Now they've heard of him.

His qualities widely recognized, Funny Cide is among the ones to beat in the Preakness, and will be a party to the marquee match against Peace Rules, the Derby third-place finisher, that promises to highlight the classic.

Though he was indicated as a starter in the Preakness several times during the weekend, pending the decision by the stewards, Empire Maker, the Derby favorite, is expected to sit this one out and await the Belmont.. His rider, Jerry Bailey, with two Preakness victories to his credit, has picked up a mount for the race and will be trying to upset with Champali. A Glitterman colt, Champali has won 6 of 8 starts and has talent but is a question mark wen it comes to stamina.

Bailey, however, is a brilliant rider and on more than one occasion has persuaded horses to exceed their supposed limits.He has ridden in a number of Preaknesses and has some interesting observations on the Pimlico scene.

Fusaichi Pegasus was the winning favorite in the Kentucky Derby of 2000 and was the 1-5 favorite for the Preakness. Bailey, riding Red Bullet, who did not run in he Derby, thought he had a good chance to beat Fusaichi Pegasus by seizing the initiative and beating his opponent to the punch. He saw that Fusaichi Pegasus enjoyed a good trip in Louisville and wanted to take that edge away.

"He won the Derby from well off the pace," Bailey commented the other day, "and I reasoned he would repeat those tactics. I was riding off the pace too in the Preakness, but I drove between horses on the turn, forcing him wide, and picked up enough ground for a very comfortable victory."

Red Bullet went off at 6-1.

Bailey had an even easier time of it in the Preakness of 1991 when his mount, Hansel, was 9-1.

"Hansel was favored in the Kentucky Derby," Bailey recalled, "and just didn't run well. He warmed up nicely on the way to the post and I felt good about our chances but he just didn't fire. A lot of good horses have had that same experience. In the Preakness I had him a little closer to the pace and he ran super, winning by seven lengths. He also won the Belmont and probably should have been a Triple Crown winner. Winning those three races is the toughest feat in the world."

One of Bailey's greatest Preakness disappointments was the Godolphin Stable's Worldly Manner, who ran a promising race in the Kentucky Derby of 1999. Forwardly placed most of the way, he tired at the end but Bailey expected him to benefit from the effort when he ran in the Preakness.

"He gave everything he had in the Derby," Bailey said, "and there was nothing left for the Preakness, on only two weeks between races. Even though you are aware that your horse's capacity is limited, you can't ride a saving race and expect to get anything. You have to ride as if he is up to the task, and very often the Preakness, coming so soon after the Derby, is too much. I had the same experience a couple of years ago with Congaree. He ran his heart out in the Derby."