05/12/2014 1:38PM

New shooters in Preakness have strength in numbers

Barbara D. Livingston
Social Inclusion works Monday at Pimlico in advance of the May 17 Preakness.

BALTIMORE – New shooters: That’s the term for horses jumping into the Preakness Stakes without running in the Kentucky Derby.

In recent years, the new shooters have had no shot.

Horses exiting the Derby swept the top five spots in the 2013 Preakness, ran 1-2-3 in 2012, and were 1-2-4-6 in 2011.

But it has not always been so, and by default, if nothing else, this year’s new shooters almost have to make some sort of Preakness impact. At a mere three, there are fewer Derby starters in this Preakness than in any since 2008, when only Big Brown and Gayego ran. Big Brown, dominant in the Derby, was widely perceived as vastly superior to his class, suppressing the desire of horsemen with beaten Derby runners to come back for more.

But had Big Brown’s Preakness turned into the disaster that befell him in the Belmont, where Big Brown was eased, many of those horsemen would have rued not taking their shot in Baltimore.

“My thoughts have always been that one horse should never scare you away,” said trainer Mark Casse, whose new Preakness shooter is the Illinois Derby winner Dynamic Impact. “If you can go through a race and say, ‘I can’t beat this one; I can’t beat this one; I can’t beat this one,’ you shouldn’t be there. But sometimes, you go through and say, ‘I can’t beat this one, but I think I can beat this one and this one.’ That’s why we’re going to give it a try.”

California Chrome is this year’s version of Big Brown – minus a fast Derby time and formidable Derby speed figure. California Chrome won the Derby by 1 3/4 lengths after spurting to a five-length lead at the stretch call. Earlier wins in the Santa Anita Derby and the San Felipe Stakes were even more convincing.

“I do believe California Chrome right now looks like he’s in a league of his own, but I think the rest of the gang look like they’re just horses,” Casse said.

Besides California Chrome, only Ride on Curlin, who was seventh in the Derby, and General a Rod, who was 11th, will contest the Preakness. Both horses suffered difficult Derby trips, but neither is obviously superior to the best new shooters.

Still, recent Preaknesses with minimal Derby participation were ruled by horses who had run in the Derby. In the seven Preaknesses the last 20 years with four or fewer Derby runners, a Derby horse won six times. Twice, Derby horses swept the trifecta, and three more times, they comprised the exacta.

The trend makes sense. The Derby, with its now-requisite full field, is for dreamers, and there’s less blind, irrational impulse to send any old 3-year-old into the Triple Crown’s second leg. Horsemen shine a cold light on horses who simply performed poorly in the Derby as opposed to those with real excuses.

“I think the horses coming out of the Derby have an edge coming back in two weeks. Those are really good horses to begin with, and they get that foundation under them,” said five-time Preakness winner Bob Baffert. All Baffert’s Preakness wins came with Derby runners. His new shooters finished fifth and eighth. This year, Baffert jumps in with Bayern.

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New shooters rarely win, and their strike rate is even slighter considering the circumstances of the winners. Rachel Alexandra was the last new shooter to win, and she was a highly unconventional one, exiting an historic Kentucky Oaks romp as 50-1 shot Mine That Bird skimmed the rail to an improbable Derby victory. Bernardini won in 2006 when Derby hero Barbaro broke down, and Aloma’s Ruler won in 1982 after Derby winner Gato Del Sol’s connections passed on the Preakness.

That leaves only three somewhat conventional new-shooter winners since 1980, when Codex nipped Derby-winning filly Genuine Risk. Deputed Testamony won in 1983 when Derby winner Sunny’s Halo ran sixth, and Red Bullet beat Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000.

Second- and third-place finishes, of course, are more common: In the last 10 Preaknesses, 59 new shooters finished second or third seven times, while the 54 Derby runners finished second or third 13 times. This year’s group is good enough, with luck, to nail a high placing or two.

Social Inclusion
Trainer: Manny Azpurua
Top Beyer: 110
Stakes wins: None

Social Inclusion is the highest upside horse in the race and, on Beyer Speed Figures, the fastest: The 110 he earned whipping Honor Code at Gulfstream is higher than any figure on California Chrome’s résumé.

Social Inclusion would have run in the Derby had he qualified, but his third-place finish in the Wood Memorial, his first and only stakes try, didn’t earn him sufficient points to make the field. Social Inclusion didn’t even debut until Feb. 22, and a foot bruise forced him to scratch from a stakes race May 3 at Gulfstream Park, but he turned in a glowing workout Monday at Pimlico and appears to have left his minor injury back home in Florida.

Social Inclusion will at least affect the Preakness race shape, since he has led in all three of his starts, including a fast-paced debut sprint win. The last front-running new shooter to hit the board was First Dude, who set the pace and held second in the 2010 Preakness.

Dynamic Impact
Trainer: Mark Casse
Top Beyer: 102
Stakes wins: Illinois Derby

Casse hasn’t run a horse at Pimlico since 2001, and until mid-April, he couldn’t have expected Dynamic Impact to take him back. Dynamic Impact lost his first three starts at age 2 and his 3-year-old debut before winning an Oaklawn maiden route race March 1. He improved dramatically, beating Midnight Hawk by a nose April 19 in a legitimately swift edition of the Illinois Derby. It’s the classic profile of a new shooter with some real hope, a horse who didn’t get really get good until it was too late for Derby aspirations.

“I don’t really know why he improved,” Casse said. “Sometimes, horses just get better.”

It remains to be seen how much substance lies behind Dynamic Impact’s peak form, and it’s only his Illinois Derby performance suggesting he could contend Saturday.

“A lot of people are going to look at this horse and say he’s going to bounce,” Casse said. “If his last race wasn’t a fluke, I think he’s going to be right there. I’ll be going to Pimlico this week with some optimism.”

Trainer: Bob Baffert
Top Beyer: 98
Stakes wins: None

“New shooters – that hasn’t worked for me so far,” said Baffert, who ran fifth with Senor Swinger in 2003 and eighth last year with Govenor Charlie in his two tries here with horses who didn’t contest the Derby.

Bayern was disqualified from first to second for interference in the April 26 Derby Trial, and the only time in four starts he has failed to cross the finish first was the Arkansas Derby, in which Bayern was third in his stakes debut. Baffert has tinkered with blinkers – they’re coming off again Saturday – and said Bayern still races greenly.

“When he gets the lead, he sort of shuts it off a little,” Baffert said.

Bayern is a front-runner, and on pedigree and style, he could turn out to be more a miler than a true route horse. But coming out of the one-mile Derby Trial isn’t a bad thing for a new shooter. Four of the last 10 such horses to hit the board here exited a one-turn mile.

“I just thought I’ll give him a chance here,” said Baffert. “I would never run this horse in the Belmont. This will be his big race to decide what I do with him the rest of the year.”

Pablo Del Monte
Trainer: Wesley Ward
Top Beyer: 91
Stakes wins: None

Pablo Del Monte could have run in the Derby. His trainer, Wesley Ward, talked about what a great opportunity it would be to start in the Derby. But when Hoppertunity was scratched after Derby entries were taken, allowing also-eligible Pablo Del Monte to draw into the race, his connections declined the spot.

Post 20 would have been tough for Pablo Del Monte in the Derby, but it’s fair to wonder if he’s a Triple Crown horse of any sort. He probably doesn’t want 1 1/4 miles and appears to prefer synthetics to dirt.

Ward has trod the new shooter path twice, most recently in 2011 with Flashpoint, who disputed the pace and faded to last of 14. Pablo Del Monte should stay the trip better than that but probably not well enough.

Kid Cruz
Trainer: Linda Rice
Top Beyer: 91
Stakes wins: Private Terms, Federico Tesio

Kid Cruz’s last two wins were like California Chrome’s Derby victory: visually striking and not very fast.

Claimed for $50,000, Kid Cruz finished second in an Aqueduct allowance race before twice shipping to Maryland to win stakes. In the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel, he fell more than 20 lengths behind a tepid pace and rallied to win by four. His tactics were less dramatic but equally effective when he won the Tesio Stakes at Pimlico last month, but both performances earned Beyer figures in the low 90s, well short of the winning Preakness par.

“I’ve looked at that. I’m a big statistical person,” said Rice. “There are always horses that only do as much as they have to. California Chrome, whether it was a slow Derby or not, you have to respect him. Kid Cruz, his last two races have been visibly very impressive, but as far as the figures, he’s not run fast yet. I am much happier to have a closer in a 10- or 11-horse field than a 20-horse field like the Derby, and it also looks like there should be an honest pace. We’re going to find out if he can run a fast figure now.”

Ria Antonia
Trainer: Tom Amoss
Top Beyer: 85
Stakes wins: BC Juvenile Fillies (via disqualification)

The list of contemporary Preakness runners exiting the Kentucky Oaks is about to grow to two: Rachel Alexandra and this filly. Suffice it to say – this is no Rachel Alexandra.

In fact, Ria Antonia has not yet performed at nearly the same level as any of the four modern-era fillies to try the Preakness: Genuine Risk, Winning Colors, Excellent Meeting, and Rachel Alexandra. Barring sudden vast improvement, she’s the new shooter with the worst chance Saturday.

Ring Weekend
Trainer: Graham Motion
Top Beyer: 95
Stakes wins: Tampa Bay Derby

The Motion-trained new shooter Icabad Crane won the Tesio in 2008 and returned to rally for third at odds of 22-1 in Big Brown’s Preakness.

Ring Weekend’s connections had in mind a Derby start until the horse spiked a temperature a few days before entries. Ring Weekend had a two-race form peak earlier this year similar to Dynamic Impact’s, winning a Gulfstream maiden race before a smart front-running score in the Tampa Bay Derby. Motion blamed himself for Ring Weekend’s odds-on defeat in the April 5 Calder Derby, in which Ring Weekend was restrained behind a slow pace. Ring Weekend will be allowed to show his early speed again in the Preakness, but that could make him part of a demanding pace.

“It wasn’t even so much that he won at Tampa but the way he won. He galloped out so strong, and it was like a walk in the park,” Motion said. “That’s the race we have in the back of our mind when we think about running in the Preakness.”

It’s mental theater like that moving all these connections to take their chances Saturday – an image of their horses’ best races shooting down the Derby winner.

Horse Year Finish (odds) Winner (Beyer) Previous Start (finish) Derby Runners
Astrology 2011 3rd (15-1) Shackleford (104) Jerome (2nd) 4
First Dude 2010 2nd (23-1) Lookin at Lucky (102) Blue Grass (3rd) 5
Rachel Alexandra 2009 1st (9-5) Rachel Alexandra (108) Kentucky Oaks (1st) 8
Icabad Crane 2008 3rd (22-1) Big Brown (100) Tesio (1st) 2
Macho Again 2008 2nd (39-1) Big Brown (100) Derby Trial (1st) 2
Bernardini 2006 1st (12-1) Bernardini (113) Withers (1st) 3
Hemingway's Key  2006 3rd (29-1) Bernardini (113) Lexington (8th) 3
Scrappy T 2005 2nd (13-1) Afleet Alex (112) Withers (1st) 10
Rock Hard Ten 2004 2nd (6-1) Smarty Jones (118) Santa Anita Derby (2nd - DQ'd to 3rd 5
Eddington 2004 3rd (13-1)  Smarty Jones (118) Wood (3rd) 5