05/15/2007 11:00PM

One trend that's hard to ignoreP

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BALTIMORE - Leading up to every Kentucky Derby, talk abounds about how certain horses are highly unlikely to win because of statistical improbabilities based on historical precedent. The variables of 2-year-old form, the number of preps at 3, pedigree quirks, and innumerable other data are analyzed to an exhaustive degree.

Regarding this heavy emphasis on Derby trends, clearly the most notable result of Street Sense winning the May 5 Derby was that he laid to rest the double whammy of the so-called Juvenile Jinx: He became the first horse to win both the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Derby, and also became the first 2-year-old champion since Spectacular Bid in 1979 to win the Derby. But rest assured that when the Derby rolls around next year, plenty of other "can't win" maxims will have handicappers knocking the chances of certain prospects.

The Preakness does not seem to elicit nearly as many of those history-based theories, but one that has become difficult to ignore over the last 40-plus years is the performance of second-place Derby finishers in the Preakness. Indeed, Derby runners-up have blazed an abysmal trail when moving from Churchill Downs to Pimlico, as only two of the last 46 have won the Preakness. That's not counting Forward Pass, who was awarded the Derby on disqualification in 1968 and went on to win the Preakness.

After 1960, when Bally Ache won the Preakness after running second in the Derby, Summer Squall (1990) and Prairie Bayou (1993) are the only two Derby seconds to wheel back to win the Preakness. Ten of those runners-up skipped the Preakness, meaning 36 have gone postward at Pimlico. Of those, 10 were favored in the Preakness, with only Prairie Bayou, who returned $6.40, coming through with a win. From 1996-99, the Derby runner-up was the favorite every year in the Preakness, and all four lost: Cavonnier, Captain Bodgit, Victory Gallop, and Menifee.

Of course, the runner-up in the Derby two weeks ago was Hard Spun. Larry Jones, the trainer of Hard Spun, is well aware that he can do nothing to change history, and he is hopeful that Hard Spun, who figures as the second or third betting choice Saturday, will become the third Derby runner-up to win the Preakness during a span that is fast approaching a half-century.

"I like to buck tradition," said Jones. "People didn't like me bringing the horse into the Derby off a six-week layoff, but look how big he ran. Maybe we can do something like that again Saturday.

"Nobody remembers who ran second in the Derby; all they remember is the winner. All I know is I'm very, very happy with the way the horse came out of the Derby. We're coming to Pimlico with a fresh horse. I really wouldn't want to change anything about the way we're coming into it."

Velazquez sticks with Circular Quay

John Velazquez will ride his first Preakness horse on Saturday. But due to a late change of plans by trainer Todd Pletcher, his mount will be Circular Quay and not King of the Roxy.

In the Derby, Velazquez chose Circular Quay over four other Pletcher-trained horses he could have ridden. Though Circular Quay finished sixth - the best of the Pletcher quintet - he was still beaten 9 1/4 lengths. Velazquez offered no real excuse for the performance other than to say Circular Quay may not have cared for the track, which was upgraded to fast earlier in the card after starting the day off as good.

"The only thing I can think of is the track was drying out; it was a little mushy, a little stickier than he's normally run on," Velazquez said. "He was moving at the same pace the whole way around."

Aside from that, Velazquez said he thought Circular Quay had a good trip in the Derby. He was right outside Street Sense leaving the three-furlong pole. While Street Sense advanced along the rail, Circular Quay went several paths wide. Velazquez said that was no consequence.

"I didn't lose any ground," he said. "When you pull out in the stretch, you're not really losing any ground. He just never went into another gear. He continued on the same pace he was going."

Velazquez, like Pletcher, is still seeking his first win in a Triple Crown race. He is 0 for 9 in the Derby and 0 for 10 in the Belmont Stakes. Through an odd set of circumstances, he has never ridden in the Preakness.

"I've been there and ridden the undercard," Velazquez said. "I just never rode that race. It's a classic race. It's definitely one of the races you'd like to win."

Sweetnorthernsaint headed to Texas

Sweetnorthernsaint was the favorite in last year's Kentucky Derby, then finished second in the Preakness Stakes for his Maryland-based trainer, Michael Trombetta. Sweetnorthernsaint has not quite gotten back to the elite level this year, but he's not far off. He was second to Master Command in the National Jockey Club Handicap at Hawthorne last month, and later this month will head to Texas for the Grade 2, $400,000 Lone Star Park Handicap on May 28, Trombetta said Wednesday morning.

"The Met Mile and the Stephen Foster are around that time, so if a horse runs in one of those races, they won't be in this," Trombetta said.

Sweetnorthernsaint worked a half-mile in 48 seconds on Wednesday morning at Laurel Park.

* Pimlico is guaranteeing the size of two pick four pools on Friday. The pick four that covers races 4 through 7 will have a minimum pool of $100,000, and the pick four pool for races 9 through 12 is guaranteed to be at least $250,000.

* HRTV will broadcast a special "Preakness Preview Show" on Friday at 11 a.m. Eastern, with host Laffit Pincay Jr. and analysts Millie Ball and Jeff Siegel on the scene at Pimlico.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Jay Privman