05/18/2007 12:00AM

Preakness analysis and selections

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From Brad Free, Byron King, Steve Klein, Dave Litfin, Mike Watchmaker, Mike Welsch, and DRF handicappers

Analysis: Hard Spun in front, Street Sense running late

The second leg of the Triple Crown often merely validates the first. Six of the last 10 Preakness Stakes were won by the Derby winner. But three recent Derby winners that lost the Preakness (Fusaichi Pegasus, Monarchos, and Giacomo) were similar – they won the Derby rallying from far back with a perfect trip. Sound like Street Sense?

Brad Free

Hard Spun

Street Sense

Circular Quay

King of the Roxy

The truth is that Derby runner-up Hard Spun ran as well as the winner. Hard Spun had been off six weeks, he set fast fractions, shook off every pace foe, and outran 18 rivals. The only horse to beat him was ground-saving, deep-closing, Churchill Downs horse-for-course Street Sense.

Perhaps Street Sense is simply the best of his generation. After all, he has won the biggest races (Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Kentucky Derby). The questions are whether he can reproduce top form on a racetrack other than Churchill Downs, and if he will he get the same rail-skimming, trouble-free trip he did in the Derby. If so, he may win the Triple Crown. It's not exactly a stellar crop of 3-year-olds.

An exception is Hard Spun, who finished almost six clear of third in the Derby and proved winning the Grade 2 Lane's End at Turfway that he does not require the lead. Comfortably drawn outside where he can set or press the pace, he will get the jump on his main foe. Turning for home, they'll all be chasing Hard Spun, who is fast enough to overcome some historical

trivia. Since 1993, Derby runners-up are 0 for 10 in the Preakness.

Circular Quay had not raced in two months when he finished sixth in the Derby. Though not originally slated for the Preakness, he came out of the Derby in such good shape that plans changed. If the Derby was merely a prep race, Circular Quay could be the come-from-behind spoiler.

King of the Roxy finished second in another weak Santa Anita Derby, and skipped the Kentucky Derby to aim specifically for the Preakness. It's a good move in theory, but 1 3/16 miles is still a long way for a good horse better suited to one turn.

Flying First Class has been drowned twice by Curlin, who had a tough trip and finished third in the Derby. Curlin has jammed a lot into three months. His first race was in February; this is his fifth start. Sooner or later, it will be time to pay the piper. - BRAD FREE


Street Sense was brilliant in winning the Derby. Of that there is no doubt. He beat the best horses in America with ease, and did so while coasting on the lead through the final eighth of a mile.

Byron King

Street Sense

Curlin

Hard Spun

Circular Quay

If the Preakness were at Churchill Downs, a track over which he has shown a clear affinity, he would deserve to start at even money. Of course, the race is not. It is at Pimlico, and to this point Street Sense has not been as dominant outside of Churchill Downs.

If Street Sense regresses at Pimlico, Curlin and Hard Spun are the obvious choices to capitalize.

Arkansas Derby winner Curlin looks like the best play at the price. Following his first defeat in the Kentucky Derby, he has lost some of his pre-race "buzz" and might start a tick or two higher on the odds board than he should.

Although he ran respectably to be third in the Derby, we did not see the best from Curlin. Normally an aggressive horse, he ran somewhat lethargically and had to be put in an early drive.

To his credit, he came on to get third when a lot of inexperienced horses would have given up after falling farther off the early pace than accustomed.

If he moves forward off the Derby, and he should, look for him to play a much bigger role in the Preakness. He looms an overlay at odds of 7-2 or higher.

Hard Spun set a fast pace in the Derby, breaking the hearts of all of those that chased him, and kept fighting to be second in the stretch after Street Sense passed him. A speedy, classy colt, he is impossible to knock. With the speedy Flying First Class drawn to his inside, he will likely race just off the pace in the Preakness.

As for the others, Circular Quay seems best of the rest. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, had initially planned to bypass this race with him, but decided to put him in the Preakness after being pleased with how the colt trained following the Derby.

Circular Quay ran decently to be sixth in the Derby, which followed a powerhouse performance in winning the Louisiana Derby. He should not be underestimated. - BYRON KING


Circular Quay finished 9 1/4 lengths behind Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby. But he might be the right longshot to play as he tries to rebound in the Preakness. Based on ground loss alone, if Circular Quay and Street Sense had traded trips in the Kentucky Derby they would have finished much closer together. Factor in the disadvantage of coming into the Kentucky Derby with an eight-week gap between races and Circular Quay has plenty of reason to improve today. Note that his trainer, Todd Pletcher, shows 29 percent wins and a $2.03 return on investment second time back from comparable layoffs. Circular Quay and Street Sense are both closers who will love the strong fractions that are likely to be supplied by the leaders. I'll box Circular Quay and Street Sense in the exacta, and I will bet on Circular Quay to win.

Steve Klein

Circular Quay

Street Sense

Curlin

Hard Spun

Curlin looked great in his three wins against softer company, but he lacked the seasoning he needed to extend his win streak in a large Derby field filled with opponents with more experience. He had never been more than four lengths off the pace at the first call of any of his previous races, so it must have been disconcerting for him to have to try to rally from 13th place, 12 lengths off the pace. Curlin ran a nice race when he closed steadily and managed to finish a non-threatening third. He should be tougher today with the benefit of that race under his belt. The pace scenario should flatter his off-the-pace style as he tries to rebound in this smaller field.

Under a different pace scenario, Hard Spun would be very tempting. But he is the other Derby horse who enjoyed a perfect trip. He was loose on the lead through moderate fractions until he was collared by Street Sense. He will probably have to work much harder today. Flying First Class and Xchanger will keep Hard Spun honest up front, or they will force him to leave his comfort zone and try an off-the-pace trip. He got away with those tactics in the Lane's End, but that is not his best style, and he will need his "A" game against this group.

King of the Roxy couldn't quite hold off the late charge of Tiago going 1 1/8 miles in the Santa Anita Derby, and the extra half-furlong won't help today. But he does have reason to improve in the third race of his form cycle, so a minor prize is possible. - STEVE KLEIN


A testament to how well Hard Spun ran in the Derby is that Curlin rallied to pass five horses in the final quarter and still lost more than a length of ground to the pacesetter. Hard Spun was fresh and on edge after six weeks between starts and a blazing pre-Derby workout, but was tractable enough to set the pace fairly comfortably, and galloped out with good energy. Coming back in two weeks and drawn favorably outside rival speeds Xchanger and Flying First Class, Hard Spun should settle even more readily and get a stalking trip similar to what occurred in his Lane's End win.

Dave Litfin

Hard Spun

King of the Roxy

Street Sense

Curlin

If you like Curlin coming off Beyers of 103-98, as a lot of people do, then King of the Roxy has to be given a chance off a line of 103-99 in two starts this year, and he will be a better price. King of the Roxy's Hutcheson, when he broke a step slowly and ran four wide through the turn on a rail-favoring track, was a dominating performance. His Santa Anita Derby was a fine effort considering it was his first route in five months and he was wide throughout. Coming off a six-week break, and pointed to the Preakness all along, he may be tracking the leaders in tandem with Hard Spun, and could be the value of the race.

Calvin Borel rode the race of his career to get Street Sense home in Louisville, and what was equally amazing as their dream run on the far turn was how perfectly things unfolded early. Through the stretch the first time and into the clubhouse turn, they saved all the ground and no one was near them, so they avoided the kind of energy-sapping jostling in close quarters that might have been expected in such a big field. Of course, there's ability and skill involved in all that, because Street Sense and Borel won the BC Juvenile with a perfect trip, too. At a short price, though, I want to see Street Sense run such an explosive race away from Churchill Downs – and hey, maybe someone will actually try to keep the rail closed this time.

Curlin got a real education attempting to do something in the Derby that hadn't been done in 125 years, and showed considerable gameness to get third. - DAVE LITFIN


Hard Spun ran a giant race finishing second in the Kentucky Derby, and he is my pick to turn the tables on Derby winner Street Sense in the Preakness.

Mike Watchmaker

Hard Spun

Street Sense

Curlin

Circular Quay

Hard Spun set a strong pace in the Derby, a pace so strong that the horses who were closest to him early wound up finishing 17th, 19th, and 20th. Hard Spun, meanwhile, finished almost six lengths clear of the third finisher, the previously undefeated Curlin. While it is true that Street Sense did beat Hard Spun decisively in Louisville, a good case can be made that the 2 1/4-length gap between them at the wire that day was due to Hard Spun's hard trip and the dream journey Street Sense enjoyed in a race that set up perfectly for him. This time, I envision Hard Spun getting a much more favorable trip. Hard Spun set the pace in the Derby because he was so fresh – he was coming off a six-week layoff – and he had a very fast workout five days before the race. Neither consideration applies in the Preakness. I think the Derby outing will take the edge off Hard Spun and that he will be amenable to rating, as he was in his resounding Lane's End score two starts back. If so, he projects to sit in the garden spot off an early pace disputed by Flying First Class and Xchanger.

Street Sense might have gotten a gorgeous trip in the Derby, but this smaller Preakness field means he isn't as dependent on another one. By all accounts, he is in great shape and he will obviously be tough to beat. The big issue I have with Street Sense is he will be a short price while attempting to prove he can run the kind of high quality races over a different surface that he ran at Churchill Downs in the Derby and in his Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Curlin's inexperience put him at a severe disadvantage in the Derby, and he has a license to benefit from that race. The thing is, he still hasn't beaten anyone and he did finish a long way behind the top two in Louisville.

Circular Quay was only a little more than a length behind Curlin when sixth in the Derby while coming off an eight-week layoff. He is certainly eligible to improve, but I'm not crazy about his tendency to drop way out of it early. - MIKE WATCHMAKER


Since I thought that Street Sense was the best of the division going into the Kentucky Derby, there is little reason to think otherwise entering the Preakness. Sure, he got a perfect trip while racing over his home course, but were it not for Hard Spun's super performance, Street Sense would have won that Yumfecta bonus with a victory margin of eight lengths and would be about 1-2 odds and considered virtually unbeatable on Saturday. He appears to have come out of the Derby as sharp as he went in after another of his flawless and machine-like works on Tuesday. Assuming Hard Spun might be hard-pressed to duplicate his Derby effort, and Street Sense doesn't fall victim to a disastrous trip, Street Sense should prove to be too good for this group once again.

Mike Welsch

Street Sense

Hard Spun

Circular Quay

Curlin

Circular Quay certainly did not fire his "A" race in the Derby, for whatever reason, be it the eight-week layoff or his failure to handle the Churchill surface. He was hung wide around both turns and figures to improve with that race under his belt. Trainer Todd Pletcher wouldn't have decided to send him if he didn't feel an improved performance was forthcoming. Circular Quay is too talented not to give a second chance at what figures to be a relatively decent price. Hard Spun couldn't have been more impressive in the Derby, setting a fast pace and hanging on resolutely once passed by the winner in early stretch. The question now is whether he can move forward or even duplicate that race, or if he'll bounce a bit – especially if forced to use different tactics and sit off the speed of Flying First Class and King of the Roxy. Hard Spun also figures to be overplayed in the wagering as the local favorite with hometown hero Mario Pino aboard. Curlin ran well to be third in the Derby, especially considering his relative inexperience, and he figures closer to the pace this time around. But he did lose ground to both Street Sense and Hard Spun after getting a clear run at that pair from the head of the stretch to the wire, and you also wonder if he might already have peaked after packing a lot of big races into a short span this winter and spring. Among the new shooters, King of the Roxy may have the best chance of cracking the Derby quartet, although his ability to handle the distance remains suspect. - MIKE WELSCH


Selections

Steve Andersen

Street Sense

Circular Quay

Curlin

Flying First Class

Andrew Beyer

Hard Spun

Street Sense

Circular Quay

King of the Roxy

Steven Crist

Street Sense

Circular Quay

Curlin

Hard Spun

Chuck Dybdal

Street Sense

Curlin

Circular Quay

Xchanger

Ron Gierkink

Circular Quay

Curlin

Street Sense

King of the Roxy

David Grening

Street Sense

Circular Quay

Curlin

Hard Spun

Mike Hammersly

Street Sense

Circular Quay

Hard Spun

Curlin

Marcus Hersh

Street Sense

Curlin

Circular Quay

King of the Roxy

Jay Hovdey

Street Sense

Curlin

Hard Spun

Xchanger

Marty McGee

Curlin

Street Sense

Circular Quay

Hard Spun

Jay Privman

Street Sense

Curlin

Hard Spun

Circular Quay

Mary Rampellini

Street Sense

Curlin

Hard Spun

Flying First Class

Lauren Stich

Hard Spun

Circular Quay

Street Sense

C P West

Consensus

Street Sense64

Hard Spun32

Circular Quay27

Curlin27