05/10/2010 11:00PM

Preakness lacks true pacesetter

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Barbara D. Livingston
Super Saver and jockey Calvin Borel could find themselves on the early lead in the Preakness.

BALTIMORE - Besides the shorter distance, smaller field, and venue there are other differences between the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby.

The rush to get to Churchill Downs and have horses get accustomed to the surface is replaced by a fashionably late-arriving crowd in Pimlico. As of Tuesday morning, the Pimlico stakes barn was a ghost town, with a fleet of 13 Fords and Kias parked out front awaiting the Wednesday arrival of the horsemen who will run horses in Saturday's $1 million Preakness.

This year, the biggest difference between the Derby and the Preakness is likely to be the early pace scenario. In the Derby, Conveyance carved out fractions of 22.63 seconds for the quarter and 46.16 for the half-mile while being chased by Sidney's Candy. Neither of those horses is back in the Preakness. Monday's defection of A Little Warm - who set the pace in the Louisiana Derby - removed the expected primary speed horse from the Preakness field.

So while some view Pimlico as a speed-favoring track, deciphering who is the speed of the 13-horse Preakness field could be just as challenging as finding the winner.

Before winning the Kentucky Derby from eight lengths off the pace, Super Saver was viewed as a speed horse. At 2, he won the Kentucky Jockey Club in gate-to-wire fashion. In his 3-year-old debut, he set the pace in the Tampa Bay Derby before getting outkicked in finishing third.

In both the Arkansas Derby - where he sat second - and more specifically in the Kentucky Derby, Super Saver showed a different dimension. Might it be time to go back to his old style in the Preakness?

"We're not going to take away what comes easy," Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Super Saver, said Tuesday. "Without seeing the draw and all that, I think he's going to be very close to the lead or on the lead possibly. When there's a proper pace in front of him, he'll rate. If they're going slow, he's going to get himself in that [forward] position on his own."

Pletcher said Super Saver's versatility "is part of his strength" and noted that where the horse is early on isn't as important as how he is traveling beneath jockey Calvin Borel.

"I'm not going to get too caught up in where he is as much as if he's comfortable," Pletcher said.

Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito believes the apparent pace dynamic shift should benefit Jackson Bend, who finished 12th in the Derby. Prior to the Derby, Jackson Bend had never been farther than four lengths off the pace in any of his two-turn races. In the Derby, he was 11 lengths behind after the opening half-mile.

"I want him to be much, much closer," Zito said Tuesday from Kentucky.

Zito said Jackson Bend's swift half-mile workout in 46.60 seconds under Stacy Prior Monday at Churchill Downs "is an indication he should be closer."

"I told Stacy to let the horse do what he wants to do, and he was within himself," Zito said. "That girl was just sitting on him."

In 1996, Zito won the Preakness when Louis Quatorze went gate to wire - and equaled the track record - after finishing 16th in the Derby, when he was 11 lengths off the early pace.

Lookin At Lucky, the 2-year-old champion who finished sixth in the Derby, was effective from a stalking position. Trainer Bob Baffert said he couldn't figure out a plan until after the post-position draw. Martin Garcia will ride Lookin At Lucky for the first time.

"I think he can put him wherever he wants," Baffert said. "Until they draw, you can't map it out."

Paddy O'Prado was 12 lengths off the early pace before rallying to be third in the Kentucky Derby. In his two previous starts, the Palm Beach on turf and the Blue Grass on Polytrack, Paddy O'Prado was pressing the pace.

"I can put him on the lead if I want, though it's definitely not my desire," said Kent Desormeaux, the rider of Paddy O'Prado. "With that being said, you have to ride a little differently at Pimlico. It is speed-favoring and those turns cause horses to steal away."

* Dublin and Northern Giant, a pair of Preakness starters trained by D. Wayne Lukas, were expected to be the first arrivals to Pimlico. They left Churchill Downs by van at 4 a.m. Tuesday and were expected to get to Pimlico between 4 and 6 p.m.