05/17/2009 11:00PM

Preakness a second round of guessing game


PHILADELPHIA - You do this long enough, you eventually see about everything. You can see a horse with a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 81 get a 105 in his ninth start. You just don't expect to see it in the Kentucky Derby when that same horse trailed the second-to-last-horse by what looked like 10 lengths as the field turned into the backstretch.

I can't add much to Mine That Bird's flying run from last to first in about 400 yards. Last at the three-eighths pole, the horse was first by the eighth pole. It was surreal.

Was it the mud, the ride, the rail, the change in running style, or some combination of all of that? The Preakness will tell us more, but may not solve what still has to qualify as a Derby mystery.

What was less of a mystery was what went down in front of and then behind Mine That Bird. Pioneerof the Nile, given a great, patient ride by Garrett Gomez and getting a good trip (unless one is convinced the rail was indeed golden), looked like an easy winner at the top of the stretch. But the colt barely held off Musket Man after being all out over the final 350 yards.

Pioneerof the Nile ran in company with Papa Clem much of the race and beat that colt a nose and a neck. Musket Man had to come much wider than Pioneerof the Nile in the stretch and still almost caught him.

To paraphrase former Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green, Pioneerof the Nile is exactly what we thought he was. The colt got a 95 Beyer in the Derby, after getting a 96 in the Santa Anita Derby. He still has not cracked the 100 Beyer ceiling, which means it is going to be very difficult for the colt to win one of the Triple Crown races.

In fact, this group of 3-year-olds went from one of the strongest groups in years to one of the weakest almost overnight. Quality Road, I Want Revenge, Midshipman, Old Fashioned, The Pamplemousse. All gone.

What this Triple Crown needed was a Derby winner with a great story. And the injection of some star power. Check, check.

Rachel Alexandra is almost certainly going to be favored in the Preakness. Calvin Borel loves her, and these days that should be testimony enough. It is hard not to love the Kentucky Oaks winner.

The Oaks got a higher Beyer (108) than the Derby for the first time in the published history of the Beyers. That is the known. The less known is how the filly will react when she faces the most pace pressure of her career.

Perhaps, it will be irrelevant. Perhaps, Borel can place the filly anywhere and she will just blow by those horses at will. Or not.

Big Drama is really fast, and the colt got a career-best 108 Beyer in his only 2009 start. He finished first in the Swale Stakes, but was disqualified. Which does not change how fast he is, how fast he ran or how his speed might affect the Preakness.

And there is Friesan Fire. The colt was caught in a vice early, was never comfortable, backed out on the far turn and essentially was eased by Gabriel Saez in the stretch to finish 18th. Clearly, the foot issues compromised Friesan Fire's chances. The colt is much better than he showed. And, regardless of where he finishes, Friesan Fire is another horse who should be in the vicinity of the pace.

Take the Points is going to be a longshot, but the colt has shown early speed in just about every start.

Add it all up and the pace really should be hotter and more contested than the pace in the Derby. And we all know how that ended.

Mine That Bird won without a great pace to run at. How will the gelding do if he gets a serious pace in the Preakness?

If Mine That Bird's Derby was his normal effort, the Preakness might be less complicated than one might think. But the Derby was the aberration. Maybe.

The Sunland Derby is becoming one of the great key races in years and almost every horse is taking a huge Beyer jump next out. Mythical Power finished second at Sunland with an 83 before winning the Lone Star Derby with a 101. Advice was fifth with a 77 before coming back to win the Lexington and getting a 94. Dumar ran sixth with a 76 before getting an 85 when fourth in the Lone Star Derby.

Valid Stripes finished last with a 6 (yes, 6) and came back to win with an 83. Mayor Marv (11th) improved from a 36 to a 63. Smokin' Legend (10th) went from a 63 to a 79. Only third-place Scorewithcater went backward and not by much. The colt got an 80 then and a 76 when he ran fifth in the Peter Pan.

So maybe Mine That Bird was not a fluke at all. Sadly, much of the Sunland data has come after the Kentucky Derby. Isn't that always the way?