05/17/2006 11:00PM

Preakness Stakes 131 field - handicappers' profiles


1 Like Now

John J. Dillon
Kiaran McLaughlin
Garrett Gomez
DRF Line 12-1
Record 8-4-2-0
Best Beyer 105

Strengths: He blossomed when he won two straight sprints, earning a 100 Beyer in the second, which was also his first stakes win. He continued to improve and became one of the better 3-year-olds in the country when he stretched out to 1 1/16 miles and extended his winning streak in the Grade 3 Gotham, in which he defeated Keyed Entry and Sweetnorthernsaint. His 105 Beyer in the Gotham is higher than any pre-Derby Beyer earned by Barbaro. Although his Beyer regressed to 97 in his second behind Showing Up in the Lexington, he earned a stronger pace figure while dueling for the lead throughout most of that race. If he is set for a forward move today, he will be a threat for the upset.

Weaknesses: He appears to be a need-the-lead type, so his early speed will be an advantage if he turns out to be the speed of the speed, but it will be a disadvantage if he is forced to duel with Bernardini or Diabolical.

Strategy: As mentioned above, this horse probably wants to be on the lead. The only question is whether McLaughlin has been able to teach him to relax better during the early stages since his duel in the Lexington Stakes.

Value: He is likely to offer an attractive price to win and in the exotics, with the horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby taking plenty of betting support.

- Steve Klein

2 Platinum Couple

Team Tristar Stable
Joseph Lostritto
Jose Espinoza
DRF Line 50-1
Record 9-2-1-2
Best Beyer 82

STRENGTHS: If you ignore the two tries over wet tracks, his overall record is 7-2-1-2. He comes off a career-best Beyer in the 1 1/8-mile Wood Memorial, his longest race to date, suggesting that he's at his best in these extended routes. That's no coincidence, since his half-sister, three-time stakes winner Dance Away Capote, did her best work going two turns. He has the right running style, with a quick pace expected in the Preakness.

WEAKNESSES: Where do you start? He's never posted a Beyer even remotely good enough to get him on the board in the Preakness; his two career wins came against New York-breds; and he was beaten over 10 lengths last time by a couple of horses who were 10 lengths behind Barbaro in the Derby. He has turned in a couple of slow works since then, and his trainer, Joe Lostritto, has weak stats with horses off a short layoff (3 percent) as well as with dirt runners overall (5 percent) since last year.

STRATEGY: Given his lack of speed, all he can really do is take back off the lead and hope for a complete pace meltdown up front. It's not at all likely that he'll make an impact late even with that scenario, but realistically it's the only chance he has to get a check in here.

VALUE: He'll be a longshot, but not long enough to make it worth using him, except on the bottom of some very deep exotics tickets.

- Kenny Peck

3 Hemingway's Key

Kinsman Stable
Nicholas Zito
Jeremy Rose
DRF Line 50-1
Record 6-2-0-0
Best Beyer 84

STRENGTHS: The human connections are his biggest asset. Trainer Nick Zito is no stranger to posting upset victories in Triple Crown events. Louis Quatorze, who was badly outrun in the 1996 Kentucky Derby, returned two weeks later to turn the tables and win the Preakness. The late-running Birdstone was another Zito-trained shocker, ending Smarty Jones's Triple Crown hopes by capturing the 2004 Belmont Stakes. Hemingway's Key captured his first two starts, so there's some talent here. The longer distance should fit his off-the-pace style.

WEAKNESSES: He has no 100 Beyer Speed Figure on his form, was easily handled by Barbaro earlier this year in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream, and hasn't finished better than sixth in four graded stakes in 2006. He had tough trips in the Lexington (six to seven wide) and the Lane's End (steadied quarter pole), and this closer will need a perfect trip for any hopes of scoring a monumental upset.

STRATEGY: Very simple for this one-run closer: Sit far off the early pace, while saving whatever ground he can. Hope there's a lightning-fast pace up front, where the top three contenders all knock each other out on the engine, which would set it up for a late-running upsetter. In both of his 2-year-old victories, he did not show any speed, but finished strongly.

VALUE: Went off at single-digit odds in last two starts, but was 16-1 when he faced Barbaro in the Holy Bull and beat only one horse home that day. Hasn't done much to enhance his reputation since his first start of the year, which came against Barbaro. Odds of 30-1 or longer seem appropriate. Guess there's a chance owner George Steinbrenner, whose horse Concerto finished sixth in the 1997 Preakness, could help bet him down, but Hemingway's Key seems like a real outsider at this level.

- Art Gropper

4 Greeley's Legacy

Donald Flanagan
George Weaver
Richard Migliore
DRF Line 30-1
Record 11-2-0-2
Best Beyer 103

STRENGTHS: Greeley's Legacy ran his best race in the Gotham when he finished behind Like Now, Keyed Entry, and Sweetnorthernsaint, who went on to win the Illinois Derby in his next start. That was the only race in which Greeley's Legacy earned a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure. He ran well considering his off-the-pace style on the speed-favoring Keeneland track in the Lexington Stakes and shows a good work coming into this. He could run better at today's longer distance, since he has a win at 1 1/8 miles.

WEAKNESSES: It took him a long time to win his maiden in New York, and his other win was in allowance company. Although he hasn't been finishing far back in graded stakes company, he's probably more of a Grade 3 horse at this point and will have to improve by several lengths. He doesn't usually put two good races together.

STRATEGY: Greeley's Legacy will be looking to save ground. He doesn't have the speed to go with Brother Derek, Like Now, or Sweetnorthernsaint. If he can get into position like Barbaro did in the Kentucky Derby, he might have enough closing kick to boost exotic payoffs.

VALUE: Greeley's Legacy has gone off at 9-1 and 5-1 since his close finish in the Gotham, but the 103 Beyer drifts farther back with each start. He will be at least 20-1 in the Preakness.

- Kristin Sadler

5 Brother Derek

Cecil Peacock
Dan Hendricks
Alex Solis
DRF Line 7-2
Record 9-6-0-1
Best Beyer 108

STRENGTHS: Going into the Derby, he was considered the measuring stick for this crop off four straight powerful victories in Southern California, including a win over 2-year-old champion Stevie Wonderboy. There's no way he can be accorded that status now. However, some good things came out of his troubled Derby run: He did settle (something many were worried about), and while quite wide all the way - and after losing a shoe - he kept to his task gamely in a much-better-than-looked effort.

WEAKNESSES: The two times he has shipped out of the friendly confines of Southern California, he has run fourth. While he settled well and finished well, could it be he's going to need a career best and some help from Barbaro if he is to turn the tables? And could he now be ready to move backward after a series of big efforts and then a tough, tough Derby run?

STRATEGY: With the smaller field and no Sinister Minister or Keyed Entry involved, he can go back to what has worked best - using his speed to prompt the pace. Whereas in the Derby he was trying to play catch-up all the way, it's conceivable this time he can make Barbaro come get him.

VALUE: Oddly enough, despite getting trounced in the Derby by Barbaro, his odds figure to go down. After being 7-1 in the Derby, he may be second choice here in the vicinity of

9-2. And with his speed, that may be awfully tempting.

- Michael Hammersly

6 Barbaro

Lael Stables
Michael Matz
Edgar Prado
DRF Line 4-5
Record 6-6-0-0
Best Beyer 111

Strengths: Undefeated Barbaro has his detractors because of his perfect-trip victory when he dominated this year's Kentucky Derby field. Yet he came home with such a flourish and under such little urging in the final furlong, there should be plenty of gas in the tank for this Preakness challenge. Jockey Edgar Prado fits this talented runner like a glove and spent years riding with success on the Maryland circuit. He knows the nuances of the Pimlico surface and configuration better than any other rider in the field.

Weaknesses: Barbaro and his connections fooled many handicapping experts with the five-week race gap before the Derby. With only two weeks' preparation for the Preak-ness, how will this affect the performance for this leggy, long-striding runner? That is the key question.

Strategy: Prado has a remarkable sense of pace, which he must use to full advantage in this field. If you scan Barbaro's past performance history, however, you will notice he has never drawn an inside post. Another rider might be able to pin Barbaro inside during the Preakness, and this would dramatically affect the outcome.

Value: There is no sense in betting an odds-on horse to win. If you feel Barbaro will once again dominate, you must use the flexibility of the exotics in your favor. The main opponent to fear is Brother Derek, who ran a strong, wide race in defeat at Louisville, perhaps losing more ground than the margin of defeat.

- Jim Kachulis

7 Sweetnorthernsaint

Balsamo Joseph J. and Theos, Ted
Michael Trombetta
Kent Desormeaux
DRF Line 4-1
Record 7-3-0-1
Best Beyer 109

STRENGTHS: Sweetnorthernsaint posted a 109 Beyer Speed Figure when he won the Grade 2 Illinois Derby, and he went off as the post-time favorite in the Kentucky Derby. Though he was taken out of his game by bumping with a rival shortly after the break in the Derby, he did make a solid run until encountering further trouble on the rail at the top of the stretch. His top Beyer Speed Figure still ranks second-best at two turns for this field, only two points less than the Derby winner, Barbaro. He has good tactical speed and figures to have a better shot at running his race in this smaller field. Sweetnorthernsaint has proven capable of winning from the rail to the 10 hole whether the track comes up wet or dry.

WEAKNESSES: Though he gave a good account of himself, considering the problems he encountered in the Derby, he is a forward-running horse by preference, and there will be several speedy foes entered that can affect his early placement and pace. He tired down the lane in the Derby and still must prove he is capable of going beyond 1 1/8 miles against top-notch company.

STRATEGY: Getting a clean break and finding a good spot to rate just behind the pacemakers are the top priorities. The next step is to maintain his own rhythm throughout the race and avoid getting drawn into pressing fractions that would be adverse to a strong finish.

VALUE: After winning the Derby by such a large margin, Barbaro is likely to be heavily favored and Sweetnorthernsaint will probably be the third choice, behind Brother Derek. He figures to offer about 5-1 or 6-1, but it would be no surprise if he retains the confidence of his Derby supporters and drops lower as post time approaches.

- Elliot Safdie

8 Bernardini

Darley Stables
Thomas Albertrani
Javier Castellano
DRF Line 10-1
Record 3-2-0-0
Best Beyer 104

Strengths: Bernardini is a well-bred individual on the improve entering the second jewel of the Triple Crown. The son of Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cup Classic hero A.P. Indy and Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet winner Cara Rafaela, Bernardini exhibited talent capturing Aqueduct's Grade 3 Withers in just his third start. A Darley Stable homebred, he hasn't been seriously threatened in two outings since adding Lasix, and his Beyer Speed Figure of 104 in the Withers is second to only Barbaro for the best-last race number.

Weaknesses: This very well may be a case of asking too much too soon from the lightly raced, promising Bernardini. He is just two races removed from a Gulfstream maiden victory and will be making his two-turn debut in this classic event. The second finisher in his Withers triumph, Doc Cheney, had previously finished 10th at 25-1 in Barbaro's Florida Derby. Bernardini has raced right on top of the pace in both victories, and there is no shortage of quality early zip in the Preakness.

Strategy: Javier Castellano, the regular partner of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, will probably attempt to secure position right behind probable pacesetter Like Now. His best upset chance could come if that speedy foe comes up wanting on the far turn and Bernardini is able to get the jump on Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint before bracing for the formidable Barbaro.

Value: Bernardini was 9-5 in his two wins but figures to be in the neighborhood of 20-1 on Saturday. Fans of his pedigree and upside could find that price enticing, although his lack of seasoning coupled with the other questions he faces render an upset unlikely.

- Paul Malecki

9 Diabolical

Puglisi Stables and Steve Klesaris
Steve Klesaris
Ramon Dominguez
DRF Line 30-1
Record 8-2-4-1
Best Beyer 101

STRENGTHS:Diabolical exits an impressive wire job at Delaware Park in a first-level allowance, underlining the fact that he'll be a pace factor. Have to admire his honesty in never being worse than fourth in eight starts. Earned a triple-digit Beyer to just miss winning the 6 1/2-furlong Spectacular Bid, proving he deserves a shot here. He rallied from behind to finish second to Barbaro the last time they both raced in Maryland in the Laurel Futurity.

WEAKNESSES: His lack of Grade 1 stakes experience plus the fact that he's yet to race beyond a mile on dirt are concerns. His sire, Artax, was an Eclipse champion sprinter whose progeny have fared best sprinting. Also, he finished eight lengths behind Barbaro in the Laurel Futurity at 2, and while he's improved since, so has Barbaro.

STRATEGY: Diabolical will be forwardly placed and should prove a factor in the early stages of the Preakness, as he's usually within a couple of lengths of the lead after a half-mile. A speedball as a 2-year-old, he seems more willing to rate now. If he can sit just behind Like Now early, perhaps he can get the jump on Barbaro, Brother Derek, and Sweetnorthernsaint and then hope they bounce off their Derby efforts.

VALUE: Expect double-digit odds, somewhere in the 15-1 to 25-1 range, as he makes his Triple Crown debut.

- Bill Howard