05/18/2005 11:00PM

Preakness Stakes analysis

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Afleet Alex bounced in finishing third in a slow Kentucky Derby after a career-best effort winning the Arkansas Derby. He seemed to be making a threatening move at Churchill Downs, but he grew fatigued after racing reasonably close to a fast pace, drifting inside late under right-handing urging from jockey Jeremy Rose.

Although Pimlico is not his home track, his trainer, Tim Ritchey, has a winning history there. He has compiled a 17-11-13 record with 87 starters at Pimlico since 2000, which translates to 21 percent winners, 51 percent in the money, and a $2.88 return on investment. Unlike many trainers with horses in the Preakness, he opted to send Afleet Alex to Pimlico shortly after the Derby to get him acquainted with the surroundings.

Afleet Alex takes the Preakness.

High Fly was one of many close-to-the-pace horses who collapsed after chasing fast fractions in the Derby. He at least managed to poke his head in front for a brief stage leaving the final turn. He may have fresher legs than some of his Preakness counterparts, after coming into the Derby following a five-week break after winning the Florida Derby. A consistent colt, he should return to top form.

Giacomo may have run slowly in winning the Derby, covering 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.75, but there were 19 others who ran slower than he did. He merits respect for having passed the ultimate class test by winning the Kentucky Derby. Six of the last eight Derby winners have won the Preakness, including some, such as Charismatic and Silver Charm, who were paid little respect.

Giacomo posted the slowest winning Beyer Speed Figure in the Derby since those figures were first published in Daily Racing Form in 1992, running a 100. He may offer value, though, if he drifts above his 6-1 morning line.

Closing Argument seemed to lay up upon making the lead in the stretch of the Kentucky Derby - perhaps the result of getting hit by what some jockeys have called a "wall of sound," that being the cheers of approximately 150,000 people. He ran well to be second in the Kentucky Derby as the longest price on the board, and he may outrun his odds again.

* Afleet Alex

* High Fly

* Giacomo

* Closing ArgumentComing into the Kentucky Derby, Greeley's Galaxy was an improving horse. He showed ascending Beyers in all three of his races since his debut and looked especially good when he cruised by 9 1/2 lengths in the Illinois Derby. Unfortunately he broke slowly, fell far back, made a wide move into contention, then lost ground and finished in midpack at Churchill. Draw a line through that race and he is capable of winning the Preakness. His 15-1 morning line is an attractive overlay.

Afleet Alex delivered a career-best race in the Arkansas Derby when he ran six furlongs in 1:12.78 and kicked home in 36.02, an average of about 12.01 seconds per furlong. But when Afleet Alex was just five lengths behind the 1:09.59 pace in the Kentucky Derby, the extra energy he used to run more than two seconds faster to that point weakened his closing punch and kept him from outkicking the tiring speed through the slow 53.16-second final half-mile, an average of 13.29 per furlong. If Afleet Alex is ridden more patiently in the Preakness, he will be formidable at modest odds.

Closing Argument stayed within striking distance of the Kentucky Derby's swift pace while in the front third of the field early, rallied to take the lead in the stretch, then held on to finish a close second. If he runs as well today, he will be a prime contender. Insist on a square price, as he cannot afford regression back to a more ordinary effort.

High Fly was fried when he stayed too close to the early pace in the Kentucky Derby. He still managed to finish in the front half of the field in 10th, and lost by only 7 3/4 lengths. Rationing his speed evenly isn't his specialty, but he is capable of running slower fractions than he did in that race. If he is able to slow down during the first six furlongs, he should do better here.

Giacomo graduated at Santa Anita, then lost five straight races prior to his 50-1 triumph in the Kentucky Derby. Another 100 Beyer probably won't be good enough to win this race, so he will have to improve again to repeat. He won't be a low price, but his name recognition will still attract enough support to make him an underlay. I'll see if I can beat him.

Given a $100 bankroll for this race, I will bet $70 to win on Greeley's Galaxy, with a $30 exacta saver using Afleet Alex over Greeley's Galaxy.

* Greeley's Galaxy

* Afleet Alex

* Closing Argument

* High FlyHorses just don't win the Preakness from the far outside, but that is where the Kentucky Derby's first and third finishers wound up. Afleet Alex, outfinished in all three of his Grade 1 route starts, is best forsaken as the morning-line choice from post 12. And from the 13-hole it's difficult to envision Giacomo getting another perfect setup like he received at Churchill Downs.

Can Closing Argument win? Perhaps, but his two top-figure efforts, spaced months apart, did not break 100 and hardly inspire confidence. At least he projects for a reasonable trip and is relatively fresh. There are worse Preakness angles than taking the horse that led the Derby at the stretch call.

Because of their difficult trips in the Derby and favorable draws, either Greeley's Galaxy or High Fly might rebound. Greeley's Galaxy, less publicized, is sure to be a much better price than the Jerry Bailey-ridden High Fly.

As a reward for putting up a $200,000 supplemental fee, Greeley's Galaxy's owner had the bittersweet thrill of watching the following trip unfold in the Derby: Pinched back at the break, four wide first turn, 11-length gain while wider still through the second half-mile, bounced around between rivals midstretch, and beaten for fifth by less than two lengths.

Such misfortune would be irrelevant if Greeley's Galaxy did not have talent, but he does. Any 3-year-old who strings together maiden-allowance-Illinois Derby wins as the distances lengthen, leaping forward 10-15 Beyer points each time, is sending emphatic signals.

Greeley's Galaxy seems like a natural stalker. After being taken out of his game in the Derby, it would be no surprise if he ran back to his penultimate figure, a level superior to all but the unfortunately drawn Afleet Alex.

High Fly had few options while sucked along between horses close to the insane Derby fractions, but was still fighting to the eighth pole. He had every right to get leg-weary off a five-week layoff, and the running line looks a lot like the one recorded by Point Given prior to his return to form in the Preakness.

Noble Causeway took his first backward step in the Derby after checking sharply early. Something close to his Florida Derby effort might land him on the board.

* Greeley's Galaxy

* High Fly

* Closing Argument

* Noble CausewayPerhaps the key question heading into the Preakness is whether Giacomo's victory in the Kentucky Derby was a fluke set up by the ridiculous pace or if it was the performance of a talented young horse who is peaking at just the right time. I'll opt for the latter answer and give the Derby winner the nod to repeat in what appears to be a wide-open middle leg of the Triple Crown. From all indications, the pace should be an honest one again Saturday, with High Limit, Going Wild, and perhaps Galloping Grocer all having a say in the early running. While the post position is a concern and the price obviously won't be as generous as it was two weeks earlier, 6-1 or thereabouts isn't hard to take on a horse who has already proven he is as good as, if not better than, the half- dozen or so legitimate contenders in this race. Wilko defeated Giacomo in the Santa Anita Derby and turned in a great final workout for their rematch in Kentucky but obviously did not run his best that day. He did make up ground despite some traffic problems through the stretch, and I'm willing to give him another chance considering he also may offer a little value in this very competitive field. Closing Argument ran a huge race in the Derby, overcoming trouble at the break and a wide trip to nearly spring an even larger upset than the one perpetrated by Giacomo. Not sure how he will fare returning on only two weeks' rest while coming off a career-best Beyer performance, but even a repeat of his last would put him right in the thick of things again. Afleet Alex had every chance to win the Derby, but came up empty in the final furlong, leaving a nagging feeling he might be a bit over the top at this point of the season following a couple of huge efforts earlier this spring. He is obviously one of the key contenders, but I'm not quite confident enough to take him as the likely favorite. High Fly demands respect after forcing the fast Derby pace, and should get a good trip from post 2. I would like to believe Sun King is better than his effort in the Derby might suggest, although he had no visible excuse other than the fact he was racing on what was perhaps the deeper going near the rail.

* Giacomo

* Wilko

* Closing Argument

* Afleet AlexFor a horse who was a pace factor in his four previous starts, Greeley's Galaxy had to feel like a fish out of water in the early stages of the Kentucky Derby. After a slow start, he was 17th a quarter of a mile into the race, 16th after a half-mile, and was still 14th six furlongs in. To his credit, Greeley's Galaxy did make a wide run into contention around the far turn, and though he wound up 11th, he was beaten only eight lengths for all the money. This time, Greeley's Galaxy projects to sit a beautiful stalking trip off a pace that figures to be contested by Going Wild, High Limit, Galloping Grocer, and perhaps Scrappy T. Greeley's Galaxy's romp in the Illinois Derby two starts back suggests he is good enough, and fast enough, to capitalize on that kind of trip; taken to upset.

High Fly finished 10th in the Derby, and ran a fine race. He was within 2 1/2 lengths of the early lead through the fast initial fractions, poked his head in front turning for home, and was still fighting it out in midstretch before weakening late. With it all, he finished a neck in front of Greeley's Galaxy while coming off a five-week layoff and going a distance many questioned his ability to handle. High Fly still may not be a 1 1/4-mile horse, and he is no certainty at the 1 3/16 miles of the Preakness, either. But he could fall into the same trip Greeley's Galaxy figures to get, and that makes him dangerous.

Noble Causeway never really got untracked in the Derby after having to take up in the early stages, finishing 14th. He is certainly capable of better as indicated by his solid second to High Fly in the Florida Derby two starts back, and can get involved late here.

Afleet Alex had every chance to win the Derby, and the fact that he settled for third suggests to me that the distance was beyond his range. This race is a sixteenth of a mile shorter, but it also may be a sixteenth of a mile longer than what he prefers, all of which means he is no bargain as the favorite. And as for Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, he has to prove to me that his 50-1 upset in Louisville wasn't entirely due to the extremely slow final fractions.

* Greeley's Galaxy

* High Fly

* Noble Causeway

* Afleet Alex