05/13/2008 11:00PM

'Rocker' out, Gayego may go

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Barbara D. Livingston
Gayego, 17th of 20 in the Kentucky Derby, might return in the Preakness.

When Citation won the Kentucky Derby in 1948, just five other horses, including stablemate Coaltown, could be rounded up to face him. Two weeks later, all five had disappeared. When Citation ran in the Preakness Stakes, just three rivals - all of whom bypassed the Derby - tried, futilely, to beat him.

A similar scenario appeared to be playing out this year. Until Monday, not one of the 19 horses who faced Big Brown in the Derby on May 3 was scheduled to try again this Saturday in the 133rd Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md.

But Monday afternoon, Paulo Lobo, the trainer of Gayego, said he was seriously considering running Gayego in the Preakness. Gayego finished 17th after a wide trip in the Derby, but won the Arkansas Derby in his previous race.

Lobo said he had retained the services of jockey Mike Smith should Gayego run, and he looked into flight arrangements on Wednesday for Gayego. Lobo, who has never been to Pimlico, asked a reporter what airport was best for him to fly into (the answer: BWI). Add it up, and it seemed as though Gayego was going to run.

"He's doing very well," said Lobo, who is based at Hollywood Park. "I am going to see how he gallops [on Tuesday]. Then I will take a blood. If everything is good, there's a good chance he's going to go."

On Monday morning, it was announced that the undefeated Harlem Rocker, who likely would have been the second choice in the Preakness, would bypass the race. That occurred just two days after Recapturetheglory, who was fifth in the Derby, was taken out of consideration for the Preakness after running a high temperature.

If Gayego runs, he would be the only horse in the Preakness who chased Big Brown in the Derby. As of Monday, there were 11 new shooters signed up, only two of whom - Behindatthebar and Hey Byrn - have won a graded stakes race. That brings the potential Preakness field to 13. The Preakness field is capped at 14 runners. A three-tiered system tied to earnings determines the field if more than 14 enter.

Entries for the 1 3/16-mile Preakness are due Wednesday morning, and posts will be drawn on Wednesday evening during a live telecast (5-6 p.m. Eastern time) on ESPN2. The post draw will be a traditional blind draw, which Pimlico reverted to last year.

In addition to Big Brown (Kent Desormeaux the rider), who will be an odds-on favorite, and Gayego (Smith), the field will likely include Behindatthebar (David Flores), Giant Moon (Ramon Dominguez), Hey Byrn (Chuck Lopez), Icabad Crane (Jeremy Rose), Kentucky Bear (Jamie Theriot), Macho Again (Julien Leparoux), Racecar Rhapsody (Robby Albarado), Riley Tucker (Edgar Prado), Stevil (John Velazquez), Tres Borrachos (Tyler Baze), and Yankee Bravo (Alex Solis).

Harlem Rocker's defection may have made Big Brown's task a little easier. Harlem Rocker was coming off a victory in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, and worked sharply on Sunday morning on Belmont Park's training track. But Frank Stronach, who bred and owns Harlem Rocker - and whose Magna Entertainment owns Pimlico - decided not to run after conferring by telephone from his native Austria with Harlem Rocker's trainer, Todd Pletcher.

"He felt like it's early in this horse's career, [and] it's a long year," Pletcher said in his Belmont Park barn office Monday morning. "He wants to play it conservative for now."

In 2000, Red Bullet, a Stronach-owned colt who passed the Derby, upset Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus in the Preakness.

So, rather than run in the Preakness, Harlem Rocker's goal is now the Queen's Plate at Woodbine on June 22, a race that is restricted to Canadian-breds.

Pletcher wanted to go to the Preakness, in which Big Brown will be racing on just two weeks' rest for the first time in his career.

"The horse is doing well," Pletcher said. "He had a very good breeze. You could make the case now might be the right time to catch Big Brown. But there are a lot of important races down the road."

Richard Dutrow Jr., who trains Big Brown, had said last week that the Preakness rival he would fear most was Harlem Rocker. When informed on Monday that Harlem Rocker was passing the race, Dutrow said, "I'm happy he's out. How could I not be happy about it?"

"Plus," Dutrow added, laughing, "I don't like beating Stronach in big races."

Big Brown and Dutrow have remained at Churchill Downs since the Derby. They are scheduled to fly to Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon on a cargo flight that is also expected to include Preakness runners Macho Again, Racecar Rhapsody, Stevil, and Tres Borrachos.

Wet weather forced Big Brown to merely jog again on Monday, but Dutrow said the light schedule is fine considering the quick turnaround between races.

"It's all good," Dutrow said.

Stevil, also based at Churchill Downs, was scheduled to work on Monday, but the drill was postponed by trainer Nick Zito because of the wet track.

Even though Harlem Rocker is out, Pletcher will be represented in the Preakness by Behindatthebar, who won last month's Lexington Stakes at Keeneland but then was purposely kept out of the Derby. On Sunday, Pletcher worked Harlem Rocker and Behindatthebar in company over a fast Belmont Park training track. Daily Racing Form timed the move in 59.63 seconds. It was Behindatthebar's first work over a regular dirt surface. All his previous breezes had come over synthetic surfaces in California and at Keeneland.

"I liked the work," Pletcher said. "I feel better about the four weeks as opposed to rushing him back in the Derby. He's never won on conventional dirt, so that's the biggest question mark."

Riley Tucker, third to Behindatthebar in the Lexington, worked five furlongs Monday morning over a Belmont training track labeled good. Leana Willaford was up for the work, which trainer Bill Mott clocked in 1:04.

Asked if he was looking for anything specific out of the work, Mott said, "I thought he was going to holler to me 'We're going to beat Big Brown' as he went by."

Mott said he likely will ship Riley Tucker to Baltimore on Wednesday to give him a day or two to train at Pimlico.

As of Monday, the only Preakness runner at Pimlico was Kentucky Bear, who arrived last week. Hey Byrn was expected on Tuesday, with Gayego and Yankee Bravo traveling from California on Wednesday.

Giant Moon is not scheduled to travel from New York until Friday, and Behindatthebar will not arrive from New York until Saturday morning. Icabad Crane is based at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland and will make the one-hour van ride to Pimlico on Saturday morning, trainer Graham Motion said.

It rained heavily in the Baltimore area on Monday, but the forecast was for clear, warmer weather through the middle of the week.

Temperatures Friday and Saturday are forecast to be in the mid- to upper 60s.

- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee

Preakness contenders

Horse, Trainer, Jockey

Behindatthebar, T. Pletcher, D. Flores

Big Brown, R. Dutrow Jr., K. Desormeaux

Gayego, P. Lobo, Mike Smith

Giant Moon, R. Schosberg, R. Dominguez

Hey Byrn, E. Plesa Jr., C.C. Lopez

Icabad Crane, G. Motion. J. Rose

Kentucky Bear, R. Baker, J. Theriot

Macho Again, D. Stewart, J. Leparoux

Racecar Rhapsody, K. McPeek, R. Albarado

Riley Tucker, W. Mott, E. Prado

Stevil, N. Zito, J. Velazquez

Tres Borrachos, B. Greely, T. Baze

Yankee Bravo, P. Gallagher, A. Solis