05/09/2010 11:00PM

Super Saver hasn't scared away anybody


NEW YORK - There are always new shooters in the Preakness. But what seems like an unusually high eight horses intend to start Saturday at Pimlico after not running in the Kentucky Derby. I mean, it wasn't even two weeks ago that Super Saver won the Derby by daylight over 19 rivals, after which jockey Calvin Borel - who has now won not only three of the last four Kentucky Derbies, but also last year's Preakness - proclaimed Super Saver a threat to become the first Triple Crown winner in 32 years.

One can see where Borel was coming from. The Derby was by far Super Saver's best career performance, and it came in only his third start of the year, which means he is as fresh as you will see a Derby winner at this stage of the game. Super Saver has the sort of versatile running style - he has won on the lead and he showed in the Derby that he can win rating a meaningful distance off the pace - that allows him to work out good trips. Super Saver is not especially beholden to racing luck.

Then again, while eight new shooters in this Preakness might seem like a lot, you can also understand why folks might not be at all afraid to step up and take their chances Saturday. For one, Super Saver enjoyed an absolute dream trip in the Derby, especially compared with runner-up Ice Box and sixth-place finisher Lookin At Lucky. Ice Box, in particular, had such a terrible trip and yet finished so furiously that it is easy to think if he had just a fair share of racing luck we probably wouldn't be speaking of Super Saver as the Derby winner.

There is also the matter of Super Saver and his relationship to Churchill Downs. Super Saver has now won two stakes races (the Kentucky Jockey Club is his other stakes win) and both came on the main track at Churchill. Super Saver is 2 for 2 at Churchill, and 1 for 5 at other tracks. In fairness, it should be noted that Super Saver has run well at other tracks. But still, this at least raises the question of whether he is the proverbial "horse for the course."

And then, there is what I believe to be a big issue: Super Saver's Derby win, the best performance of his career by a substantial margin, came in the slop. If Super Saver was a $10,000 claimer, coming off a daylight score over a full field of fellow claimers going two turns in the slop at Churchill, and was now running over a different track today, horseplayers would be lining up to bet against him. That is because horseplayers, justifiably, tend to view results on sloppy tracks with a healthy measure of skepticism. We know that since so many horses just won't extend themselves in such conditions, sloppy-rack results are often inconclusive. This is not meant to detract from Super Saver's win in the Derby, or suggest he can't win the Preakness. But no one knows if he can perform as well as he did in the Derby on a fast track. And even if he should catch another sloppy track Saturday, we also don't know if he can run as well, because a sloppy track at Churchill and a sloppy track at Pimlico are not identical.

In any event, let's take a quick look at the nine newcomers in the Preakness:

* Aikenite: Finally returned to a deep-closing approach, which is definitely his best running style, last time in the Derby Trial, and responded with an improved second. Could get a piece at a good price.

* Caracortado: While everyone talked about Lookin At Lucky's tough trip when he finished third in the Santa Anita Derby, this one also had a tough trip finishing fourth in that race. Intriguing.

* First Dude: I picked him in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass, and he ran okay in defeat in both. I would like to see him get blinkers to keep him from continuing to lose focus on the far turn.

* Hurricane Ike: Comes off a strong win in the Derby Trial. But you have to wonder how much of that performance was enhanced by the muddy track. You also have to wonder about his almost total lack of two-turn experience. He's bred to route, but has been two turns only once, and that outing was not good.

* Northern Giant: Third at 53-1 in the Risen Star, then second in the lowly rated Lane's End before finishing last of nine last time in the Arkansas Derby. The weakest of the new shooters.

* Pleasant Prince: Missed by a nose to Ice Box in the Florida Derby, and then had two more starts in the next five weeks in an attempt to collect enough graded earnings to secure a berth in the Derby. It didn't work, and his Florida Derby is looking more and more like an aberration.

* Schoolyard Dreams: I still don't believe he lost in the Tampa Bay Derby; finished ahead of Super Saver in the process, and then was crushed like everyone else by Eskendereya in the Wood Memorial. This colt has some potential.

* Yawanna Twist: Waited too long to keep American Lion honest on the lead in the Illinois Derby last time and paid the price when turned back by that opponent in the stretch. Was not flattered, however, when American Lion came back to finish 11th in the Kentucky Derby.