05/17/2005 11:00PM

As usual, new shooters face long odds


BALTIMORE - Coming off one of the most unpredictable Kentucky Derby results in recent memory, handicappers might be eager to look at the newcomers to the Triple Crown trail to find the Preakness winner.

History tells us this is not a good idea.

Since 1983, Red Bullet is the only Preakness winner who did not start in the Kentucky Derby. In that span, 100 other non-Derby starters have tried to win the Preakness, with a handful good enough to finish in the money. Last year, non-Derby runners Rock Hard Ten and Eddington finished second and third behind runaway Preakness winner Smarty Jones.

This year, a record-tying 10 horses who competed in the Derby are coming back in Saturday's 130th Preakness. That leaves only four spots for non-Derby starters. As one might expect, the quartet of Scrappy T, Galloping Grocer, Hal's Image, and Malibu Moonshine will all be longshots to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown.

Of the four, perhaps the gelding Scrappy T has the best chance of making an impact in the race. A well-named son of Fit to Fight, Scrappy T has never finished worse than third in nine career starts. Scrappy T wintered in New York, winning the Count Fleet and, most recently, the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct. He finished third in the Whirlaway and Wood Memorial.

While nobody was going to beat Bellamy Road in the Wood, trainer Robert Bailes believes Scrappy T could have finished second if jockey Rafael Bejarano's saddle had not slipped at the half-mile pole. As it was, Scrappy T was beaten less than one length for second behind Survivalist.

He came back with a strong performance in the Withers, a one-turn mile race, in which his one-length victory over Park Avenue Ball earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure, 2 points higher than Giacomo's winning figure in the Kentucky Derby.

Scrappy T, who will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez, will be forwardly placed in the Preakness. The big question is whether he can handle the race's 1 3/16-mile distance.

"We're kind of doing a lot of what the handicappers are doing, wondering whether we're going to get the distance," Bailes said. "Pimlico is going to favor us a little bit trying to get the extra distance. Off of [the Withers], I really feel strongly he'll get it."

Bailes particularly liked the way Scrappy T relaxed in the Withers, sitting off War Plan through a moderate half-mile before taking over in the stretch. He did veer in during the stretch while awkwardly changing leads.

"He'll relax a little more now than what he used to," Bailes said. "I know my horse is really doing good. I'm believing he's going to run a really strong race on Saturday."

Galloping Grocer entered 2005 as a highly regarded Kentucky Derby prospect after crushing New York-bred company and running a good second behind Rockport Harbor in the Remsen last year. His star has lost its luster with four defeats at 3, but Galloping Grocer's connections believe he has been a victim of circumstance more than anything.

In the Whirlaway, Grocer got caught up in a hot pace and finished fourth, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths. After missing the Fountain of Youth with a foot bruise, he ran in the Gotham, a one-turn mile, and was jostled in deep stretch while losing by one length. His connections opted to rate him in the Wood, and that proved pointless as he finished fourth, 26 1/4 lengths behind Bellamy Road.

Galloping Grocer came back two weeks later in the Times Square Division of the New York Stallion Stakes and finished third, beaten a half-length. In that race, Galloping Grocer dueled for the early lead, dropped back when things got tight on the turn, and tried to come again on two tiring leaders.

"I just think he's not had racing luck as a 3-year-old," said trainer Dominick Schettino, who is mired in a 2-for-60 slump this year. "He has physical ability; he's training well. In that aspect, he's not regressing."

Like Scrappy T, Galloping Grocer figures to be forwardly placed under new rider Joe Bravo.

Hal's Image is a half-brother to Hal's Hope, the Florida Derby winner who finished last of eight in the 2000 Preakness. Hal's Image is only for 2 for 16, but his last two races were his best, including a victory in the Unbridled Stakes at Calder on April 30.

Trainer Barry Rose, the son of the late trainer and breeder Harold Rose, believes his horse is finally coming the right way.

"We changed a lot of things," Rose said. "We changed his feeding program, we trained him differently. He's probably put on a couple of hundred pounds. He's a lot stronger, has a lot more stamina."

Rose said he wouldn't mind seeing his horse on the lead under Jose Santos.

Malibu Moonshine is the local hope, trained by the legendary King Leatherbury. A son of Malibu Moon, Malibu Moonshine has swept the trio of 3-year-old races run here - the Miracle Wood, Private Terms, and Federico Tesio. He has not run particularly fast in any of those races, and Leatherbury is realistic about his chances.

"He's got an outside shot," Leatherbury said. "I've got to get all the good horses not to run their race, and we've got to run our top race."

- additional reporting by Marty McGee