BALTIMORE – Long shot Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo is not to be confused with Funny Cide or Smarty Jones, who became solid favorites to win the Preakness after prevailing at Churchill Downs. The morning-line favorite for the Saturday race was Afleet Alex, a tepid 5-2 choice after finishing third in the Derby.
Giacomo (search) (6-1) was the fourth choice, behind three horses he beat, including High Fly (search) (9-2) and Closing Argument (search) (5-1). New shooters Scrappy T (search) and Galloping Grocer (search), as well as Wilko (search), Greeley's Galaxy (search) and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas' horse, Going Wild (search), also garnered attention in the wide-open race.
Throw in the chance that there might be rain, and picking the winner becomes that much more difficult.
Lukas issued a challenge to anyone confident enough to forecast the winner of a decidedly unpredictable Preakness. "Pick a horse, any horse you want, and I'll book it. One through 14, I don't care who you pick," Lukas said. "Just tell me how much."
"If you want to go to exactas or superfectas, it's even harder. You'd have to box eight, nine horses," Lukas said. "You can eliminate some of these horses, realistically, but of course, if you'd have done that in the Derby you'd have gotten in trouble, too."
A fast pace at the outset of the Derby proved beneficial to Giacomo, who weaved through several tiring horses to beat Closing Argument and Afleet Alex to the finish line. Although Giacomo trainer John Shirreffs didn't expect to see the same kind of breakneck speed Saturday, he figured the speed horses wouldn't wait long before making a move.
"I think it'll set up pretty much like the Kentucky Derby, because a lot of the Kentucky Derby runners are in there. There's still a lot of horses with speed. How they choose to use it, I don't know," Shirreffs said. "But in this type of race, I think somebody will want to make a little bit of a pace."
For the first time since 1992, the Preakness drew a full field of 14 horses. It won't be as crowded as the 20-horse logjam that was the 2005 Kentucky Derby, yet there almost certainly could be some bumping and grinding before the horses find some separation.
"Anytime you have a full field, there's always traffic problems," Afleet Alex trainer Tim Ritchey said. "Hopefully we'll avoid them."
Afleet Alex is hindered by a poor post position, No. 12. On the opposite end of the track, 20-1 shot Malibu Moonshine was slated to line up next to the rail. Starting on the inside at Pimlico, a horse must break quickly from the gate or risk being pinned to the inside and lost in the crowd.
Given the option of choosing between the far outside and the No. 1 spot, Malibu Moonshine trainer King Leatherbury chose the latter.
"At least when we go in that first turn, we're not going to be three or four wide," he said. "If you've got the best horse in the race, you don't want to get in trouble, you don't want to be pinned up on the inside.
"But we don't have the best horse, so we've got to take our best shot from where it is. If we're going to get beat by being trapped on the inside, it's the same thing as getting beat by losing a lot of ground."
A heavy rain Friday made for a "sloppy" strip, but track supervisor Jamie Richardson said the surface would probably be rated "fast" if the rain let up by Friday night. The local weather forecast, however, called for a 30-percent chance of rain late Saturday afternoon.
"That's real hit or miss," Richardson said.