LITTLE ROCK —In thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, they are called new shooters — horses that did not participate in the Kentucky Derby for one reason or another, but line up to ruin the dream for the Derby winner in the Preakness or the Belmont.
Since 2000, three Preakness winners did something other than compete in the Derby, although 2009 champion Rachel Alexandra shouldn’t count since she beat up on the fillies in the Kentucky Oaks the day before Mine That Bird won the Derby.
In 2006, Bernardini won a lesser stakes race in New York while other 3-year-olds gathered in Kentucky and then won the Preakness on the third Saturday in May.
Six years earlier, Red Bullet couldn’t hold off Fusaichi Pegasus in the Wood Memorial in New York in April and passed on a rematch at Churchill Downs where Pegasus flew home. "We felt he wasn’t a horse on schedule for the Derby," said trainer Joe Orseno.
He prepared Red Bullet with a very fast workout, hired Jerry Bailey as his jockey, and Red Bullet beat the 1-5 favorite by almost four lengths.
Orseno said prior to the race that he had always been told, "‘Don’t duck one horse.’"
With that history and Orseno’s quote as background, Departing is the most obvious to play the spoiler in the Preakness on May 18.
Winner of four of five, Departing had enough points to run in the Kentucky Derby, but trainer Al Stall Jr. opted for the $750,000 Illinois Derby on April 20 and Departing romped. His only defeat was in the Louisiana Derby, won by Revolutionary. On Saturday, Revolutionary was third in the Derby. In the Louisiana Derby, Departing held off Golden Soul for third and it was Golden Soul who finished second to Orb in the Derby.
Al Stall Jr., trainer of Departing, saddled a horse in the 12th race on Saturday — the one after the Derby — but watched the 11th with great interest.
"By passing the Derby, I have the luxury of sitting back and watching to see how things pan out before making a decision on his next start," Stall said after the Illinois Derby. "To see whether they go in 2:03 and five or six of them bunch up on the wire in the Derby or if Orb and Verrazano pull 10 clear of the field and go in 2:00 and change. After that, we’ll make a decision on whether to go on to the Preakness."
Less than 24 hours after Orb’s stopped the clock in 2:02.89 and four lengths covered the first four, Stall confirmed that Departing would be in the Preakness.
A muddy track is a convenient, sometimes legitimate excuse for many of those who turned in disappointing performances at Churchill Downs and some of them will be in Baltimore. Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents, third choice in the wagering but 17th at the finish, is in that group. The Derby did not take much out of Goldencents because jockey Kevin Krigger stood up through most of the stretch once he was certain the colt had no chance.
If Orb does win in Baltimore, more new shooters and some old foes will be waiting in New York.
In the 2008 Belmont, Da’Tara, winner of one race in his career and a no-show in the Derby and Preakness, upset Big Brown at 38-1 when the Derby-Preakness winner had nothing for the stretch run.
Birdstone in 2004 and Empire Maker in 2003 passed the Preakness and halted the Triple Crown hopes of Smarty Jones and Funny Cide. In 2002, Sarava sat out the Derby and the Preakness and then stopped Derby-Preakness winner War Emblem in the Belmont.
Already, the 2-3 finishers in the Derby, plus Arkansas Derby winner Overanalyze, are being pointed for the Belmont.
Pursuing the Triple Crown, the Derby winner goes against a stacked deck.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.