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Fresh faces look to defy odds and history

BALTIMORE -- When Red Bullet won last year's Preakness, it was the first time in 17 years that a non-starter in the Kentucky Derby won the second jewel of Thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.

Jerry Bailey
Jockey Jerry Bailey, who won the 2000 Preakness aboard Red Bullet, takes over the mount on Congaree in this year's edition.
In between Deputed Testamony in 1983 and Red Bullet, there were 70 Derby non-starters that tried and failed. Many were hopeless longshots, but some - like Olympio (fourth in 1991), Alydeed (second in 1992), and Touch Gold (fourth in 1997) - were highly regarded.

A few fresh faces did add some spice to the exotic payoffs during the 1990's. When Oliver's Twist finished second to favorite Timber Country at 25-1 in 1995 it helped fuel a $266 exacta. Four years later, Badge finished third at 58-1 behind Kentucky Derby one-two finishers Charismatic and Menifee to trigger a $2,049.80 trifecta payoff.

This year, six of the 11 horses entered for Saturday's 126th Preakness did not run in the Kentucky Derby. And, as in most years, all of the newcomers will be sent off at double-digit odds. While there may not be a Red Bullet among this year's crop, finding the Oliver's Twist or Badge could make for a rewarding afternoon.

The sextet come with a variety of running styles, from the likely pacesetter Richly Blended, to the stalking Mr. John and Marciano to the late-running Bay Eagle. The following is a thumbnail sketch of the newcomers, in order of their odds as set by Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker:

Richly Blended (15-1): Richly Blended was a $6,000 late nominee to the Triple Crown following his 5 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Gotham, a one-turn mile at Aqueduct. He tried unsuccessfully to stretch out around two turns when third behind Congaree and Monarchos in the Wood Memorial. The day Monarchos and Congaree ran one-three in the Derby, Richly Blended won the Grade 3 Withers, another one-turn mile race at Aqueduct, by 4 1/4 lengths, so he doesn't necessarily come in fresh.

In the Wood, Richly Blended was engaged by Congaree after the opening quarter-mile. Saturday, trainer Bob Baffert is taking the blinkers off Congaree in hopes of getting him to relax. That leaves Percy Hope as the likely other speed, though his trainer, Tony Reinstedler, said his horse can rate.

"Hopefully, if he can clear he'll relax a little bit and go as far as he can," said Ben Perkins Jr., the trainer of Richly Blended. "I'm certainly not overconfident. We have a nice horse and there are some things in my mind that could happen that could help us."

Richly Blended figures to set the pace for as long as he can in the Preakness, but is unlikely to pull another Louis Quatorze, the last Preakness winner to go gate to wire.

Mr. John (20-1): Like Richly Blended, he has run five times but has yet to prove himself around two turns. Trainer Elliott Walden, who lost the Preakness with favorites Victory Gallop and Menifee in 1998-99, believes Mr. John ran the best race of his career when finishing second behind Keats in the Lexington Stakes, his first two-turn try. (Mr. John was disqualified and placed eighth for interference early in the Lexington.)

"The advantage that I see we have is two-fold," Walden said. "He's got tactical speed and the thing I like most about him is he has the ability to rate. He's a very fast breaker, he'll come out of there first - and that's indicative of the speed he showed as a 2-year-old - but he's learned to settle and place himself."

Mr. John, a son of Golden Gear, chased Richly Blended around the track when finishing second in the Gotham. This horse figures to be stalking the pace, but the distance and the competition figure to eat him up in the stretch.

Marciano (30-1): Winner of the Federico Tesio - Pimlico's traditional Preakness prep - this son of Two Punch is a trifecta/superfecta possibility. Unlike most progeny of his sire who prefer to sprint, Marciano seems better running long. He stalked a slow pace when running down Talk Is Money in the Tesio.

He has won 5 of 11 starts and comes off two solid efforts in the Private Terms and Federico Tesio. Still, this is a significant class test for Marciano, who finished fourth in the Gotham.

"The Tesio was a very good race," Ritchey said. "He had to be very determined. He was stuck on the rail and he had to push his way out a little bit. He outran Talk Is Money, who had a dream trip."

Percy Hope (30-1): Enters Preakness off victories in the Rushaway Stakes and the Lone Star Derby. His victory in the Lone Star Derby makes him eligible for a $1 million bonus given by Lone Star Park to the connections of Lone Star Derby winner provided he can win one of the Triple Crown races.

"I have a hard time making myself think he fits at the top level with Monarchos, Congaree, and Point Given," trainer Tony Reinstedler said. "This is horse racing and crazier things have happened."

Reinstedler said he skipped the Kentucky Derby because his horse needed more time and he wanted the upper echelon horses to beat up on each other.

Although Percy Hope won the Lone Star Derby on the front end, Reinstedler said he doesn't need to be on the pace.

Bay Eagle (50-1): Defeated Marciano in the Private Terms before finishing a troubled fourth in the Lexington Stakes. Trainer Graham Motion believes Bay Eagle will benefit from the added distance, and that his late-running style suits the race.

"If we had a different running style we wouldn't be doing it," Motion said. "The fact is, he's a definite closer. He made a beautiful move in the Lexington down the backside, but on a speed-favoring track going a mile and a sixteenth it wasn't his scenario. In a race like this where I'm sure there'll be a good pace he'll be running at the end."

Griffinite (50-1): This horse has talent but may not be best suited to show it Saturday. The Preakness is his third race in 39 days after not running for four months. He acted up terribly before the Lafayette but then unleashed a powerful closing kick to get up at the wire. Rushed back in 10 days, he bounced while finishing third (placed second) in the Lexington.

He appears to have overcome some serious foot problems and if he can settle in the early stages of the race he may be able to work his way into the superfecta.