"Barbaro was so overpowering in his Kentucky Derby romp that winning next Saturday's Preakness seems to be a foregone conclusion."
- Associated Press
"Unbeaten Barbaro looks invincible."
- Asbury Park Press
"I'd say he's the best horse I've seen in the past 25 years ... on the dirt, turf, any age group."
- Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens
Can we all just please calm down.
Barbaro is a very good horse and his Kentucky Derby win was indeed tremendous. But nothing is a foregone conclusion, not the Preakness and certainly not the Triple Crown. This is a horse who still has several major obstacles to overcome before he justifies the overwhelming hype that seems to grow larger by the day. In fact, he is a "bet against" in the Preakness, which means he may very well win, but will be so overbet that a smart handicapper has no choice but to play someone else and hope for an upset.
Here are four reasons why Barbaro isn't a lock to win anything:
1. The Bounce Factor: Horses tend to regress after particularly strong races, especially when they are coming back on short rest. I won't be the least bit surprised if Barbaro wins the Preakness, but I will be astonished if he is as dominant as he was in the Derby. It would be highly unusual for a horse to come back in just two weeks after a lights-out performance and not take a step backward. He can bounce and still win, but it won't be by 6 1/2 lengths.
Many people believe that the way trainer Michael Matz spaced Barbaro's races prior to the Kentucky Derby will be an advantage. It very well may be that the exact opposite is true. Barbaro has never run with fewer than five weeks' rest between his races. Without his customary vacation between starts, he may not know what hit him when he goes to the gate Saturday.
2. Brother Derek: Don't think for a minute that Brother Derek is 9 1/2 lengths worse than Barbaro. That was the margin of defeat when he faced off against Barbaro in the Derby, but it is a very misleading number. Brother Derek had a bad trip in the Derby, racing wide on the first turn and very wide on the second, while Barbaro had a perfect trip. He probably wouldn't have beaten Barbaro that day anyway, but, with better racing luck, he would have been much closer. His trainer Dan Hendricks believes the effort was as good as any his colt has had in his career.
"I guess you could say it's his best race," he said of the Derby performance. "He made it back. He took dirt. He took adversity. He went wide and he circled the field and he lost a shoe and still finished a very creditable fourth. I could easily say he could have been second. So that's got to be one of his best races."
Suppose Barbaro brought his A game to Churchill Downs and Brother Derek brought his B game. There's no reason the situation won't be reversed Saturday. Brother Derek is a very good horse and will no doubt run far better in the Preakness than he did in the Derby. If so, he wouldn't be the first horse to rebound in the Preakness after a subpar Derby performance.
Here are some recent Preakness winners and their finishing positions in the Derby:
2001 Point Given 5th
1996 Louis Quatorze 16th
1994 Tabasco Cat 6th
1992 Pine Bluff 5th
1991 Hansel 10th
1986 Snow Chief 11th
3. Winning the Triple Crown May Be Impossible: No horse has won the Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. Since, 10 horses won the first two legs only to be tripped up by the Belmont. At least two, Spectacular Bid and Smarty Jones, looked like they had to fall down to lose, but somehow they couldn't get the job done. Winning the Triple Crown is an immensely difficult task and it is much harder now than it used to be because horses aren't used to running three times in five weeks and few are bred to handle a mile and a half. Is Barbaro better than Northern Dancer, Spectacular Bid, Sunday Silence, Alysheba, Smarty Jones or any of the other potential Triple Crown winners who fell short in the Belmont? Maybe. Maybe not.
4. There's Some Chance He's a One-Race Wonder: Prior to the Derby, Barbaro ran just twice on the dirt and, though he won both times, he wasn't exactly dominating. He was more workmanlike in both the Holy Bull and the Florida Derby and looked nothing like the horse who destroyed the field in the Derby. In the Florida Derby, he had to work hard to get past Sharp Humor, who ran 19th in the Derby and was beaten 33 1/4 lengths. Maybe he just had a very good day in the Kentucky Derby. It happens. Look at Funny Cide's Preakness. He won by 9 3/4 lengths and looked like a world-beater that day. He's 4-for-21 since.
Who knows? Perhaps Barbaro will demolish the fields in both the Preakness and Belmont. He may be that good. But before we deify him, perhaps we should be a little more cautious in our outpouring of hyperbole. There is a long way to go between here and the Belmont Stakes finish line and a lot standing in his way.
Preakness television coverage begins Saturday, May 20 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC Sports.