By Bill Finley
Special to ESPN.com
Because the Preakness will presumably be run over a dry track and because there is more speed in this field than there was two weeks earlier at Churchill Downs, this should be a much different race than the Kentucky Derby. The Derby was a speed dominated slopfest. That doesn't mean that Smarty Jones and Lion Heart can't duplicate what they did at Churchill, it does mean that they should face an even harder task this time. It makes sense to look in a different direction.
Though third, beaten six lengths, Imperialism ran a terrific race in the Kentucky Derby and was clearly among the most impressive horses in the field. Under Kent Desormeaux, the gray colt was mired down on the rail for most of the trip, caught behind tiring horses. Desormeaux didn't find a path until the far turn. By that time, he was hopelessly wide and hopelessly far behind. But Imperialism still managed to make up a ton of ground in the stretch run. "With a clean trip, I would have absolutely challenged Smarty Jones," Desormeaux said. "He was up there by himself. Would he have found another gear? I don't know. I can assure you when we corner for the Preakness, Imperialism will be at his throat and he'll have to hold me off."
Smarty Jones is undeniably for real, and it would come as no surprise if he were to win Saturday. How do you knock an unbeaten horse coming off a rather dominant win in the Kentucky Derby? Yet, this time he's going to be heavily favored instead of a relative bargain at 4-1. Considering that he apparently loved the mud at Churchill Derby Day, while many others didn't, and that he had a very good trip, he's the type of favorite you want to play against.
Lion Heart's task will be more difficult this time with the presence of longshot Water Cannon in the field. A local horse who will be ridden by Ryan Fogelsonger, he always goes to the front and should fight Lion Heart for the lead. Nonetheless, Lion Heart has proven to be a tenacious horse and will likely run well even if getting caught up in a battle for the lead.
After failing to get into the Derby, Rock Hard Ten finally gets his chance to show what he can do at this level. Considering he ran second in the Santa Anita Derby in just his third lifetime start, he's obviously a very talented horse. There's still a question of whether or not he has the experience and toughness to handle such a tough assignment. We'll see.
Eddington was the other horse who didn't make the Derby and he, too, has what look like some good races on paper. But after Tapit and Master David bombed in the Kentucky Derby, his third-place finish in the Wood Memorial suddenly doesn't look so good.
The Cliff's Edge might have had an excuse when losing his shoes in the Derby, but the fact that he's come up with a bruised foot makes him hard to like...that is if he even runs.
Borrego's last race may be too bad to be true. After finishing second behind Smarty Jones in the Arkansas Derby, he was awful in the Kentucky Derby, losing by 16 1/4 lengths. He almost has to do better this time over a dry track. A blistering half-mile work in :46 the other day is a good sign.
There's no reason to like Little Matth Man, Sir Shackleton, Song of the Sword or Water Cannon.
1. Imperialism 2. Smarty Jones 3. Lion Heart