For Cherokee Run, the Preakness was a journey into unexplored territory.
The horse had won eight of 11 starts before yesterday's race, but had never run farther than a mile, nor carried as many as 126 pounds before.
But from the extreme outside post position, Cherokee Run took second, finishing just a half-length behind the winner, Prairie Bayou.
"He ran terrific," said trainer Frank Alexander, who did not enter Cherokee Run in the Kentucky Derby. "He ran very game. The post position I don't think really hurt him. He lost a little ground around the first turn, but he was so relaxed out there. He had good position all the way. The winners had three trips around two turns at a mile and a quarter and a mile and an eighth. We didn't have much time to prepare him, but he was a major factor. He's a nice horse."
Jockey Pat Day said: "The 12th hole may have worked to our advantage today. I was free and clear most of the way and was able to tuck in when I wanted to."
Coming into the race, Alexander said his biggest concern about Cherokee Run, who won the Kentucky Derby Trial and Keeneland's Lafayette last month, was his ability to carry 126 pounds, about 6 to 8 more than he ever had.
"He did carry 122 in the Derby Trial, but that was a flat mile and the competition wasn't as good as it was here," Alexander said. "He's the kind of horse that answers the call. It took a good horse to beat him.
"Coming off a mile race, a seven-eighths-of-a-mile race and never carrying 126 pounds, and going three-sixteenths more and around two turns, which he's never done before, we've got to say he's a pretty damn nice horse."
Indeed, Cherokee Run, who went off at 9-1, actually led by a head starting the stretch run, but couldn't match the close of pre-race favorite Prairie Bayou.
"He fired and that horse passed him and he just never stopped digging in," Alexander said. "He was coming back at him again. I don't know how much horse Mike [Smith, aboard Prairie Bayou] had left, but our horse was trying to dig in."
Day said: "I thought Koluctoo Jimmy Al would be more of a threat. I don't know what happened to him. Once we got straightened away [in the stretch], I didn't think I had a chance of getting to the winner. I thought El Bakan would be a threat early."
Alexander hinted that he and owner Jill E. Robinson hadn't considered the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont Stakes before yesterday's second-place finish.
Now, it's academic.
1% Alexander said: "I think we're go
ing to have to go. We're going to go forward, anyway. Belmont might suit him a little better. There might not be as much speed in there.
"Boy, this horse is just so relaxed now. I think that's the whole key to him. I think he's really improved, and the distance, I don't believe, will be a problem. I mean, I didn't really think it was a problem going into this race. I was more worried about the weight than the distance. But Pat said he gave 110 percent and we were thrilled."