Red Bullet was the fresh horse.
He swooped into Baltimore last year and knocked off Fusaichi Pegasus in the Preakness. Bettors considered Fusaichi Pegasus, based on his overpowering victory in the Kentucky Derby, nearly unbeatable. At odds of 1-5, he matched Riva Ridge in 1972 as the lowest-priced favorite to lose the Preakness.
On Saturday, Monarchos, another decisive winner of the Kentucky Derby, will step onto the Pimlico track as the likely favorite in the Preakness. A victory would send the gray colt to New York with a chance to win the Belmont Stakes and become the 12th winner of the Triple Crown.
Four horses from the Kentucky Derby and six newcomers will attempt to derail Monarchos at Pimlico. The newcomers don't appear as formidable as in recent years, and even in the best years their chances have traditionally not been good.
Until Red Bullet did so in 2000. He is the last horse to win the Preakness who skipped the Derby since Deputed Testamony in 1983. Why?
The best 3-year-olds usually run in the Kentucky Derby. Two weeks later in the Preakness, the new horses tend to come from two groups: Ones who weren't good enough for the Derby, and ones who were beset by problems and forced to miss the Derby.
But for the handlers of those horses in this year's Preakness, the memory of Red Bullet's triumph last year is vivid.
"I think it's a big factor in running," says H. Graham Motion, the Laurel-based trainer of Bay Eagle.
A Virginia-bred son of Secret Hello, Bay Eagle raced April 21 in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Three horses from that roughly run race will compete in the Preakness. The others are Mr. John and Griffinite.
Mr. John lunged inside at the break and impeded two horses, including Bay Eagle. Bay Eagle was shuffled back to ninth in the 10-horse field. He rallied for fourth, but then, because of the disqualification of Mr. John, was elevated to third.
Griffinite finished third but was placed second. His trainer, Jennifer Leigh-Pedersen, says that a throat fungus and hoof problems delayed the colt's development and kept him out of the Derby.
"He's fresh, and he looks as good as he did going into the Lafayette," she says.
A son of Unbridled's Song, Griffinite's lone stakes victory came April 11 in the seven-furlong Lafayette.
Tony Reinstedler also ascribes to the fresh horse theory.
"That's my only angle," says Reinstedler, trainer of Percy Hope, winner of the Lone Star Derby. "I have a hard time making myself believe that he fits at the top level. My feeling was that I'd let these other horses beat up on each other in the Derby before taking my shot here."
Richly Blended doesn't qualify as a bona fide fresh horse because he raced May 5, the same day as the Derby. The speedball easily won the one-mile Withers Stakes at Aqueduct with an effort presumably less taxing than navigating a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.
Ben Perkins Jr., trainer of Richly Blended, says he hopes that's the case.
"But I'm certainly not overconfident," he says.
Tim Ritchey will send Marciano down by van Saturday morning from Delaware Park. A gray son of Two Punch, Marciano won the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico April 21 in his most recent race.
Elliott Walden says he believes his Mr. John is the strongest newcomer. After causing problems in the Lexington, Mr. John finished second but was dropped to eighth.
This will be the third Preakness for Walden - and the first in which he won't saddle the favorite. Both his runners were second: Victory Gallop in 1998 and Menifee in 1999.
They had also finished second in the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby and the Preakness, Walden's horse was beaten by the same horse (Real Quiet in 1998 and Charismatic in 1999).
"The two years I was in the Preakness, I worried about the fresh horse," Walden says. "But both years the Derby stood up well.
"So I really don't think it's an advantage or a disadvantage. I just think that the best horse wins."