This time, the luster of the Preakness Stakes was darkened by what happened shortly after the start, not what happened when the field turned into the stretch run.
When Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro broke down before reaching the finish line the first time, the tenor of the race was completely altered, with no overwhelming favorite to look for when the running turned really serious.
"With Barbaro in there, I don't know what margin he would have won by if he didn't have the injury," said Bernardini's trainer, Tom Albertrani.
"It changed it a lot," said Jeremy Rose, who rode third-place finisher Hemingway's Key. "Now, you have the 1-2 favorite that will not fire. After they break through [the gate], they have to be a real special horse to win the race, which he probably was."
Barbaro was full of himself before the race, emerging from the gate prematurely and running a few yards before being caught and guided back to the starting point.
"He was feeling super, and I felt like he was in the best condition for this race," said his jockey, Edgar Prado, who had said after the Kentucky Derby that the thoroughbred world might finally have a Triple Crown winner. "He actually tried to buck me off a couple of times. He just touched the front of the doors of the gate and went right through it."
When the race began, Sweetnorthernsaint, starting from the adjacent hole, appeared to veer in toward Barbaro several times without making contact. Then, Prado "heard a noise about 100 yards into the race and pulled him right up."
To the jockey's credit, he took rapid action when Barbaro was endangered.
That's when the quest for the Woodlawn Vase, the $1 million trophy presented to the winner's connections, became a free-for-all.
Jockey Javier Castellano had secured fine stalking position behind the speed horse, Like Now, and Sweetnorthernsaint and Brother Derek, who were dueling it out while prompting the pace.
At the five-sixteenths pole, Albertrani knew his charge was in great position as Castellano took him full throttle around the final turn, virtually assured there was no Barbaro to account for.
As for traffic trouble, it had little, if any, effect on the outcome.
Brother Derek broke somewhat slowly, had to elude Barbaro while being steadied slightly, then gained velocity because of it.
While breaking, Sweetnorthernsaint "tore his quarter off, which is like pulling your thumb off," according to jockey Kent Desormeaux. He still ran his race, and trainer Mike Trombetta said, "I think it's incidental and I don't think it's an excuse."
Greeley's Legacy was steadied somewhat early, but never really picked up the pace and Like Now simply had nothing left to give in the stretch.
But there was a hollow feeling for everyone involved because the career of a potentially great horse ended in front of their eyes. Even for the winners, the result was laced with sadness and compassion for Barbaro's untimely fate. firstname.lastname@example.org