Macho Again came to Baltimore last week unheralded, unproven and virtually unnoticed.
By the time the gray, Florida-bred colt finished the Preakness yesterday, he at last had some renown, even if it came in Big Brown's shadow. Second place, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
"This is kind of the best second place I've ever had," jockey Julien Leparoux said after Macho Again beat Icabad Crane and Racecar Rhapsody to the wire -- more than five lengths behind Big Brown.
"I don't like to be second, but it's not bad to be second to this horse."
Actually, all week experts said it was a race for second. Big Brown got all the hype and for the second straight race showed he deserved it. Macho Again showed he was badly overlooked by the crowd.
He went off at odds of almost 40-1. Only two horses faced longer odds -- Stevil, who finished fifth, and Tres Borrachos, who ran ninth.
"It says we weren't running around all week promoting our horse," said Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, the syndicate that owns Macho Again. "We came in with a quiet confidence."
Trainer Dallas Stewart said the race was Macho Again's best in nine starts, three of them wins with three seconds.
"I was saying all week he was a two-turn horse," Stewart said. "He hadn't had the chance to prove himself. He showed he can go two turns, that he can run against the nice horses."
Running from the first post, Leparoux saved ground early and settled in behind the leaders. Macho Again dropped to eighth at the three-quarter post, swung five-wide into the stretch and changed leads.
"He's not a horse that explodes; he's a grinder," Finley said.
Macho Again was grinding to the finish. But he was also gaining. He took an outside route to pass Icabad Crane and Racecar Rhapsody, finishing strong.
"Our colt ran great. We just ran into a superstar," Stewart said. "Big Brown threw down hard today."
That doesn't mean Stewart wouldn't like another shot at Big Brown. The trainer and Finley said they're going to look at the Belmont Stakes in three weeks.
Finley said he came to Baltimore to win, but he also acknowledged the reality of Big Brown's Triple Crown chase.
"You know unless [Big Brown] really backs up or stumbles, in all likelihood you're not going to get to the wire first," Finley said. "[But] if you don't love to compete, you don't need to be in the game."
Finley said his faith in Macho Again was rewarded on the big stage. Still, he didn't learn anything he didn't already know about the colt.
"He's a tidy horse," Finley said. "I knew he was a hard-trying little horse, not a superstar. I don't know if we learned anything. This is what we do. We show up and take a shot."