Preakness leans toward smart choice

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 13, 2004

BALTIMORE - Kristin Mulhall wasn't all that excited about bringing Imperialism across the country to take on Smarty Jones again in the Preakness Stakes.

After Imperialism finished third behind Smarty in the Kentucky Derby, the plan was to return home to Hollywood Park and get ready for another run at the undefeated colt in the Belmont Stakes on June 5.

So much for planning. Imperialism was training great. Derby replays showed that the gutty gray colt had a tough trip. And owner Steve Taub and jockey Kent Desormeaux convinced the 21-year-old trainer her horse has a chance to win the 1 3-16th-mile Preakness on Saturday.

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''Every professional athlete in history that I know has been beaten except Rocky Marciano,'' Taub said Wednesday outside Imperialism's barn at Pimlico. ''Secretariat lost. Man o' War lost. Seattle Slew lost.''

When it comes to Smarty Jones, though, Mulhall isn't so sure defeat is imminent.

Imperialism was strong at the end of the 1 1/4-mile Derby after being clipped by a horse on the first turn and slowed by another along the backstretch.

He finished six lengths behind the winner, but even if Imperialism's patented closing kick moved him close to the leader, Smarty Jones ''had another gear and would have taken off again,'' Mulhall said.

Smarty Jones ''looks like a really nice horse, and we're shortening up in distance,'' she said. ''So I don't know. We'll see what he's made of.''

A field of 11 3-year-olds was entered Wednesday, including Derby runner-up Lion Heart. The Cliff's Edge (fifth), Borrego (10th) and Song of the Sword (11th) are other Derby runners back for another shot.

Eddington and Rock Hard Ten, colts who missed the Derby because they didn't have enough graded-stakes earnings, top the new challengers. Eddington was third in the Wood Memorial; Rock Hard Ten finished second in the Santa Anita Derby but was disqualified to third for interference.

The newcomers are Derby Trial winner Sir Shackleton, Tesio Stakes winner Water Cannon, and Little Matth Man, another Philly Park-based colt who finished seventh in the Wood.

Smarty Jones opened as the 8-5 morning-line favorite, with Lion Heart at 3-1, and Imperialism at 5-1. Rock Hard Ten was 6-1, The Cliff's Edge 8-1, Borrego 15-1 and Sir Shackleton, Song of the Sword, Water Cannon and Little Matth Man all 30-1.