LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Despite his 12th-place Kentucky Derby finish, Holy Bull could rebound and become the favorite to win the May 21 Preakness at Pimlico Race Course.
Clem Florio, Pimlico oddsmaker, said that he feels the result of Saturday's 120th Derby, won in the slop by Go For Gin at 9.10-1 odds, is "not conclusive because of the conditions. If Holy Bull works well between now and the Preakness, I'm willing to give him one more shot."
Florio envisions making Holy Bull, the 2.20-1 Derby favorite, a lukewarm Preakness choice at 5-2, although he failed to make the lead in the Derby and was beaten by 18 1/4 lengths.
There is historic precedence for Florio's analysis. Three of the past 10 beaten Derby favorites -- Snow Chief (1986), Hansel (1991) and Prairie Bayou (1993) -- have shipped on to Baltimore and won the Preakness.
Pimlico officials at Churchill Downs yesterday said they expect 11 or 12 starters in the Preakness. Trainers of at least a half-dozen Derby finishers indicated that they will start their horses in the race.
Included in the prospective lineup are Derby winner Go For Gin; Blumin Affair, Brocco and Tabasco Cat, the third-, fourth- and sixth-place finishers; Powis Castle, who was eighth in the Derby; and Holy Bull.
Trainer Charlie Whittingham said he will ship Strodes Creek, the Derby runner-up, to Pimlico along with Derby Trial winner Numerous. But he plans to skip the Preakness with Strodes Creek and wait for the longer Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles, which he feels suits his colt perfectly. However, Numerous will run in the Preakness.
Other non-Derby starters expected to start in the second leg of the Triple Crown are Arkansas Derby winner Concern; Silver Goblin, third in the Arkansas race; and Kandaly, the Louisiana Derby winner who was scratched out of the Kentucky Derby Saturday because of the sloppy surface. Trainer Louis Roussel III originally indicated he would skip the Preakness, but said he has changed his mind and now will ship Kandaly to Baltimore.
Soul Of The Matter, fifth in the Derby, and Valiant Nature, who finished 13th after nearly clipping heels with Powis Castle on the first turn, also could start in the Preakness. Their trainers, Dick Mandella and Ron McAnally, respectively, said they are undecided.
Nick Zito, trainer of Go For Gin, is in an effusive post-Derby mood. He has started three horses in the Kentucky Derby in the past five years and has won twice.
In addition to winning Saturday and in 1991 with Strike the Gold, Zito finished ninth in 1990 with Thirty Six Red.
"See those twin spires," he said yesterday morning, pointing to the rooftops of the Churchill Downs grandstand. "The one on the left is for Strike the Gold. The one on the right is for Go For Gin.
"Rain or no rain. If the track was fast instead of sloppy, he would have run just as good. He had a great 2 1/2 weeks training here and was ready to run the race of his life."
Zito gives the horse's breeder, Pamela duPont, wife of William duPont III, who formerly owned Pillar Stud in Lexington, Ky., credit for recognizing a breeding "nick" in the horse's pedigree and adhering to it.
"Pleasant Tap, who is this horse's half-brother, is sired by Pleasant Colony, a son of His Majesty," Zito said. "Well, Go For Gin is sired by Cormorant, who is also a son of His Majesty. I'm happy for Cormorant. He's nearing the end of his career, he stands in New York state, and has been an underrated sire."
Cormorant, who was based at Laurel Race Course during his racing career, was trained in Maryland by Jim Simpson. The horse, now 20, finished fourth in the 1977 Preakness, the year the Triple Crown was won by Seattle Slew.
Holy Bull's trainer, Jimmy Croll, reiterated yesterday that his horse lost the race strictly because he got off to a poor start. "Then he never leveled out at any time or got into his stride," Croll said.
Originally, Croll said, he thought Holy Bull had been "tailed" in the gate, meaning an assistant starter had held onto the horse's tail at the start to keep him in place. But after reviewing the films yesterday, Croll saw that no one had tailed the horse. "He just wasn't standing real good in the gate," he said. "He didn't break like he should, and his hind legs got up under him."
Holy Bull will be shipped to Monmouth Park today, where Croll stables his horses. The colt then will be sent to Pimlico next week, about four days before the Preakness.
Florio said Holy Bull was "not at his best going into the race. His last slow work [6 furlongs in 1 minute, 14 3/5 seconds] showed that."
There has been criticism that Croll, in an effort to try to get the horse to carry his speed 10 furlongs in the Derby, worked him too slowly on purpose to get him to relax, but, in the process, trained the speed out of him.
"But if he comes back and throws in a work at 6 furlongs in 1:11 or something like that, then I think he'll have a good shot in the Preakness," Florio said.