LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- One day after the Kentucky Derby, on a cool morning on the Churchill Downs backstretch, Bob Baffert, the jovial trainer of runner-up Cavonnier, entertained a group of reporters.
A few feet away, a groom walked a horse under a shedrow. Baffert nodded toward the horse and said: "That's the horse to beat in Baltimore."
He didn't nod toward his horse. He didn't nod toward Grindstone, the winner of the Kentucky Derby in a heart-stopping photo finish.
Baffert nodded toward Unbridled's Song.
Despite Unbridled's Song's fifth-place finish in the 122nd Kentucky Derby and despite his tender left front foot, he continues to awe respected horsemen who run against him.
It appears they'll be running against him again May 18 in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Thirteen horses, including five of the top six Kentucky Derby finishers, are possible starters in the middle race of the Triple Crown.
Only the handlers of Grindstone, of course, can dream of a Triple Crown. But D. Wayne Lukas, his trainer, cautioned yesterday against anointing any horse champion 3-year-old.
"I think we've still got a lot of questions out here, including mine," Lukas said. "We can't bronze any of them yet."
Lukas said he plans on racing three of his five Derby starters in the Preakness: Grindstone, who passed 13 horses in the last half-mile under a brilliant ride by Jerry Bailey; Prince of Thieves, who finished third and continued receiving high praise from Lukas; and Editor's Note, who finished sixth but, Lukas insisted, will win one of these days despite eight straight losing efforts.
Lukas also will be shooting for his seventh straight win in a Triple Crown race, a record that began in the 1994 Preakness with Tabasco Cat. And, with a win May 18, Lukas would become the first trainer to win three Preaknesses in a row.
Always cautious to promote one of his horses over the other, he did say this about his Derby champ and the Preakness: "I think Grindstone's style probably fits it better than anybody out there."
Baffert, trainer of the Derby runner-up, still was talking about the photo finish -- the closest Derby finish since 1959 -- that took judges five minutes to decide. For those minutes, Baffert thought Cavonnier had won.
"Now I know the feeling of winning the Kentucky Derby -- for a couple of minutes," Baffert said.
Of Cavonnier, winner of the Santa Anita Derby at 10-1, Baffert said: "I always thought he was a nice horse. But until the Santa Anita Derby, he never gave me reason to believe he was anything special.
"Now, I know how to find a Derby horse. Just keep searching your barn until you find one."
Halo Sunshine, fourth in the Derby, will bypass the Preakness and return to California for a rest, said his assistant trainer, Debbie Marcarian. Halo Sunshine has raced seven times since Jan. 6.
Carolyn and Sonny Hine's Skip Away, a disappointing 12th in the Derby, probably will run in the Preakness.
"If he's fine, we're going to go," said trainer Sonny Hine, whose wife owns the horse. "I think Skip Away might like that track. And my wife's from Baltimore, and she'd love to go."
Nick Zito, whose two entries in the Derby ran poorly, may bring one to Baltimore.
"If I run anything, it will be Louie," he said of Louis Quatorze, 16th in the Derby. "I just wish I could tell you why he didn't run at all. I have no concrete excuses."
His other horse, Diligence, will return to Belmont Park and take time off, Zito said. He displayed uncharacteristic late speed in the Derby to finish ninth.
"It's a mystery why he got running late," Zito said.
In addition to the seven potential graduates of the Derby, six fresh horses may compete in the Preakness: City by Night, scratched from the Derby because of an abscessed foot; Romano Gucci, Maryland-bred winner of the Gotham Stakes; Tour's Big Red, winner of Pimlico's Tesio Stakes; Thundering Storm, last in the Tesio at 4-1; Mixed Count, who ran third in the Tesio; and Secreto de Estado, never a winner past 5 1/2 furlongs.
As for Unbridled's Song, his trainer, Jim Ryerson, said the Derby favorite came out of the race fine, despite what jockey Mike Smith described as "a little noise when he was pulling up." Ryerson said the horse did not bleed.
"And I'm really happy with his foot," he said. "I thought he ran well. It just wasn't his day."
Unbridled's Song ran with orthopedic bar shoes because of a tender left front foot. Bar shoes elevate and protect the feet, but afford less traction.
Buzz Chace, stable manager for Ernie Paragallo, who owns Unbridled's Song, said yesterday that the colt might continue training with bar shoes, but probably won't race with them again.
Asked whether Unbridled's Song would run in the Preakness, Chace said: "That's the next step. I don't see why he wouldn't."
But Ryerson said he wasn't sure. He said a flight to Baltimore for Unbridled's Song was booked Wednesday, but a van also had been booked for a return to New Jersey.