With fresh legs, two playing catch-up

Short of money for Derby, Eddington, Rock Hard Ten try to make 2nd jewel pay

Preakness Stakes

May 13, 2004|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Opportunity lost in the Kentucky Derby is opportunity renewed this week in Baltimore, where Eddington and Rock Hard Ten get belated shots at Smarty Jones in the Preakness at Pimlico.

The two lightly raced colts were eliminated from the Derby field two weeks ago because of a shortfall in graded-stakes earnings. What they missed was a muddy track and Smarty Jones' impressive victory with a powerful stretch run.

As much as he wanted to run in the Derby, Rock Hard Ten's trainer, Jason Orman, doesn't look back in anger.

"It was a little disappointing, but it was probably for the best," Orman said yesterday after his massive dark bay settled into the stakes barn.

"The track was muddy that day and he only had three starts, so to run him in a mile and a quarter off three starts on that kind of track ... He was just an inexperienced horse."

Rock Hard Ten still is inexperienced - he has just three career starts - but he'll counter that with the savvy of veteran jockey Gary Stevens and fresh legs.

Eddington, meanwhile, comes into Saturday's race with six career starts, Jerry Bailey in the saddle and a chance to repeat history. In the last 20 years, only one horse has won the Preakness after missing the Kentucky Derby. That was Red Bullet in 2000 - with Bailey aboard.

That suggests long odds for the five horses in the Preakness field that missed the Derby, including Little Matth Man, Sir Shackleton and Bowie's Water Cannon.

Having been there and done that, Bailey said he doesn't believe there's a fresh-horse bias at Pimlico.

"I don't know if it's the fresh-horse aspect," he said from Belmont. "I just think the best horses go to the Derby, and then they go to the Preakness. ... The big reason why most horses run in the Derby is because they're the best horses."

Red Bullet, the chestnut son of Unbridled, was held out of the Derby intentionally by trainer Joe Orseno.

Eddington, also a chestnut son of Unbridled, missed qualifying for the Derby by a nose - the distance he was beaten by Master David for second place in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct Park in New York.

The third-place finish cost Eddington $75,000 and was the difference in missing the Derby.

Bailey missed the Derby himself for the first time in 14 years when his first mount, Wimbledon, was scratched and his second option, Eddington, didn't make the cut.

In Eddington, he sees a horse with a lot of upside.

"He's royally bred, good looking, got a lot of talent," Bailey said. "The thing that has failed to materialize so far is him being fully mature mentally. He's still very good, but he has room to improve."

Like Eddington, Rock Hard Ten missed the Derby by the narrowest of margins. He finished second in the Santa Anita Derby last month, but was disqualified to third for interfering with Imperialism. That was his losing edge.

"That was pretty frustrating because I thought our horse was going to finish second, no matter what," Orman said.

Because of Rock Hard Ten's imposing size and sore shins, Orman decided against racing him as a 2-year-old.

"Before he ran in his first race in February, I wouldn't have thought he had any chance to be in the Derby because it was such a big task," said Orman, a native of Calgary, Alberta.

"But he ran very good in all three races and we felt he deserved a chance."

Initially, Orman planned on running Rock Hard Ten in the Derby Trial. But the horse's owners - Mercedes Stable and Madeleine Paulson - wanted a shot at the Derby.

So Orman scratched out of the Trial to await his Derby fate. Now he's stuck with a six-week gap between races.

"Obviously, it would have been nice to have a race in between," he said. "But the owners wanted the best chance to get to the Derby. So that's how come he didn't run in the Derby Trial. It was an option, but they wanted to get in the Derby."

Orman said Rock Hard Ten's final two workouts at Churchill Downs in Kentucky before coming to Baltimore were his two best. "He's as fit as he could be," he said.

Advantage, fresh horse?

"We're going to be fresher than the other horses," Orman said. "It depends on how much the Derby took out of them. [But] good horses are going to run good races."

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