BALTIMORE -- When the Kentucky Derby winner gets here for the Preakness Stakes, a groundswell of support often follows him. So it was last year with Mine That Bird, whose long-shot win and obscure Western connections combined to make him an instant folk hero. Big Brown came to Pimlico in 2008 off an overpowering victory in the Derby, his Triple Crown quest gaining steam with every sentence uttered by his confident trainer, Rick Dutrow.
Funny Cide was an Everyman story, his owners, mostly high school chums from a small town in upstate New York, arriving in a yellow school bus to cheer on their plucky gelding. Smarty Jones was owned by an ailing car salesman who lived just up I-95 near Philadelphia, and came into the second leg of the Triple Crown having never lost a race.
And then there's Super Saver.
He has all the requisite attributes of a worthy Derby winner. Super Saver was an accomplished stakes winner at 2, steadily progressed in his 3-year-old preps toward a peak performance in the Derby, gave jockey Calvin Borel his third Derby win in four years, and rewarded both trainer Todd Pletcher and his owners, the WinStar Farm of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt, with their first Derby victory.
Yet Super Saver seemingly has yet to capture the public's imagination as post time nears for the 135th Preakness on Saturday at Pimlico. Super Saver is the favorite on the morning lines set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, and Frank Carulli, the line maker at Pimlico, yet take a look at the selections of handicappers in this publication, and others, and you'll see picks that are all over the map, reflecting the perception that even though Super Saver won the Derby by 2½ lengths, he is by no means perceived as a standout in this $1 million race.
"Everybody's looking for a storyline," Pletcher said outside the Pimlico stakes barn on Thursday morning. "Calvin won his third Derby, I got my first, and I think that took away somewhat from the attention on Super Saver. Funny Cide was a New York-bred, a Cinderella story. What I think got lost in the shuffle with Super Saver is the focus on some of the bad trips in the Derby. Super Saver got a good trip, but the reason he got a good trip is that he made his own trip with his tractability."
It's an argument familiar to those who shake their heads at those people who still think Alydar was better than Affirmed, or Easy Goer better than Sunday Silence. In those cases, as with Super Saver, the ability to work out a perfect trip because of contending early speed put them in a position that horses with less maneuverability could not get. On Saturday, Super Saver again figures to get an ideal trip.
But the 12-horse Preakness field is 40 percent smaller than the one at the Derby, so more horses should be afforded better trips, most notably Lookin At Lucky, who was severely compromised by drawing the rail in the Derby, in which he finished sixth as the favorite.
"He thought he was in a hockey game," said Lookin At Lucky's trainer, Bob Baffert. "He got checked into the boards."
There also are seven horses in the Preakness who did not run in the Derby. They come into the race fresh, whereas the Derby horses are wheeling back in two weeks following a 20-horse rodeo on a sloppy, sealed racetrack at Churchill Downs.
"Two weeks matters to me," said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who sends out Dublin, who was seventh in the Derby, and fresh face Northern Giant. "It matters to every guy in here. We're all concerned about it, their energy level coming back in two weeks."
There should be plenty of energy at Pimlico. With local colleges letting out for the year around this time, a trip to the infield is a rite of passage in the area. Last year, prices were raised for admission and, more importantly, liquor restricted, leading to a connect-the-dots crowd in the infield, and an announced on-track attendance of 77,850, the smallest announced crowd for the Preakness since 1983. This year, in an attempt to woo back that demographic, Pimlico has reduced prices, and offered a policy whereby an additional $20 payment to the infield Mug Club allows a patron a souvenir cup that yields unlimited refills. Cheers!
A local advertising campaign titled "Get Your Preak On" has generated plenty of publicity in the area. There are banners and signs with that slogan all around town. And while the phrase has been controversial to some, there is no doubt this advertising campaign has accomplished what it set out to do, bring attention to the biggest horse race in the state.
Can the Derby winner be a Super Freak? The distance of the Preakness, 1 3/16 miles -- 110 yards shorter than the Derby -- is obviously right up Super Saver's alley. On paper, there is less early speed in the Preakness than the Derby. Super Saver has won races either on the lead or stalking, so he affords Borel options.
In the Derby, "he adapted to a fast pace," Pletcher said.
"Any time Calvin needed to make a move, he was there."
Lookin At Lucky has a new rider, Martin Garcia, who replaces Garrett Gomez. Look for Lookin At Lucky to be in a better early position. He breaks from post 7 after drawing the rail in the Derby.
In addition to Super Saver, Lookin At Lucky and Dublin, others exiting the Derby are Paddy O'Prado, who was third, and Jackson Bend, who was 12th.
Nick Zito, Jackson Bend's trainer, on Thursday morning said he would like to see his small colt "close to the pace" under jockey Mike Smith.
"I'd like to see him close up," Zito said. "Mike's got to keep an eye on the race."
In addition to Northern Giant, there are six other horses in the Preakness -- Aikenite, Caracortado, First Dude, Pleasant Prince, Schoolyard Dreams and Yawanna Twist -- who did not run in the Derby.
Caracortado is another who figures to attempt to secure a position stalking the early leaders.
"I'd like to try and put him in the race a little more," said Mike Machowsky, who trains and is the co-owner of Caracortado.
The Preakness, whose post time is listed at 6:15 p.m. Eastern, is the 12th race on a 13-race card that begins at 10:45 a.m. The race will be seen live on NBC on a show beginning at 4:30 p.m. There is all-day coverage from Pimlico on HRTV.
The forecast for Saturday is terrific, a high temperature of 75 degrees and no chance of rain. The high Friday was forecast to be 87 degrees, but thunderstorms that evening were predicted to break the heat, then move out, leaving ideal weather for Saturday.
Additional reporting by David Grening.