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One thing is for certain about horse racing: there is no such thing as a “sure thing.” Horses are living, breathing creatures with as distinct personalities as pedigrees. A horse is not a car — he gets sick, gets hungry, gets full of himself, gets tired. In short, he is a real athlete in every sense of the word. And just as in the human world, there are those horses who stand out among the rest physically and mentally, being born with a talent that screams to be exercised. There are horses, and then there are horses.

Looking at the field of thirteen going into the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, there is no doubt in my mind that Big Brown should put his contenders to shame. He is, to put it frankly, in a league of his own. We can grasp for flaws, oh, we can pick at the most minute of potential blemishes, but that’s called desperation. Can he pull himself together after only a two-week layoff? He’s also never broken from the middle of the field before, and he has drawn post seven; so we must ask the question of whether or not he could handle getting pinched back, or having dirt thrown in his face. After all, look what happened to the unbeaten champ, War Pass, the first time a race didn’t go his way.

Nevermind these questions. The only thing, I tell you, that will keep Big Brown from winning this race is Big Brown himself. The Preakness is as close to a sure thing as they come.

Still, the Kentucky Derby winner is getting little respect. Twelve other horses dared show up to Pimlico to face him. Some, like the trainer of Kentucky Bear, boast, “He hasn’t beaten us yet.”

I hope Kentucky Bear is prepared for the race of his life once Brownie begins to breathe his fire. No, my guess is Kentucky Bear will just be another domino to fall under the monster’s ground-eating charge to the wire.

The horses I see most likely to dominate everyone but Big Brown are Gayego, Giant Moon, and Icabad Crane. Recapturetheglory came down with a fever (think cold, sweaty dreams in which he’s being chased by a ravaging brown horror), Gayego became the only horse from the Kentucky Derby field to challenge him again. If any contender deserves to be in the Preakness besides Big Brown, it’s Gayego.

Before the Derby field had even swept past the clubhouse turn, Gayego was obviously in turmoil. Slapped in a hole between horses, the dark colt was running up on the heels of Recapturetheglory in front of him, unable to break out of the clutch of horses, and looking like he was in a cavalry charge, head tipped back and eyes bulging. He never had a chance to put in a good run, folding his cards and fading to 17th place by the race’s end. The Derby has a way of swallowing up good horses. Gayego had never finished worse than second before that race, and since he didn’t have the chance to wear himself out, Gayego may have a good store of energy left to blow out in the Preakness’s smaller field. Coming from post twelve is not going to help his efforts, however.

That’s why I point to Giant Moon and Icabad (not Ichabod) Crane, throwing Hey Byrn into the mix for good measure. Any of these horses have proven themselves to at least be potential third-place hopefuls in the shadows of Mr. Big and Gayego, which is more than I can say about the rest of the sorry contenders. But with this unpredictable lot, it’s hard to tell exactly what is going to happen come this Saturday in Baltimore.

Big Brown is mortal. He can be beaten, hypothetically. But I wouldn’t bet on that happening here. It’s too bad the Preakness is only for 3-year-olds, otherwise I’d suggest we bring back last year’s winner, Curlin, into the fray and have a real race. If Mr. Big wants some real competition, he’s going to have to pick on someone his own size. ’Cause let’s face it, Big Brown is beating up on a bunch of babies here, a heavyweight trouncing the lightweights. If they let him race after the Belmont, oh what a reckoning there could be…