By Marty McGee
BALTIMORE - Say anything you want about the Kentucky Derby having more to offer than the Preakness, but, going in, here's something the Preakness has that the Derby doesn't: the Derby winner.
The late Chick Lang frequently touted that nugget during his nearly three decades at Pimlico. Lang, who died in March at age 83, earned the nickname "Mr. Preakness" for his tireless promotions of anything and everything that allowed the Pimlico race to try to keep pace with the Derby, its more renowned big brother.
"The Derby winner is like the boxer who just won the heavyweight championship of the world," Lang liked to say. "Everybody wants a look at him."
Indeed, when Super Saver was walked off the horse van that brought him here Wednesday afternoon to the Pimlico backstretch, all eyes - and cameras - were on the latest Derby winner.
"Obviously it's a great feeling to come in here with the Derby winner," said Todd Pletcher, trainer of Super Saver. "It's an honor, a challenge, exciting, all those things. It's a position you've always hoped to be in."
Clearly, the trip to Baltimore is far different this time around for Pletcher, the future Hall of Famer who has had four previous Preakness starters, none of them winners. But then, coming to Baltimore with the Derby winner is different for anybody.
"There's certainly a spotlight on you and your horse," said Lynn Whiting, who still vividly recalls details of his trip here in 1992 with Derby winner Lil E. Tee. "The media sure is focusing all their attention on the Derby winner, although all you want is to make sure your horse is doing okay."
D. Wayne Lukas has strutted out three of his four Derby winners here. He said the feeling is a "great one" because "you feel like the race is yours to lose."
"You're the only one going for the Triple Crown, and until they knock you off that perch, you're the one to watch," Lukas said. "The media focuses all their attention on the Derby winner, and the other horses get secondary portions. It stays that way all week. Every time the Derby winner coughs, it's recorded."
During his tenure, Lang started a tradition of reserving Stall 40 in the Pimlico stakes barn for the Derby winner. The custom has not always been observed, such as when Lang put a goat in Stall 40 when Gato del Sol bypassed the Preakness in 1982, or when Neil Drysdale chose to keep Fusaichi Pegasus in one of the backstretch barns in 2000, or when Lukas would keep his Derby winner on the Winner Avenue side of the stakes barn alongside the rest of the horses he shipped in.
"I never put my Derby winners in that one stall," Lukas said with a laugh. "It was never a big tradition for me. We got five [Preakness] winners from the other end of the barn."
Pletcher, for the record, chose to put Super Saver in Stall 40 after briefly contemplating not doing so.
"We're shipping into this barn anyway, and it's not like we've already won the Preakness out of another stall or have a lucky stall in here, so we went along with it," he said. "I didn't want to buck tradition."
Preakness debuts for a half-dozen
Three trainers and three jockeys will be making their Preakness debuts here Saturday.
The first-time trainers are Mike Machowsky with Caracortado, Dale Romans with First Dude and Paddy O'Prado, and Wesley Ward with Pleasant Prince. The jockeys are Paul Atkinson on Caracortado, Martin Garcia on Lookin At Lucky, and Terry Thompson on Northern Giant.
For Machowsky, Ward, and Atkinson, this also is their first time with a horse in a Triple Crown event.