ELKTON, Md. - There is a very good chance that Michael Matz will take his top 3-year-old, Chelokee, to Pimlico Race Course on Preakness Day.
But Chelokee may not be running in the Preakness on May 19.
This would be just about as eventful: The trainer of Barbaro may have the favorite in the first-ever Barbaro Stakes, formerly the Sir Barton (after the first Triple Crown winner in 1919) until it was renamed earlier this year. Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, are planning to be there to present the trophy.
"The Preakness is still a possibility," Matz said yesterday, talking outside his barn at the Fair Hill Training Center. "I'm probably leaning more toward the Barbaro right now."
Matz said he isn't considering this just to take some sentimental journey. Asked whether he wanted to be the winning trainer of the first Barbaro Stakes, which is on the undercard of the Preakness, Matz said, "Well, I haven't thought of that."
But just as noteworthy, Matz said he wouldn't avoid that race because so many eyes would be on him.
"I think it will fascinate people if I'm back at the Preakness," Matz said. "I think right now, I want to make sure that I go into a race that I have a chance. I don't want to just be in the Preakness because it's a good story. I want to find the best spot for my horse so he can still progress."
Of course, it was at last year's Preakness that Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner, was injured, ultimately resulting in his being euthanized.
Chelokee is owned by Centennial Farms, a syndicate out of Boston. Matz also mentioned a couple of other options, the Peter Pan Stakes on May 20 at Belmont Park or the Ohio Derby on June 2 at Thistledown.
"I've got to work him again," Matz said. "I think the first three horses" - Street Sense, Hard Spun and Curlin, the first three finishers in the Kentucky Derby, all expected at the Preakness - "are pretty nice horses. I'm a little bit behind them in catching up to them.
"I think Street Sense ran a real good race. I think Hard Spun ran a huge race. Whether they can duplicate that - I think if my horse is at the right time to go, I hope he can run with those horses. He has to prove that yet."
A workout this weekend should be the determining factor, Matz said. After a troubled-trip resulted in a third-place finish in the Florida Derby, Chelokee didn't have enough graded-stakes earnings to qualify for the 20-horse Derby field, ending up tied for 21st.
Even at that, Chelokee wasn't a sure bet for the Derby since an abscess on the horse's foot slowed him down a little after the Florida Derby.
Matz said that the agents for a lot of top jockeys have called him inquiring about riding Chelokee in the Preakness. He ticked off the names: Ramon Dominguez, Edgar Prado, Rafael Bejarano, Javier Castellano, Garrett Gomez, Eddie Castro and Kent Desormeaux as inquiring jockeys. All except Castro had mounts in the Derby, but none of those horses were expected at Pimlico.
At this point, Teuflesberg, which finished 17th in the Derby, is the only other confirmed Derby horse going to the Preakness.
Other confirmed starters are Santa Anita Derby runner-up King of the Roxy, trained by Todd Pletcher, and Tesio Stakes winner Xchanger, trained by Mark Shuman out of Fair Hill. Flying First Class, from D. Wayne Lukas, could go and provide some early speed.
"Probably, we won't be on the front end," Hard Spun trainer Larry Jones said yesterday outside his barn at Delaware Park. "We'll be able to do the race like we did at Turfway" - when Hard Spun won the Lane's End in his last Derby prep - "where we'll be able to sit right off of it, probably."
Jones had a busy day yesterday, running three horses at Delaware Park. He reported that all was well with Hard Spun.
"He'll gallop every day," said Jones, who isn't planning on breezing Hard Spun before the Preakness. "We'll plan on going out there every morning. I actually did a little more with him than I intended to when I went out there because he just felt like he wanted to do a little more. We jogged a half-mile, galloped a mile. Everything went well."
Over at Fair Hill, a few miles away, Matz said he would be watching his horse carefully over the coming days.
"My horse has been taking little steps forward all the time, and I want to keep him that way," Matz said. "And it's a long year and there are some big races coming up. I don't know if he's as good as those first three [Derby] horses. But I don't know that he isn't."
Yesterday, Dominguez, 30, earned his 3,000th career victory when Astor Park won the fifth race at Delaware Park, a six-furlong maiden race for 3-year-old fillies.
Find racing coverage at http://go.philly.com/preakness.