When the weights for Sunday's Grade III Palm Beach Stakes were assigned, it was fitting both Grade I winner Dullahan and Howe Great were given the task of carrying four more pounds than the rest of the six-horse field.
Not only are the two colts the most accomplished runners in the bunch, they both have the added burden of being compared to classic performers with direct ties to each of them.
Though the Palm Beach Stakes is run over the Gulfstream Park turf, the 11⁄8-mile race is likely to have an impact on this year's Kentucky Derby field thanks to the presence of Dullahan, who is making his 2012 debut, and Howe Great, the 8-to-5 favorite in the morning line.
A start on the first Saturday in May has been the goal for Dullahan ever since he captured the Grade I Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland last October and finished a game fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs.
While the son of Even the Score is winless in three tries over a dirt track and isn't scheduled to run on the dirt again before the Derby, his connections have at least one good reason to believe he will ultimately make that transition.
Dullahan is a half brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who himself was winless on the dirt until winning the first leg of the Triple Crown.
"I think dirt will be his best surface, as it proved to be with Mine That Bird," said Jerry Crawford, whose Donegal Racing partnership campaigns Dullahan. "I want to keep him on soft surfaces until (the Derby) because it's better for the horse.
"A lot of horses who get into the Kentucky Derby have no hope of getting a mile and a quarter. The fact is most of the horses bred to get a mile and a quarter have a strong turf influence."
Should Dullahan make it to the Kentucky Derby, he will have followed the same path as one of Donegal Racing's best runners.
Paddy O'Prado, who eventually became a Grade I winner on turf, used starts in the Palm Beach Stakes and Grade I Blue Grass Stakes on the Polytrack at Keeneland to set up his third-place run in the 2010 Kentucky Derby.
Barring any setbacks, Dullahan is also scheduled to use the 11⁄8-mile Blue Grass Stakes on April 14 as his final Derby prep. Along with returning to the site of Dullahan's lone career win, trainer Dale Romans liked the way the chestnut colt bounced out of his prior Keeneland effort en route to the Breeders' Cup.
"He ran a monster race on the Poly at Keeneland, and he's run some really nice turf races, but his race in the Breeders' Cup was sneaky good," said Romans, who also trained Paddy O'Prado for Donegal. "He got really squeezed. He got shut off in the first turn, was all the way back to last, and showed a big run down the lane. The Breeders' Cup I thought was as good as any race he's run."
Though he isn't directly related to 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Howe Great does share the same owner and trainer and — like his stablemate — kicked off his 3-year-old season over the Gulfstream Park turf.
Trained by Graham Motion, the Team Valor homebred has won three of four career starts and opened his 2012 season with a front-running victory in the Kitten's Joy Stakes on Jan. 21 that was easier than his 21/2-length winning margin suggested.
While he has done his best running on turf, the son of Hat Trick broke his maiden over the dirt at Parx Racing last October and hasn't been seriously challenged in any of his victories.
"I think it's kind of like the deal we had last year," Motion said of Howe Great. "He has to take us there (to the Derby). If he ran well here and we ran him in the Blue Grass and he ran well there, it'd be hard not to take a shot at the Derby. He's done something Animal Kingdom hadn't done at this point and that is win a race on the dirt. I think it would have to be something you'd consider. I don't think distance will be an issue for him."
Howe Great looks to be the lone speed in the Palm Beach so if he gets away easy up front, Dullahan may have to unleash a monster effort to deny his rival his first graded stakes win.
"Obviously at Gulfsteam, it is very favorable to be on the lead so it should work out for him," Motion said.