-- Amid the vanilla slogans in the owners' box at Saturday's Preakness Stakes -- "Hey Eddington" or "I like Water Cannon" -- the entourage supporting Rock Hard Ten stood out. Several members of the massive brown colt's traveling party sported black caps with a bold gold "X" and an equally bold slogan: "Size Does Matter."
The horse, like its owners, was unmistakable before and during his fourth career start -- with his huge frame, his balking entrance into the starting gate that delayed the race by several minutes and finally his strong second-place finish in the 13/16-mile race.
When jockey Gary Stevens attempted to lead Rock Hard Ten into the No. 10 gate, the horse declined three times. The anxious crowd roared as Stevens hopped off and regrouped before Rock Hard Ten finally relented.
"We sometimes expect that of him; he likes to do things in his own time," said the horse's breeder and partial owner, Madeleine Paulson, who also owned Cigar with her late husband, Allen Paulson. "He's a big black stallion; you're not going to tell him what to do."
Trainer Jason Orman echoed Paulson -- "if you try to bully him he gets a little frustrated and starts kicking a little bit," Orman said -- but he said the rocky start did not hurt Rock Hard Ten's chances.
And indeed, once the race went off, the California-based colt remained in a tightly bunched group behind front-runner Lion Heart and stalker Smarty Jones before ultimately emerging from the pack and overtaking Lion Heart down the stretch.
"My horse made a nice swing move and had another gear, and when I asked him, he gave it," said Stevens, who flew in from France on Friday afternoon to ride Rock Hard Ten and was scheduled to depart late last night. "But Smarty just pulled off. That horse is as good as any horse I've ever seen, and I've seen some good ones."
Still, the second-place finish was satisfying for Orman and Rock Hard Ten's owners, who were shut out of the packed Kentucky Derby field because of a shortage of graded stakes winnings. Stevens, who is scheduled to ride in three French Grade I stakes races today, rode the grandsire of Mr. Prospector in two of its previous three starts, and had been scheduled to ride Rock Hard Ten at the Derby.
But when the field was filled, Stevens was handed a horse that hadn't run since the Santa Anita Derby six weeks ago and faced a discouraging dose of history: Only one horse since 1983 has won at the Preakness after sitting out the Derby.
Saturday, though, Orman said the sloppy track at Churchill Downs would not have suited his horse, and Paulson said she was suffering from a bout of vertigo on the first Saturday of May.
Both said they were happy to wait for the Preakness, and once their colt arrived in Baltimore, onlookers gawked at his hulking body -- nearly 18 hands tall, according to Paulson. His owners and Orman said Saturday they expect the horse to improve as he grows into his frame and gains experience.
Part owner Ernie Moody of Mercedes Stable was optimistic about the upcoming Belmont Stakes, although he stopped short of guaranteeing Rock Hard Ten's presence at the final leg of the Triple Crown.
"I guess we'll have to see how he comes out of this race, but we'd love to get another crack at Smarty Jones," Moody said. And then Moody, like nearly everyone else at Pimlico, marveled at his horse's size.
"I wouldn't have wanted to be those people trying to push him in the gate, that's for sure," he said.