Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert hopes Collected will deliver more than another "opening act" in the Preakness on Saturday at Pimlico.
Baffert and his charismatic colt American Pharoah won the Preakness on their way to a sweep of the Triple Crown last year.
But Baffert is short on horsepower for the current 3-year-old classics.
"Last year we were the headliner," Baffert quipped before the Kentucky Derby. "Now we're the opening act."
Mor Spirit, Baffert's Derby horse, was a not-ready-for-prime-time runner that finished 10th.
Now Baffert goes to the bench with Collected, winner of the Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes and the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in his last two outings.
The colt faces the top of the division for the first time.
"It's going to be a step up for him," Baffert said. "He is fast, but there are a lot of fast horses in there. We feel like he deserves a chance. We never thought about the Derby with him, but he's the kind of horse that brings it every time."
He faces a field led by Nyquist, the Derby winner with an 8-0 record, and Exaggerator, the Santa Anita Derby winner.
Collected started his career on the turf, winning his debut at Santa Anita before finishing second in the Cecil B. DeMille Stakes at Del Mar in late November.
All five stakes this year have been on dirt.
He made a smooth surface transition, capturing the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita in January. That peaked Baffert's interest to try the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in February.
Collected ran fourth there, and Baffert started hunting for softer spots, and got those confidence-building stakes wins in New Mexico and Kentucky.
Now he's facing harder competition.
"He's going to be tough to beat," Baffert said of Nyquist. "The only way we can beat him is either he doesn't bring his A Game or there's some racing luck."
Baffert knows he'll need good fortune on Saturday to spring a Preakness upset.
"We got beat up a little bit (in the Derby), so we're trying something else," he said. "The Preakness is a fun race, and I feel that we have a horse that's competitive."
Baffert has six Preakness wins, tying D. Wayne Lukas for second on the all-time list. R.W. Walden set the record with seven in the late 1800s.
Baffert was asked if it was weird returning to Pimlico one year removed from the Triple Crown.
"I've come in here weird many years," said the white-haired trainer, joking.
Collected would be Baffert's first Preakness winner that didn't run in the Derby.