Animal Kingdom In Good Company At Fair Hill; 'No Go' For Nehro; Mucho Macho Man Works

Nine Preakness Stars set to Arrive at Pimlico Wednesday


ANIMAL KINGDOM – Team Valor International’s Kentucky Derby winner galloped 1½ miles over the synthetic Tapeta surface at Fair Hill Training Center Tuesday morning.

     As he did Sunday when rain left the dirt track muddy, trainer Graham Motion opted to train Animal Kingdom on the synthetic surface, which features consistent drainage.

     “It was a little wet,” Motion said. “We had rain on and off all morning.”

     When Animal Kingdom is on the track to jog and then gallop he is accompanied by a stable pony ridden by one of Motion’s assistants.

     “He does go out with the pony, more as a precaution than necessity,” Motion said. “We like to keep him in company. We try to keep everything as natural as it would be, even though we’re having a special kind of training after the break. There are benefits of having horses around him.”

     Animal Kingdom goes out with a set of Motion’s horses – between eight and 10 – for his morning exercise in the days leading up to the Preakness Stakes. Motion said the son of Leroidesanimaux will gallop up to the race and will not have a timed workout.

     “He’s galloping fairly strong anyway,” Motion said. “He always finishes up his gallop pretty strong. Maybe on Thursday or Friday we might let him finish up a little bit more, but nothing really out of the ordinary.”

     Motion had considered shipping the 60 miles from Fair Hill to Pimlico on Friday, but now says he is 90-percent sure that the colt will make the trip on Saturday morning, several hours before the race.

     “I don’t see any reason to do it any differently. That’s the way I’m leaning,” Motion said. “I just don’t see why I need to change his world on Friday. He’s here, he’s happy and I just don’t see the benefit to getting him over there the day before.”
    
Animal Kingdom is scheduled to go to the track at Fair Hill at 9 a.m. each day. Per Graham Motion’s request, TV crews are asked to set up in the vicinity of the clocker’s stand, where he will try to accommodate each request to the best of his ability.
                 
ASTROLOGY/NEHRO – Ahmed Zayat’s Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro will skip the Preakness and make his next start in the Belmont Stakes on June 11.

     Meanwhile, Astrology, who breezed a half-mile in 51 3/5 seconds Monday at Churchill Downs, is scheduled to be shipped to Baltimore on Wednesday.
 
     Zayat, who watched his colt train Monday morning at Churchill Downs, consulted with trainer Steve Asmussen, assistant trainer Scott Blasi and exercise rider Carlos Rosa before making the decision to skip the Preakness Tuesday morning. Nehro has performed well while on a demanding schedule, finishing second in consecutive graded stakes: the Louisiana Derby on March 26, the Arkansas Derby on April 16 and in the Derby on May 7. 

     “It was a very difficult decision because we have a very happy and healthy horse at the moment,” said Brad Weisbord, the finance and racing manager for Zayat Stables. “Any time you’re going to skip a classic, usually there is a better excuse than that. The main decision came down to Mr. Zayat feeling it was a little much to ask the horse to run four great races in an eight-week time frame. We are looking to keep Nehro around throughout the entire year, with our next goal being the Belmont Stakes. We also have other goals down the line, being that he loves Churchill Down and potentially running in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

     “It was a very tough decision to make. Mr. Zayat loves coming to Baltimore and really thinks a lot of the Preakness race, but what it came down to is we decided to err on the side of caution to give the horse a little more time between his Derby and his next race.”

     Astrology, a son of A.P. Indy owned by Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton, has never been worse than third in seven career starts. He won the Iroquois (G3) and was second to Santiva in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G3) at Churchill last fall. He was sick during the winter, which delayed the start of his 3-year-old campaign, and has finished second in both of his starts, the Sunland Derby (G3) and Jerome (G2).

CONCEALED IDENTITY – Linda Gaudet and Morris Bailey’s Concealed Identity galloped “an easy mile” Tuesday morning at Bowie Training Center while remaining a likely starter in the Preakness.
    
     “We’ll do a little something tomorrow, and then we’ll make our decision,” said Gaudet, whose husband, Eddie, trains the son of 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones. “Nehro’s out; he’s doing great; he’s feeling good; so, as of right now, we’re pretty confident we’re going to go ahead and enter him.”

     Concealed Identity has captured two straight races at Pimlico, including the Federico Tesio Stakes last time out.
    
Sheldon Russell has the mount.

DANCE CITY – The son of City Zip was given “an easy jog” under exercise rider Fernando Espinosa Tuesday morning over a fast racetrack at Churchill Downs, according to trainer Todd Pletcher.

     “He seems to be an improving horse,” Pletcher said of the third-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby in his stakes debut. “He’s getting better with experience and we thought his Arkansas Derby was a very good race. He was the only horse that was part of the early pace scenario that stuck around and got a piece of it.”

     Owned by the Estate of Edward P. Evans, Dance City has had only four career starts and was a surprise winner over Pletcher’s highly regarded Cal Nation in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park on March 19. Pletcher said that was when he realized that Dance City might be ready for bigger and better things.

     “Obviously he’s got to step up to the next level, but he’s showing all the right signs,” Pletcher said.”

     Pletcher is looking for his first Preakness victory after Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver finished eighth and stablemate Aikenite ran 10th last year.  Ramon Dominguez will make his first start aboard Dance City, who is scheduled to arrive by plane at Pimlico before noon on Wednesday. 

     Pletcher will be driving in Wednesday night from New York.

DIALED IN – Robert LaPenta’s Dialed In galloped 1 ½ miles at Churchill Downs Tuesday morning, one day before a scheduled flight to Baltimore.

     The son of Mineshaft, who finished eighth as the 5-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby, will be running for a $5.5 million bonus in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. The Holy Bull (G3) and Florida Derby (G1) winner is the only horse in the field for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown eligible for the top prize of the Preakness 5.5, a bonus series offered by MI Developments.

     Should Dialed In win the Preakness, he would earn a $5 million bonus for his owner and $500,000 for trainer Nick Zito.

     “(LaPenta) needs to pay the bills like I do. I need to pay the feed man; he needs to keep buying horses; so that’s the good part of the bonus.

     But Bob and I talked about it, and we just want to focus on winning the Preakness,” Zito said. “I talked with Bob, and he wants to win the bonus, but that’s not what he’s in the game for. He’s in the game to win the Preakness – that’s what he wants. He’d rather have the trophy.

     “For me, it’s a different story. If the horse crosses the line (first), the feed guys will be standing in line. It’ll all go to the feed man,” the Hall of Fame trainer quipped.

     Regular rider Julien Leparoux will be aboard Dialed In Saturday.

FLASHPOINT – The roan son of Pomeroy continued to impress trainer Wesley Ward with his training at Keeneland, where he has posted two bullet works since arriving there from Florida in mid-April.

     “He had a beautiful gallop today,” Ward said of Tuesday’s exercise over the Polytrack. “He’s doing great.“

     Flashpoint has had only three starts and was unraced as a 2-year-old, but he showed some ability when finishing fourth in the Florida Derby in his last start despite racing from the outside post. Ward was given the training job from Richard Dutrow following that outing, and this will be his first time saddling the colt in a race.

     “I think we’re going to be just fine because we have tactical speed, whether we want to go to the lead or run off it.  I’ll talk it over with (Peachtree Stable’s) Mr. (John) Fort and we’ll decide what he’d like to do and relay that to the jockey (Cornelio Velasquez). Of course, it’s horse racing and it never works out according to plan, but at least you have sort of a plan going in.”

     Flashpoint will fly in to Pimlico Wednesday afternoon and Ward will be in Baltimore later that evening.     

ISN’T HE PERFECT – The stress of uncertainty finally ended for trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal Tuesday morning when he learned that the son of Pleasantly Perfect moved into the field of 14 prospective starters for Preakness 136 with the defection of Derby runner-up Nehro.

     “I’m more than happy to be in the race,” said the Preakness rookie. “I can’t tell you how good I felt.”

     Isn’t He Perfect will be the first Triple Crown participant for the Guyana native, who is based in New York.

     The next issue facing Shivmangal is finding a rider for the colt who finished fifth in the Wood Memorial and the Jerome under jockey Channing Hill. Shivmangal, who said he believed Hill moved prematurely in the Wood, reported that he is in negotiations with California jockey Joel Rosario.

     “I’m also going to look at the leading riders at Pimlico who might be available,” he said, revealing his plan in the event that Rosario doesn’t sign on for the mount.  Rosario rode Brilliant Speed to a seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, but that colt is bypassing the Preakness.

     Shivmangal said Isn’t He Perfect “tack walked” Tuesday at Belmont Park, where he judged the training track to be a bit too wet for a scheduled gallop. The 58-year-old trainer’s excitement about the Preakness was tempered considerably by the death of a niece, whose funeral was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

KING CONGIE – Due to heavy rains and a sloppy track, trainer Tom Albertrani downgraded King Congie’s scheduled gallop to a jog at Belmont Park Tuesday morning.

     King Congie is coming off a troubled third-place finish behind victorious stablemate Brilliant Speed in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in his last start, his fourth straight sharp performance since a pair of disappointing efforts to begin his career. The son of Badge of Silver finished eighth and fourth on dirt before finishing first three times in a row on turf and showing in the Blue Grass on Polytrack.

     Albertrani is hoping that King Congie was at a disadvantage due to the sprint distances of his first two starts, not the dirt surfaces at Saratoga and Belmont.

      “I think it was just sprinting and being a little green the first couple of starts. He didn’t run all that bad in his second start going 5 ½ (furlongs), but I still think it’s all about stretching him out,” said Albertrani, who saddled Bernardini for a 2006 Preakness Stakes victory.

      “It’s hard to say if it’s stretching him out or the turf that made him better, but he ran over a turf course at Calder when he won the Tropical Park Derby that was very cut up. It’s was almost like a dirt course and he handled it fine and his transition to Polytrack was also another step forward, so I’m comfortable that he will handle the dirt. But it remains to be seen.”

     Robby Albarado will ride King Congie for the first time in the Preakness.
           
MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE – Arnold Zetcher’s War Chant colt came out of his Monday workout well and walked the shedrow at trainer Bob Baffert’s barn at Churchill Downs Tuesday morning. Baffert said he will jog Wednesday morning before getting on a flight from Louisville to Baltimore.

     After bursting into the Kentucky Derby picture with a victory in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Midnight Interlude was a non-competitive 16th in the Run for the Roses.
 
     “He broke well and I think everybody was anticipating a fast pace and (jockey Victor Espinoza) grabbed him and he got behind a wall of horses, and he wasn’t ready for that,” Baffert said. “The next thing you know, he’s 10 lengths off a 48 (-second) half. He just lost all interest; he’s really a temperamental type of horse. But I just don’t know. It was a very puzzling race to me.”
    
     Baffert said the colt came out of the Derby in great shape and is ready for the Preakness.
“It took nothing out of him. Nothing,” Baffert said. “He never ran. He was done after three-quarters of a mile. He just lost interest. That was it for him.”

     Martin Garcia, who rode Baffert’s fifth Preakness winner, Lookin At Lucky last year, will replace Espinoza on Midnight Interlude.

MR. COMMONS – St. George Farm Racing’s son of Artie Schiller began his long journey from California to Baltimore at 2 a.m. PDT Tuesday. The first leg of the flight took him to Louisville, Ky. He will spend the night in Kentucky and is scheduled to be on a flight to Baltimore on Wednesday.
    
     Although he has a turf pedigree, Mr. Commons has shown an ability level on dirt that has carried him to the Triple Crown series. He made his debut with a sixth-place finish on the synthetic surface at Hollywood Park in December and turned in an eye-opening performance over the downhill turf course at Santa Anita on January 15.
    
     “We always liked him a lot,” trainer John Shirreffs said. “His first race on the synthetic track here he ran OK. Then when we ran him on the turf going down the hill, he might have had the best time of the whole meet coming down that hill. We knew he was kind of special.”
  
     Mr. Commons won the 6 ½-furlong race by 5 ½ lengths in 1:12 and Shirreffs said he promptly began thinking about seeing if the 3-year-old was good enough on dirt to be considered for the classics.

     “If he could make the transformation over to the dirt track then, boy, we might have something really good,” Shirreffs said. “It was just a case of why not try him, rather than thinking three months from now, ‘maybe we should have tried him.’”

     Mr. Commons passed the test winning a one-mile allowance race on the dirt by a head on Feb. 26 that ultimately carried him to the Santa Anita Derby.

     “It was a real gutty performance,” Shirreffs said. “He really wanted to win.”

     Shirreffs said that the colt’s owner, Ian Banwell, was receptive to aiming for the Santa Anita Derby.

     “That’s where it kind of got messed up,” Shirreffs said. “We wanted to run him in the San Felipe (on March 12), but the prep race that we wanted to go in, a mile on the turf, didn’t fill. So we had to wait a week for another race and that caused us to miss the San Felipe. Then it was run in the Santa Anita Derby and see what happened.”

     Starting from Post 3 in a field of nine, Mr. Commons got an inside trip and finished third, 2 ¼ lengths behind Midnight Interlude.

     “I thought he ran really well,” Shirreffs said. “He tried about two different times to dig in and I think at the end of the race it was probably a little bit of immaturity and being down on the inside and not having had that sort of inside experience that cost him.”

     Victor Espinoza will ride Mr. Commons in the Preakness.
           
MUCHO MACHO MAN – Trainer Kathy Ritvo gave her third-place Kentucky Derby finisher a Preakness Stakes tune-up Tuesday morning at Belmont Park. One of only five horses on the work tab due to the sloppy track conditions, Mucho Macho Man turned in the fastest of four clockings at four furlongs (49 1/5 seconds) under jockey Rajiv Maragh.
    
     “He worked well. He came back great,” Ritvo said.    

     Mucho Macho Man is scheduled to arrive at Pimlico late Wednesday morning after a van ride from Belmont.

     “It will be a scheduled walk day, so I figured we’d just get it over with and get over there. We can train over that track Thursday and Friday,” she said.
           
NORMAN ASBJORNSON – When Thomas McClay and Harry Nye’s Norman Asbjornson steps into the Pimlico starting gate for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, Phil Grove will step out of the stewards’ stand.

     The former jockey and current Maryland state steward will excuse himself to watch and “silently” root for Norman Asbjornson, who will be saddled by his son, Chris.

     “The integrity of Maryland racing is here, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that. I didn’t want to cast a bad light on it. I have a good reputation, too, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that,” said the elder Grove, who rode 3,991 winners before retiring in 1997.

     Grove was quick to point out that the Preakness will not be the first race for which he will excuse himself from the decision-making process. He and Maryland Racing Commission executive director J. Michael Hopkins had resolved the issue long ago.

     “We decided that in any race, whether it be a $5,000 race or the Preakness, if Chris’s horse was in it and something needed to be decided, I would step out and not be involved,” he said.

     Hopkins will step into the stewards’ stand for the Preakness.The elder Grove had tried to steer his son away from the racetrack, sending him to Elizabethtown University in Pennsylvania, but racing was in Chris Grove’s blood.

     “His mother and I spent a lot of money trying to keep him away from the racetrack,” Grove said. “Through his own hard work he got to the racetrack. Everything he’s accomplished, he’s done on his own.”

     He did offer his son some helpful advice on how to conduct himself on the racetrack.

     “I told him a long time ago that you have to take defeat and winning with the same emotions,” Grove said. “You have to be as good at losing as you are at winning. Nobody likes a sour loser and nobody likes an overwrought winner.

     Norman Asbjornson, who finished second in the Gotham (G3) and fourth in the Wood Memorial (G1) in his last two starts, galloped 1 ½ miles at Bowie Training Center Tuesday morning.

SARATOGA RED – The D. Wayne Lukas-trained Saratoga Red was 15th on the earnings list for the Preakness Stakes Tuesday and would need another defection to draw into the 14-horse field.

     The son of Eddington, who is scheduled to van from Louisville to Baltimore on Wednesday, is expected to run in a supporting stakes on Saturday’s card if not able to draw into the Preakness.

SHACKLEFORD – Trainer Dale Romans supervised the Forestry colt’s penultimate exercise at Churchill Downs Tuesday morning before flying to Baltimore Wednesday afternoon.
    
     “He just galloped and he went good,” said Romans, reporting that his Kentucky Derby pacesetter continued to show no ill effects from the short turnaround. “Everything’s good. He’ll be up there tomorrow.”

     Romans decided to forego an official workout for the Florida Derby runner-up, who will be making his third start since April 3. He last worked on April 30 at Churchill.

     “He’s fit enough,” Romans said. “He had two breezes going into the Derby, so he should be OK.” Romans’ colt has been on the front end of his last two starts, and there’s no reason to believe things will change that much at Pimlico.

     “We won’t give up the lead easy,” Romans said. “But if somebody wants to work to get it, they can have it and we’ll be happy to stalk.”
Shackleford is eligible for a $550,000 bonus if he wins the Preakness by virtue of his Florida Derby performance.

SWAY AWAY – The son of 2005 Preakness winner Afleet Alex had a “brisk gallop” at Churchill Downs over a fast track Tuesday morning. He is scheduled to be aboard the first of two flights from Louisville to Baltimore on Wednesday morning.

     “He’s doing real well,” said trainer Jeff Bonde by phone from Hollywood Park.  “We’re looking forward to the Preakness. We were obviously disappointed not to get into the Kentucky Derby, but this is a big opportunity for us.”

     Sway Away could be one of the contenders lurking under the radar off his fourth-place finish in the Arkansas Derby, but with Garrett Gomez back aboard there is bound to be some attention paid to the West Coast invader. Gomez, who rode the Kentucky-bred colt in his first two starts this year, replaces Pat Valenzuela, who rode him in the Arkansas Derby.

     “It was nothing against anybody,” Bonde said. “It just worked out that way.”

     Gomez’s first time aboard Sway Away was a fast-closing second to The Factor in his 3-year-old debut in the San Vicente on Feb. 20 at Santa Anita.

     Sway Away ran twice as a juvenile, heading right to stakes company off his maiden win. He finished second in the Best Pal at Del Mar before going on the shelf to recover from successful arthroscopic knee surgery.

-MJC-