Being a Preakness rookie doesn’t mean trainer Mike Maker is unaware of his surroundings. His challenger for Saturday’s race, General a Rod, is bedded down in the same stall as 2012 winner I’ll Have Another.
When told of the good karma in Bard D on Tuesday morning, Maker – who arrived from Kentucky late Monday evening – was already in the know.
“That’s what I hear,” he said. “We’ll find out on Saturday.”
General a Rod is one of just three horses to come out of the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago and take on the Preakness. The others are the winner, California Chrome, and sixth-place finisher Ride On Curlin.
Bottled up early in the 19-horse field and unable to find his accustomed spot near the early leaders, General a Rod finished a distant 11that Churchill Downs. It was the first time in six career starts the son of Roman Ruler had finished worse than third.
“I didn’t think he had a fair shake,” Maker said. “He had a rough trip in the Derby and didn’t get to run his race. He came out of it well and he had high energy. It’s the Preakness, he’s happy and healthy, so we might as well give it another shot.”
A native of Michigan, Maker learned the ropes from his father, George, who trained at Hazel Park and Detroit Race Course. The younger Maker served 10 years under Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas before going out on his own in 2003.
During his time with Lukas, Maker helped to develop Charismatic from the maiden claiming ranks to 3-year-old champion of 1999 following wins in the Derby and Preakness, the latter by 1 ½ lengths over 2-1 favorite Menifee. At 8-1, Charismatic was fifth choice in a field of 13.
Maker was also around when Lukas won the Preakness with Tabasco Cat (1994) and Timber Country (1995).
Winner of the Gulfstream Park Derby on Jan. 1, General a Rod was a narrow second in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and a close third in the Florida Derby (G1) before leaving south Florida.
He is already enjoying his stay in Baltimore, getting his first look at Pimlico’s main track with a gallop at 6 this morning.
“He likes that big stall,” Maker said. “Every time I’ve seen him, last night and this morning, he was in the same spot, sprawled out and relaxing.”
That is a good sign for Maker, who also brought Shanon Nicole from Kentucky to run in Friday’s $500,000 Black-Eyed Susan (G2) for 3-year-old fillies. When General a Rod arrived in Kentucky, he had a different time adjusting to the surroundings.
“The first day at Churchill, he had his eyes peeled at every single thing,” Maker said.“Today, he didn’t care. He was all business.”
With a prospective field of 10 for the Preakness, General a Rod won’t have to contend with the same kind of crowd as the Derby which has Maker confident of an improved performance.
“Obviously, it’s a prestigious race. We’re not just here because it’s the Preakness. We’ve got a lot of confidence in the horse,” Maker said. “Having said that, we have to really step up and get a fair shake this time.
“He needs to get a little better but, knock on wood, he’s had a string of great days for a long time.”
And at Pimlico, a lot of relaxation.