Fourteen women have preceded Linda Rice as the trainer of a horse in the Preakness Stakes. None of them have won.
Rice, who turned 50 in March, doesn’t know if she will be the one to end that streak on Saturday when she sends out Kid Cruz in the 139thPreakness.
What Rice does know is that she didn’t make the drive from New York to Baltimore just for the crab cakes.
“I’ve never been here for his,” Rice said. “I’ve been racing horses for quite a few years, but typically I don’t like to go to places that I don’t have a good chance. I don’t like to take shots, as they say. He impressed me enough in his last two races and he’s trained very well where I think he deserves a chance at this race. I know he won’t be short odds, but I still thinks he deserves a shot.”
Kid Cruz will break from post seven in the field of 10 and is 20-1 on the morning line. Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome is the 3-5 program favorite from post three.
Post seven has produced 12 Preakness winners, most recently Lookin at Lucky in 2010. It is the third most successful starting position in race history, behind six (16) and four (13). Those spots are occupied this year by Bayern and Ring Weekend, respectively.
Eleven Preakness winners have come from California Chrome’s post three, but none since Prairie Bayou in 1993.
“I like the post position,” Rice said. “That won’t be an excuse for us. It’s a great post in the Preakness historically. I’m very happy with the track and he’s won over the track, so we’re going to find out if he can handle the competition. Certainly, it will be a much faster pace than he’s had in the past. I’m excited to see how it plays out. We’re here, and we’re ready to go.”
Kid Cruz has won each of his last two starts, both under jockey Julien Pimentel, who will be back aboard in the Preakness. Both of those wins came in Maryland.
On March 8, Kid Cruz came from way back to win the 1 1/8-mile Private Terms by four lengths at Laurel Park. Six weeks later, he returned with a 3 ½-length score in the Federico Tesio, Pimlico’s traditional local Preakness prep.
“When he ran in the Private Terms he was so far back I thought, ‘Oh my God. What’s wrong?’” Rice said. “He was 22 lengths back. I didn’t anticipate him being that far back. We planned to be off the pace and make a run, but that was a surprise to me and actually a concern at the time. He came running and was pretty impressive running down horses that were going slow fractions. Then he did the same thing here, laying a little closer. He’s a young, inexperienced horse and, hopefully, he has perfected his craft.”
Though Kid Cruz has experience at Pimlico, Rice knows the atmosphere won’t be the same on Saturday as it was in mid-April.
“I’m not so sure Pimlico is the same when they run the Federico Tesio as it will be on Preakness day,” she said. “There’s a big crowd, a lot of noise. It’s much different. He certainly ran well over the track. In some ways I think this is more of a speed-favoring track, but because of that they usually go hard and fast early. I’m hoping that’s the case.”
The last woman to train a Preakness horse was Kathy Ritvo, whose Mucho Macho Man was sixth of 14 in 2011. The closest a female has come to winning came in 2002, when late Maryland fixture Nancy Alberts was second with state-bred Magic Weisner.
In her only previous try in a Triple Crown race, Rice was fifth with Supervisor in the 2003 Belmont Stakes. Kid Cruz’s sire, Lemon Drop Kid, won the 1 ½-mile Belmont in 1999.
“He looks slow (on the speed sheets),” said Rice, who has been training on her own since 1987. “In my mind, if I’m typically handicapping the race, I wouldn’t pick this race out as his next step. But timing wise, I think with his running style and his numbers, the fact that he can handle the mile and a quarter and most likely the mile and a half as his father did, I think the Belmont is really his best option to beat these kinds of horses.
“I’m aware of that. With his numbers, we just need him to move forward. If he can do that and come back in the Belmont, that’s probably our best shot to win a Triple Crown race. But we’re still going to be trying hard on Saturday.”