ANIMAL KINGDOM – Trainer Graham Motion said Friday that Team Valor International’s Kentucky Derby winner is ready for the Preakness, the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
“I feel very confident with how the horse is doing,” Motion said.
Animal Kingdom galloped 1½ miles on the synthetic Tapeta surface track at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. He is scheduled to leave the facility in Cecil County for the 60-mile trip to Pimlico shortly after 5 a.m. Saturday morning.
With a strong run through the stretch at Churchill Downs on May 7 at odds of 20-1, Animal Kingdom’s status changed from an intriguing but lightly raced colt to Kentucky Derby winner. Motion said the colt looks good to him as they approach the Preakness. He didn’t have an answer to questions about whether Animal Kingdom benefited from a slow early pace in the Derby or if he might be due to “bounce”, a racing term meaning regress, off his winning performance.
“I just couldn’t be happier with how he’s doing,” Motion said. “I can’t dictate the pace and I really can’t predict if he’s going to bounce, but he’s giving me no indication of any of those things happening. I think sometimes when a horse bounces you don’t get any indication. I think it’s pretty hard to boldly say he’s not going to, but he hasn’t given me any indication that he’s not doing as well or better than he was going into the Derby.”
Motion said it was fun to throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the start of Thursday evening’s game between the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.
“It was pretty cool,” he said. “They had a bit of a rain delay, so actually I did it on the side of the field. It was really neat. It was a cool thing to do. I enjoyed it.”
The appearance at the downtown stadium, prior to the game won by the Yankees, 13-2, was one of the many perks that have come Motion’s way since Animal Kingdom won the Derby.
“I don’t think I could have anticipated some of the things I’ve been able to do, some of the people I’ve met, just the whole experience,” he said. “I don’t think you’d really appreciate it unless you had done it before.”
“I feel more relaxed than I have all week,” he said. “I think I’ve done what I can do and it’s really out of my hands now. The nerve-wracking stuff is just getting the training done and just trying to keep things straight. We’re to this point where it’s really out of my hands; we just get into the races and hope everything goes smoothly.”
ASTROLOGY – Four years ago, trainer Steve Asmussen won the Preakness with Curlin, a lightly raced colt who went on to be Horse of the Year twice and set the career earnings record of $10.5 million. Two years ago, Asmussen brought the newly acquired Rachel Alexandra to Pimlico and she became the first filly to win the Preakness since Nellie Morse in 1924 en route to a Horse of the Year award.
Asmussen is back in Baltimore this week with Astrology, a Stonestreet Stable homebred co-owned by George Bolton, who has shown great promise but hasn’t yet delivered on expectations. Astrology drew the rail and is 15-1 on the morning line and Asmussen said he could not compare this year’s Preakness experience with his last two visits.
“It’s a completely different scenario in the fact that Curlin had the potential to win one of these and now we’re trying to win one for a third time,” he said. “It’s a completely different feel.”
The late Jess Jackson, owner of Stonestreet Stable, and Harold McCormick purchased Rachel Alexandra after her resounding victory in the Kentucky Oaks and turned her over to Asmussen to prepare for the Preakness. Asmussen said his Preakness experience with the filly was unlike any other.
“I had never been in a race like that, that it felt that everybody was on her side,” he said. “It was tremendous and such a different feeling walking over with Rachel with the well-wishers before. I thought about that today when I walked up to train Astrology. I was remembering the different feel from walking over with her and different horses. With Rachel, it just felt like the overwhelming majority really wanted to see her do well.”
Rachel Alexandra delivered, winning the Preakness by a length over the fast-closing Derby winner Mine That Bird.
Astrology won the Iroquois (G3) and was second in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and was considered a top contender for the Kentucky Derby. Sickness earlier in the year cost him a month of training. The A.P. Indy colt was second in the Sunland Derby, but the decision was made to skip the Derby and prepare for the Preakness with a race in the Jerome, where he finished second. Asmussen said the Preakness is an opportunity for Astrology to step up and into the spotlight.
“He is a Stonestreet-bred horse, a product of everything you are trying to establish,” Asmussen said. “He has the right pedigree and the right look and he needs to win the right race.”
Asmussen appeared to get choked up when asked with it would mean to win the Preakness with Astrology 30 days after Jackson’s death.
“I don’t even want to think about it, not even now,” he said. “Overwhelming.”
CONCEALED IDENTITY – Trainer Eddie Gaudet sent his Federico Tesio Stakes winner to the track at Bowie Training Center Friday morning for a gallop and a little extra.
“He galloped and we let him roll a little bit through the stretch,” Gaudet said. “I like to let horses finish up a little bit. They’re creatures of habit, so if you let them run off a little bit that last eighth of a mile or quarter of a mile, they’ll learn to run the last part.”
Concealed Identity drew the No. 13 post, but Gaudet has reason to prefer the outside post to an inside post for his colt who has no vision in his right eye.
“I like the post position, but I wish it wasn’t so far out. Being on the outside he can see them with his eye. It’s an advantage for him to be outside of horses,” Gaudet said. “When he’s outside he can look inside at the other horses.”
Sheldon Russell has the return mount aboard Linda Gaudet and Morris Bailey’s colt.
DANCE CITY – The promising colt from the Estate of Edward P. Evans galloped 1 ¼ miles over a drying-out Pimlico strip Friday morning and trainer Todd Pletcher reported that “everything’s perfect” at the Pimlico Stakes Barn.
“From our post (No. 8), I’d be a little bit surprised if we were on the lead,” Pletcher said. “To me, on paper, it looks like Flashpoint and Shackleford will be the most likely pacesetters. With us positioned outside of them, hopefully we could follow and get a nice stalking position. Things change when the gate opens, and I wouldn’t be shocked if we ended up on the lead, but I would think it would be one of those two guys.”
Pletcher’s third-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby was obviously flattered when the runner-up in that race, Nehro, ran second in Louisville.
“I would think that’s going to add to his resume, as well as Nehro ran in the Derby,” said Pletcher, whose Stay Thirsty ran a non-threatening 12th there. “It was a remarkably cleanly run Derby – one of the cleanest I’ve seen. I think everyone was a little surprised by the pace scenario. I think (Animal Kingdom) was the best horse on the day, without a doubt.”
Dance City comes in here a fresh horse and with only four races on his resume since his Dec.10 debut at Aqueduct. Leading New York rider and former Maryland champion Ramon Dominguez will be aboard for the first time.
“I think most of the time all the best horses are running in the Derby,” Pletcher said. “You have the occasional Red Bullet who decides to pass, but for the most part the best horses are in the Derby. If you have a later developing horse and a fresh horse, it’s doable.”
The son of City Zip was pointed to the Derby, but Pletcher ran into a few roadblocks along the way.
“We had a little setback this winter after he broke his maiden,” he said. “He got a temperature and we missed a week of training. That kind of put us behind schedule. We were thinking at that time of going to the Risen Star. Then we entered in two allowance races at Gulfstream that didn’t fill, so that pushed us back two more weeks. We were forced to take a step back and regroup, so we’ll see if it pays off here on Saturday.”
DIALED IN – Robert LaPenta’s Dialed In showed solid energy Friday morning while galloping 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Stacy Prior at Pimlico.
Dialed In finished eighth behind Animal Kingdom as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, but trainer Nick Zito hasn’t lost a bit of confidence in the son of Mineshaft.
“I still think – and not because I have him – that he’s still the best 3-year-old. That’s my opinion,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “We’ll see what happens with Animal Kingdom, and there are so many other good horses in the race.”
Dialed In trailed the 19-horse field during a particularly slow early pace before closing to eighth under jockey Julien Leparoux, beaten 7 ½ lengths by Animal Kingdom.
“I still want Julien to let him run his race. That’s his style. He’s a wonderful horse. What really has he done wrong? He got beat by Equestrio, who just got beat two noses in the Alysheba by First Dude against some of the best older horses in the country,” said Zito of Dialed In’s only other loss that came in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park. “In the Derby, he still came home with his run, which has been documented. Why should he do anything different?”
Dialed In, who won the Holy Bull (G3) and Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream Park, is eligible to win a $5.5 million bonus for his connections with a victory in the Preakness, courtesy of MI Developments’ Preakness 5.5 incentive program. Zito said he hasn’t felt any added pressure.
“The race is first, the money is next. Is the money going to be a big factor if we win? Is it going to help a lot of things? Of course, it is,” Zito said.
“It’ll help some good causes, too. Hey, we’re all on record, including Mr. LaPenta. It’s not like that money is just going to go in the bank. Of course, you don’t get any interest anymore anyway. We’re going to give it to the right people, I guess, if it happens.”
When asked his opinion of bonuses, Zito said he thought they were good, as long as 50 percent of the bonus is donated to charity.
Although impressed with Animal Kingdom’s Derby score, Zito said he was withholding judgment on the Graham Motion-trained colt’s ability.
“I’ll become a fan of Animal Kingdom if he keeps going on. I’m not saying Secretariat, Seattle Slew or Spectacular Bid yet,” Zito said. “He’s done so many things that are so unusual; he just may be a very good horse. Hopefully, our little guy has something to say about it.”
FLASHPOINT – Trainer Wesley Ward grabbed the reins and walked his Preakness contender in the shedrow shortly after 8 a.m. before sending him out for a gallop once around the track at Pimlico Friday morning under exercise rider Alex Razo.
“He’s doing great; he really is taking to the track,” said the one-time Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey. “The crowd will have no trouble identifying the son of Pomeroy, the only gray in the field of 14.
“We’re not trying to change anything that (previous trainer) Dickie Dutrow had done before,” said Ward, who was given the job of training Flashpoint by Peachtree Stable president John Fort following his fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby on April 3. “He brought him to this point.”
Cornelio Velasquez has been aboard all three of Flashpoint’s starts, his first two being resounding victories in sprint races at Aqueduct and Gulfstream. Thirty-four of the past 70 Preakness winners raced in Florida before taking the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
“He has natural speed, and when the jockey gets here we’ll talk it over with Mr. Fort and figure out our tactics,” Ward said. Flashpoint will break from post No. 4 and is 20-1 on the morning line.
ISN’T HE PERFECT – Trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal sent his well-raced son of Pleasantly Perfect out to the track at Pimlico for the first time Friday morning for a “nice, easy gallop” with a pony.
“He looked around and he loved it; he’s a tough horse,” said the Triple Crown neophyte from Guyana. “He shipped well. I got here around 7 o’clock Thursday night. I got messed up in the airport, the flight got delayed. We fed him and took care of him.”
Isn’t He Perfect was one of two candidates Shivmangal had for the Preakness. He scratched the other, Harlan’s Hello, who instead won an allowance race at Belmont last week at odds of more than 20-1. Isn’t He Perfect was also being considered for the Peter Pan last Saturday at Belmont, but the trainer opted for this much tougher assignment.
“I want to see how the track plays,” he said when asked about strategy for his stalker/closer. “I look at the track variant and then I will decide what to tell the jock (Edgar Prado) to do. The majority of the time you tell the jock to do this or do that, then it depends what develops in the race and then he has to use his discretion and improvise to suit the race.”
Shivmangal would be hard-pressed to find a rider who knows more about Pimlico. Prado won 14 different Pimlico meet riding titles before moving to New York in the early 2000s.
“I would leave it in his hands at that point,” Shivmangal said. “We were very fortunate to get him to ride this colt.
Isn’t He Perfect, who has won two of 10 starts on dirt, will break from post No.12 and may well be the longest shot in the wagering at post time.
KING CONGIE – West Point Thoroughbreds’ King Congie galloped 1 ¼ miles at Belmont Park Friday morning before leaving on a van bound for Pimlico at 9 a.m.
“I feel very confident. The horse is training very well. I was a little more confident with Bernardini, but I like the way my horse is training, so I think he’ll run a good race,” said trainer Tom Albertrani, whose only other Preakness starter was Bernardini, who won in 2006 on his way to being honored with an Eclipse Award as outstanding 3-year-old.
Albertrani saddled Brilliant Speed for a respectable seventh-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and came away impressed with Animal Kingdom’s victory in his dirt debut.
“He’s a horse that’s been on the improve with every race. He was in the same position as we were and had to show he was able to take his form to the dirt, and he managed to do it,” said Albertrani, whose Derby starter had also excelled on turf and synthetic surfaces. “Off his last couple of races, he looks like the horse we have to come and beat.”
Albertrani noted the parallels in the performance history of Brilliant Speed and King Congie, which makes him optimistic that the latter will also handle dirt.
The New York-based trainer will walk with a limp when he arrives at Pimlico due to a paddock mishap at Belmont on Saturday.
“A horse in the paddock was being very difficult to saddle. He ended up rearing up. He knocked me down and just stepped over me,” said Albertrani, who needed eight stitches to close a deep cut about the ankle.
Robby Albarado, who lost the Derby mount on Animal Kingdom to John Velazquez due to injury, will ride King Congie.
MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE – Five-time winning trainer Bob Baffert knows a little something about what it takes to be victorious in the Preakness. While Baffert thinks his colt will run better than he did finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby, he said he will be surprised if a horse other than Derby winner Animal Kingdom finishes first in the Preakness.
“He’s peaking. He’s in the zone,” Baffert said Friday. “Horses that win like that you can keep them for two weeks like that. This is the easiest race.”
Baffert said that Animal Kingdom opened his eyes with a sharp breeze on April 30 at Churchill Downs.
“I love the way he’s made,” Baffert said. “He’s a real balanced horse, covers a lot of ground. He looked the part. When he worked that day, I went like, ‘damn.’
“And the way he ran (in the Derby). He got on the outside and it looked like he was just getting going. When they win like that, he went almost like War Emblem into this race, which means they can come back and they will repeat that.”
Midnight Interlude moved from a maiden win to a Grade 1 victory in the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert said he thought the colt would do well, but didn’t expect that outcome and is baffled by the performance in the Kentucky Derby.
“I thought he would run well in the Derby, but he just never did pick it up,” Baffert said. “I think he will run well here. I’m hoping that he shows up. All you can do is hope you hit the board when the gates come open.”
Baffert’s Preakness wins have come with Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Point Given, War Emblem and Lookin At Lucky, who prevailed last year after a rough trip in the Derby.
“I’ve always won it with the best horse of the crop,” he said. “I think I would feel better having The Factor in here.”
Baffert said The Factor has been found to be recovering from a previously undetected small fracture in a leg and will be taken out of training for 30 days.
Baffert smiled when asked whether he was entering the Preakness this year hoping versus knowing that he would win.
“Hoping versus knowing. I like that,” he said. “Can I use that?
Hoping versus knowing. There you go.”
Baffert jokingly said that if Animal Kingdom wins the Preakness, Maryland Jockey Club officials should make a rule requiring all horses to be on the grounds at Pimlico at least a day before the Preakness. He said that if the colt – who will be shipped in from Fair Hill Saturday morning – were to lose, the MJC doesn’t need the rule.
But Baffert said the Derby winner should be in the Preakness Stakes Barn in the days leading up to the race.
“It takes away from the buzz here,” he said. “You’ve got to have the Derby winner here. Everybody wants to see the Derby winner. Even I want to see the Derby winner up close and personal.
“They should all be here. They need to have him here.”
MR. COMMONS – Asked to compare this visit to the Preakness with Mr. Commons with his only previous experience in 2005 with Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, trainer John Shirreffs didn’t hesitate.
“Different stall,” he said.
The Kentucky Derby winner traditionally resides in Stall 40 in the Preakness Stakes Barn. Mr. Commons, who finished third in the Santa Anita Derby in his most recent start, is in a stall assigned to a contender for the Second Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Mr. Commons will be making the fifth start of his career from the outside post in the field of 14 entered in the $1 million race. Veteran jockey Victor Espinoza will ride.
“Obviously, No. 14 is not ideal, but it’s better than No. 20,” Shirreffs said, referring to the outside post in the Derby. “The thing is because of the bias on the racetrack, you have to be real careful that they don’t just go to the outside fence. We’ll have to remind Victor to be aware of that.
“Then because we don’t want this horse in front – he’s got a lot of speed and we would prefer that he would lay somewhere in the mid-pack – that he picks a good spot to cover up. We’ll see how that all works out. You just have to have some luck.”
Mr. Commons served notice that he might be a very capable horse on Jan. 15 when he won a maiden race at Santa Anita, covering the 6½ furlongs on the downhill turf course in 1:12.
“The thing about his maiden race that gave us a lot of confidence is that he had the fastest time coming down the hill for the whole meet,” Shirreffs said. “He showed right away that he had exceptional talent. Then in his training, between races, we just weren’t taking anything out of the horse. When you have a horse that recovers as quickly as he does then you have to realize that he has a lot of talent.”
MUCHO MACHO MAN – Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and Dream Team Racing’s Mucho Macho Man suitably impressed his trainer Friday morning with a two-mile gallop at Pimlico.
“I think he’ll be sharper, more aggressive. He seems to get along at any racetrack, any surface. Bring it on. He’s ready,” said trainer Kathy Ritvo, whose colt finished third behind Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby.
Ritvo respects the Graham Motion-trained horse that finished three lengths ahead of Mucho Macho Man, but she is encouraged by her colt’s preparation for the Preakness.
“Animal Kingdom’s a very nice horse. I like him, but I love the way my horse is training,” she said. “I’m confident.”
Ritvo said the two-week turnaround from the Derby to the Preakness isn’t much of a concern.
“Between the Nashua and the Remsen, we just had three weeks, and the horse ran a fantastic race. There just was no pace at all,” said Ritvo, whose colt finished second behind alone-on-the-lead To Honor and Serve in both stakes at Aqueduct last fall. “I think he’ll come back here and run a great race. He couldn’t be doing any better than he’s doing. He galloped this morning unbelievably.”
Rajiv Maragh will have the return mount on the son of Macho Uno.
NORMAN ASBJORNSON – Thomas McClay and Harry Nye’s Norman Asbjornson galloped “an easy mile” at Bowie Training Center Friday morning.
‘We’re looking for a good one out of him – a good effort. I don’t know if that effort puts us in the winner’s circle, but certainly a good effort could put us on the board,” said trainer Chris Grove, whose colt finished second in the Gotham (G3) and fourth in the Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct.
While Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom has received rave reviews for his 2 ¾-length victory at Churchill Downs on May 7, Grove hasn’t seen much of the Run for the Roses.
“My son celebrated his birthday that day, and I had five kids that I took out for Japanese food,” he said. “I saw the race without any sound and never saw a replay.”
Julian Pimentel will have the mount on Norman Asbjornson, who is scheduled to van to Pimlico Saturday morning.
SHACKLEFORD – Trainer Dale Romans said he’s been feeling a lot like he did last year when First Dude came within three-quarters of a length of winning the Preakness.
The Kentucky-based Romans looked on at the rail as his son of Forestry galloped 1 ½ miles under Faustino Ramos at Pimlico Friday morning as gray skies provided the backdrop, as they have most of the week. That is expected to change Saturday when the forecast calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the low 80s.
“He’s ready to go,” Romans said back at the Preakness Stakes Barn. “He’s trained very good.”
Shackleford, fourth in the Kentucky Derby, is one of five horses making the two-week turnaround from the Derby to the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
“You don’t have a choice in this case,” Romans said. “There’s only three classics, and they just happen to be within five weeks of each other. You’ve got to do it.
He came out of the Derby like he moved forward. He’s been bouncing around, eating good, bucking and playing.”
And despite having grown up in the shadow of Churchill Downs, Romans admitted he was anxious to return to Pimlico after last year’s first experience with First Dude.
“It was a lot of fun here last year,” he said. “This is the most fun event in horse racing for us. They treat you so well, so we wanted to make sure we came back.”
SWAY AWAY – The well-bred son of Afleet Alex went out for a 1 ½-mile gallop under the supervision of assistant trainer Miguel Carranza shortly before 8 a.m. Friday and was later greeted by his West coast-based trainer Jeff Bonde, who arrived at the Preakness Stakes Barn shortly after 10 a.m.
“The horse is doing well,” said Bonde, who arrived by air late Thursday evening. “He’s not nervous at all. He came here with his work done. He had a good series of works at Churchill (three official breezes since May 1).”
Sway Away has a nice closing kick, but he has been unable to complete the job in four consecutive stakes starts. Jockey Pat Valenzuela had him in front past the 16th-pole in the Arkansas Derby, but he was unable to hold on and ended up fourth. Garrett Gomez has the Preakness mount.
“The human element is the rider and we think we have a slight edge with Gomez, who can adjust if need be.” Bonde said. “The key factor will be the pace early. We just want him to be settled comfortably in a good spot.”
Sway Away ran in blinkers for the first time in the Arkansas Derby, and Bonde said he will use a slightly smaller blinker for this race in hopes of getting the colt to focus at just the right time.
The Kentucky-bred colt is owned by a group that includes majority owner Philip Lehherz, Cindy Olson, Glen and Janet Wallace, and Batman Stable.