SUPER SAVER/AIKENITE – After galloping a little over a mile on Super Saver Friday morning, exercise rider Kevin Willey told trainer Todd Pletcher that he thinks the colt has improved since winning the Kentucky Derby on May 1. About an hour later, during a meeting with the media, Pletcher smiled when the comment was mentioned.
“I hope he’s right,” Pletcher said.
Super Saver will try to win the second leg of the Triple Crown Saturday in the 135th Preakness at Pimlico Race Course. Jockey Calvin Borel, who will ride the WinStar Farm colt again in Maryland’s biggest race, also predicted another big performance.
“Both riders are on board. They both feel like we’re going to win,” Pletcher said. “We’ve been really, really pleased with the way he’s trained since the Derby. There’s not a lot to it. We’re just trying to keep him happy and take him over. Everything that he’s showing us is very, very good, very positive.”
Pletcher said the colt has held his weight well since the Derby.
“That’s always a concern out of a big race like that,” Pletcher said. “His appetite has been good. He’s not a heavy colt, by any means. If you’re looking at him and Aikenite, they are at very, very different ends of the spectrum in terms of the condition they carry. I don’t think he’s lost much from the Derby.”
Pletcher said he normally would not run a horse back two weeks after his last start, but if your Derby winner is OK you have to take a shot in the Preakness.
“The way he’s bounced out of this race, I couldn’t tell you that if he had finished second or third in the Derby that we wouldn’t have been back,” he said. “He’s really come up to it so well, that we’d have had to take a hard look at it, even had he not won the Derby.”
Pletcher said Borel will be able to ride the race the way it unfolds. However, he said jockey Javier Castellano will take Aikenite back off the pace and make one run later in the race. That style was effective in a second-place finish in the Derby Trial on April 24, but Pletcher said an expected slower pace scenario in the Preakness might make that difficult.
“In the Derby Trial it worked out well, because there was a lot of pace,” Pletcher said. “It concerns me a little bit in this race that if they go real slow it’s going to compromise his style a little bit. Basically, all of his better races have been when he’s taken back and that’s what we’re going to do this time.”
Q & A with Calvin Borel
What did you learn from your previous Preakness rides?
“I rode Street Sense, got beat a head on him. You know what? I went back and watched the rerun time after time after time. I don’t know how Curlin came back and beat me, but he did. Like Carl (Nafzger, trainer of Street Sense) told me when I got back, I couldn’t have done anything different.
“Then I rode the filly (Rachel Alexandra). I thought she was the best horse in the world, which she was and she still is. She did what I wanted her to do. I had to take off the Derby horse to ride her, but it was the thing I had to do. I’m happy that (Mine That Bird’s) owners and the trainer understood, because Jerry (agent Jerry Hissam) told them up front that we’d ride the filly. I thought she was the greatest horse in the country, or the world, that I had ever been on. It just so happened that I had to take off Mine That Bird. But we got the job done and I was fortunate enough to ride Mine That Bird back.
“Tomorrow we’re coming in with a fresh horse and I love his chances.”
Did you learn it helps to be on the best horse in the Preakness?
“Exactly; you have to be on the best horse at that time.”
Did you learn anything about this track itself?
“This track? No. I wouldn’t ride it like I ride Churchill, to stay on the fence. I think it’s a little heavier here on the fence from my racing and working Street Sense on it. I think the fence is a little deeper than Churchill. I’m not going to ride him like I did the last time, on the fence, I don’t believe.
“It’s going to be a totally opposite race, I think. It won’t have the speed in it, like it did in the Derby. If somebody wants to go, I think I can let him go and lay right off of him. If they don’t, we’ll take it to them.
“Like I’ve said, I think this colt is starting to peak at the right time and it’s a big, big plus. He worked so good Monday morning, you wouldn’t imagine.”
Can you compare your feelings from this last year to this year?
“I’m always confident in my horse. I maybe say things that I shouldn’t – that I’m going to win it. I don’t know if people understand, but if you’re going to ride, why don’t you want to win it? C’mon. That’s me. I’m coming here to win the race. I want to win it.
“I’d love to win the Triple Crown, but if it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But the colt is coming into the race super-good. I know a lot of things can happen, but I think he’ll run a super race.”
CARACORTADO – Trainer Michael Machowsky hasn’t budged in his faith in jockey Paul Atkinson, despite inquiries from agents of other jockeys who would love the opportunity to ride Caracortado in the Preakness. Atkinson, a low-profile journeyman rider on the Southern California circuit, will ride in his first Preakness and Triple Crown race of his life, while a lot of people are wondering why Machowsky wouldn’t pick up a more prominent jockey with more glitzy credentials for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
“If we made a change and if we got lucky enough to win the race – Paul is such a great guy – I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it that much,” said the Southern California-based trainer Friday morning while stressing the importance of loyalty. “That’s the way you try to live your life.”
Atkinson has been aboard the California-bred gelding in all seven of his starts, including victories in the first five starts of a career that was launched in a $40,000 maiden claiming race at Fairplex Park.
“I thought he’d be really tough in that race,’ Machowsky said. “I wasn’t too worried about losing him because people don’t claim horses much at Fairplex, especially in maiden claimers.”
Prior to his second start, Machowsky truly realized his gelding’s potential during a six-furlong workout with highly regarded stablemate Nextdoorneighbor.
“They worked in 1:12-and-change, and I said to myself, ‘Oh, this is going to be a nice horse,’’’ Machowsky said.
DUBLIN/NORTHERN GIANT – Trainer D. Wayne Lukas was unhappy Wednesday evening when Dublin drew the outside post in the field of 12 for the 135th Preakness. He was OK with Northern Giant’s No. 4 post. As the week has gone on, though, Lukas has said he is less concerned about where Dublin will start the race, but he said the post does pose a problem.
“It’s not the hole so much, because there is a good run to the turn, but the turn is sharp,” Lukas said. “Whether it’s banked or not banked, whatever it is, they fan (out). We have got to make a decision to get somewhat down (around the first turn) and that may not be too hard.”
Lukas said that he is considering changing the bit to give jockey Garrett Gomez more control of the colt
“If we were drawing them and picking them, that wouldn’t be where I’d pick. I’d have taken a 4 or 5,” he said. “I’d like to switch the horses. In fact, the other horse has got pretty good tactical speed.”
After more than 40 years in the business, the Hall of Fame trainer knows that complaining about post positions won’t change anything.
“I don’t get too caught up in that anymore,” he said. “I’m more concerned about who is next to me. I don’t want some guy coming from the boonies somewhere on my outside looking over and thinking, ‘I’m going to the rail.’ Who is next to you is about as important as where you’re at.”
Northern Giant is the less-heralded of the two colts, but Lukas said he would not be totally surprised if the Westrock Stables runner won the Preakness.
“He’s fresh. He’s got great efficiency of motion,” Lukas said. “He’s a much better horse than people think.”
Northern Giant was third in the Risen Star at Fair Grounds and second in the Lane’s End at Turfway Park, but was last of nine in the Arkansas Derby.
“The last race he had a mucous pharyngitis, which we corrected,” Lukas said. “He’s had five or six weeks since the Arkansas Derby. He’s a nice little horse. He was unlucky to lose the Lane’s End. He was unlucky to lose the Risen Star. If he had won those two, you’d be writing about him.”
Northern Giant wasn’t very competitive in his three starts as a 2-year-old, but showed some promise during the winter at Oaklawn Park. He broke his maiden under jockey Calvin Borel on February 10 – the sixth start of his career – and jumped right into stakes company. Lukas said he belongs in the Preakness.
“I’ve been here enough times that I think I know that we’re not totally overmatching one,” Lukas said. “That remains to be seen, but you just have to have confidence in where you’re at with them and what his talent is.”
Lukas said that Northern Giant is the opposite of Dublin, who emerged as a prospect last year.
FIRST DUDE/PADDY O’PRADO – Before sending First Dude and Paddy O’Prado to the track for their morning gallops Friday morning, trainer Dale Romans shared an observation he made while starting to handicap the 135th Preakness Stakes.
“I think there is more speed than people are saying. I think there are four or five that could contest the lead, including both of mine,” Romans said. “There are going to be decisions for the jockeys to make when they leave there.
“It’s going to be a strange race; it’s going to be a jockeys’ race, and they’re going to have to make decisions.”
“It looks like there are some natural speed horses that in the last few races people tried to relax and come off of it. So it will be interesting to see if they go back to their old tactics, thinking there’s not any speed, or they all take back and there isn’t any speed.”
While acknowledging the possibility that one of the horses with natural speed could grab an easy lead Saturday, Romans didn’t seem overly concerned that any horse will be able to steal the race.
“I think there’s only one in the last 25 years that’s gone wire-to-wire here, even though they say it’s a speed-favoring racetrack,” said Romans, referring to Louis Quartorze’s 1996 front-running score. “But I don’t think you want to be last at the head of the lane with this group.”
Kent Desormeaux has the return mount aboard Paddy O’Prado, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby. Ramon Dominguez will ride First Dude, who finished third in the Blue Grass Stakes, a length behind runner-up Paddy O’Prado.
JACKSON BEND – Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito took his well-traveled colt to the gate for schooling Friday morning after some light exercise and is hoping to become a two-time winner of the Middle Jewel of Racing’s Triple Crown. Jackson Bend, who figures to be a pace factor in the field of 12, drew post 6 for the Preakness, right next to one of the field’s unluckiest contenders, Lookin At Lucky. The Bob Baffert-trained colt drew post 1 for the Kentucky Derby and had a horrific trip.
“I told Baffert ‘I took (Jackson Bend) to the gate because you’re next to me and I want to get out of there. You’ve been so unlucky lately you’re liable to come over on me’”
Jackson Bend had a few trip issues of his own in Louisville while finishing 12th, but Zito won the 1996 Preakness after his Louis Quatorze had also ran a sub-par race in Kentucky Derby. Zito respects this field, but also feels good about his own chances to rebound.
“They’re very good horses,” Zito said. “Lookin At Lucky was a champion (2-year-old) and Super Saver obviously now is a Derby winner. If you look at these two right there, it’s pretty good. I’m sure there are a lot of other good horses in there that are pretty good, too.”
Jackson Bend worked an electrifying four furlongs in 46.60 at Churchill Downs on Monday, and Zito has since been trying to throttle him down to save some of that for the Preakness.
“We’ve just been kind of galloping him easy here, giving him some easy days,” Zito said. “I told Mike (Smith), ‘Get a good spot, get a good position and see what happens.’ We’ll get placed forwardly, and Jackson always tries. That’s all we can ask for. We’re happy to be here.”
LOOKIN AT LUCKY – Trainer Bob Baffert said Friday that he isn’t likely to give instructions to jockey Martin Garcia until it is time to saddle his colt for the Preakness. In an attempt to change his luck with the colt, Baffert named Garcia, 25, to replace veteran Garrett Gomez after the son of Smart Strike had troubled trips in the Rebel Stakes, Santa Anita Derby and the Kentucky Derby. This will be Garcia’s first Preakness mount.
“I haven’t even discussed it with him yet,” Baffert said. “He’ll be here tonight, but we won’t really talk about it. There’s not a lot to say. He knows how my horses run. We’ve talked about every time (Lookin At Lucky) has ever run and about how he would have rode him.”
Baffert said he doesn’t have to coach older jockeys very much before big races, but will discuss strategy with Garcia. The two have won seven stakes together this year, including a pair of Grade 1 victories.
“I probably will tell him a little bit more and he sort of follows more what I tell him,” Baffert said. “If I guess right; I’ve just got to figure it out. I can’t make that call (Friday). I need to be watching the races. I need to be watching everything. I really don’t make that call until I see him in the paddock. I’ll tell him, ‘you know what?’ I might make an adjustment.
“But he knows my horses. If he had never been on the horse, it would be a different situation and I’d have to tell him. But he knows the horse really well. He actually knows the horse better than Garrett because he’s been on him; he’s worked him a lot. He knows the horse and what he’s capable of and what he’s likes and what he doesn’t like.
“He’s young, but I don’t want to get him too stirred up. They’re all nervous, even the older guys. He rides one earlier in the card (Quiet Invader in the Chick Lang) for me, so he’ll get a feel for the track.”
Lookin At Lucky galloped after the renovation break Friday morning. Baffert said the colt is doing well.
PLEASANT PRINCE – The son of Indy King, owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, was out on the track at 8:45 a.m., shortly after the renovation break Friday morning, for a spirited gallop once around the track. Pleasant Prince was scheduled to be schooled in the paddock after the fourth race.
Trainer Wesley Ward arrived at the barn Friday morning from Churchill Downs and said “he trained awesome this morning.” Pleasant Prince will be Ward’s first Preakness starter and the second for the Ramseys, who campaigned Ten Cents A Shine, the ninth-place finisher in 2003..
Pleasant Prince has won only once in nine career starts, but he’s run a close second twice to Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box and faced pre-Derby favorite Eskendereya a couple times en route to this race. He was fourth in the Fountain of Youth to Eskendereya.
“He’s been doing really well,” said Ken Ramsey, a native Kentuckian who spent Friday night touring Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. “We were out a little late, so we decided to sleep in a little late today and didn’t get to the barn. But Wesley tells me he looked really good, just like he did before the Florida Derby (second by a nose to Ice Box).
Julien Leparoux has the mount on Pleasant Prince, an unusually low $30,000 purchase by the Ramseys, who breed a vast majority of their runners. This colt is a Florida-bred from Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs farm.
SCHOOLYARD DREAMS – The son of Stephen Got Even arrived at Pimlico Friday morning at 7:30 following an uneventful van ride from Monmouth Park in New Jersey. Schoolyard Dreams was accompanied by stablemate C C’s Pal, an entrant in Friday’s Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan and Ponzi Scheme, who is slated to run in Saturday’s James Murphy Stakes.
“If I didn’t have the filly in today, I probably wouldn’t have come until tomorrow,” said trainer Derek Ryan, who let Schoolyard Dreams settle slowly into his stall without any serious exercise planned for the day. “We’ll give him a bath and that’s it. It was a good trip and we beat the traffic. Everything’s good.”
Ryan is hoping to beat the traffic on Saturday for his first Triple Crown victory after finishing a close third with Musket Man last year in this race. The native of Ireland said he likes to give his horses a solid foundation over the Tampa Bay track before shipping them north. Schoolyard Dreams was second there in both the Sam Davis and Tampa Bay Derby.
“The surface is unbelievable,” he said. “Safe, but it’s not heavy and it doesn’t beat up horses. You’ll see a lot of my fastest works down there. They come out of there nice and fit.”
Schoolyard Dreams needed to win the Tampa Bay Derby to get into the Kentucky Derby, but suffered a disheartening defeat by a nose to Odysseus in a memorable finish in which he beat eventual Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver by a half-length.
He then was forced to take on Eskendereya in the Wood for one more try to make the Derby field. A rail ride by Ramon Dominguez proved an unfortunate strategy and he finished fourth and failed to secure the required earnings.
“Ramon said he should have been second,” Ryan said. “Of course, we all know who the winner was.”
The son of Stephen Got Even, like Lookin At Lucky and Caracortado, is a May foal and actually turned 3 in real time only this past week.
“I’m trying to get him a birthday present,” Ryan said of the Preakness. “Or maybe he can give me one.”
YAWANNA TWIST – The New York-bred son of Yonaguska jogged once around the track under Maulia Garcia and appeared to handle the surface well.
“He’s happy here and he seems to like the track,” said Jose Collazo, who has been supervising the program the past two days in the absence of trainer Richard Dutrow. Collazo said he expected Dutrow to arrive later Friday and be on hand to saddle Yawanna Twist on Preakness Day.
“He’s run pretty good in all his races,” said Collazo. “I think he’s gonna run a good race.”
Edgar Prado, who was the leading rider in Maryland for years before moving to New York, will be seeking his first Preakness victory, hoping his 13th mount in the Middle Jewel will be the lucky one. Prado’s best chance was aboard favorite Barbaro, who suffered what would ultimately become a fatal injury in 2006.
Yawanna Twist figures to be one of the more appealing long shots in the field with two wins and two seconds in four starts. He’s also coming off a longer rest than many in the field, having last raced on April 3 in the Illinois Derby when second to Kentucky Derby also-ran American Lion.
Dutrow won this race in 2008 with Big Brown, his only other Preakness starter.