What would the odds be that in a nine-horse field in a Triple Crown race, two trainers would be longtime friends from grade school, high school and college?
Not only that, their horses – Mylute and Departing – will be lining up next to each other in the starting gate Saturday and are the second and third choices behind Kentucky Derby winner Orb in the morning line.
Tom Amoss, trains Mylute, who finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby and is 5-1 in the Preakness line. Al Stall Jr., trains Departing, who won the Illinois Derby in his Preakness prep and is the 6-1 early third choice.
Amoss and Stall, 51-year-old natives of New Orleans, have competed against each other often, particularly at the Fair Grounds, their hometown track, but never have been rivals in a race of this caliber.
“First and second choices might be more unusual, but other than that, it’s all right,’’ Stall said.
Amoss and Stall recalled becoming friends in first grade at Holy Name of Jesus School in uptown New Orleans. “I remember Tom at Holy Name,’’ Stall said. “I remember him being left-handed.’’
Amoss left after third grade to go to Isadore Newman School, which he attended for the rest of grade school through high school. Stall said he left Holy Name for Newman after the sixth grade.
“We were laughing about it yesterday,’’ said Amoss, who is in Louisiana to attend the graduation of his older daughter, Ashley, from LSU and won’t be arriving in Baltimore until Saturday morning. “We always were very close in high school. We were roommates in college. Yesterday, NBC had called Al’s mom to see if she had any old win pictures of us together, and she did. So Al hit me up and said, ‘You’re going to get ready to get real embarrassed at these pictures they have of you and me when we were younger together in the winner’s circle with one of my father’s horses.’ … If you can’t laugh at yourself, what the hell. I’m looking forward to them doing that.’’
They graduated from Newman in 1979 before becoming roommates as freshmen at LSU.
Stall spoke proudly about Newman and its prominent graduates who aren’t horse trainers.
“Hopefully, they make good people,’’ Stall said. “The college attendance rate is 100 percent, literally 100 percent, not 99, so people coming out of the school have a better chance than others. But you go where life takes you. We’ve got the Manning boys (NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli), Michael Lewis (author of “Moneyball’’ and other books), (musician, actor and composer) Harry Connick Jr. Not to mention all the PhDs, and doctors and lawyers. I mean, every year, when they put out who’s going to college, it’s like Harvard, Yale, Duke, Vanderbilt, Al Stall, LSU, Tom Amoss, LSU.
Said Amoss: “I don’t put myself in the category of those other guys, but still, that’s pretty interesting, and pretty funny.’’
Amoss, who is participating in his first Preakness, is the Midwest trainer for Gold Mark Farm, which co-owns Mylute with Whisper Hill Farm. Gold Mark owner Paul Bulmahn and farm manager Todd Quast were at trackside early Thursday morning to watch Mylute gallop.
“Tom really is an effective communicator as much as being a good horseman,’’ Bulmahn said. “Combine the communications and the talent in training. We’ve appreciated both in spades.
“And I think when I’m looking at the line of communication, looking at the communications between Tom and Todd Quast, that we try to have close oversight of all of our horses at the track. Tom has been willing to share the little things as well as the bigger things. I think that’s important.
A late-running son of Midnight Lute, Mylute finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby, 3 ¾ lengths behind Orb. Quast said that coming back in two weeks shouldn’t be a issue for Mylute.
“The more work this horse does, the better he gets,’’ Quast said. “He’s kind of a blue-collar horse.’’
Mylute finished second in the Louisiana Derby, a neck behind winner Revolutionary and three lengths in front of third-place Departing.
Departing was making his fourth start and facing graded company for the first time. He needed the race for experience, Stall said.
“I think it was like a college quarterback going to the pros, except for RGIII and Andrew Luck, when everything is going a little faster than he was used to,’’ Stall said.
In the Illinois Derby in his last start, Departing took charge with a strong stretch run, winning by 3 ¼ lengths and putting himself in the Preakness.
“It’s a timing thing,’’ Stall said. “He earned his way in here. He’s four out of five. Nice prep in Illinois. The timing’s just right for him. He clearly is improving on a daily, weekly basis. We can see it.’’
Stall trains Departing for Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. The same connections brought Blame to Pimlico for the Schaefer on Preakness Day in 2010. Blame won, starting a campaign that he capped with a victory over Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Departing, a gelded son of War Pass, is based in the same stakes barn where Blame resided at Pimlico.
Stall said that Departing is like Orb in that both horses should improve with age. “(Orb) is bred to be that way, and our horse is bred the same way,’’ Stall said. “We know those families, and we try to get them there at 2, but you don’t rush them. You let them be 3 and 4-year-olds, and that’s when they hit their peak.
“We just want to go over and run our best race, our ‘A’ race. If it wins, fine. If we run a good second to Orb, that’s OK, too. You just focus in on the horse more than anything else.’’
Stall said that he sees plenty of early speed in the field, with Titletown Five, Oxbow, Itsaluckyday, Govenor Charlie and Goldencents possible pace pushers.
“It should be solid,’’ Stall said of the possible pace. “I don’t see one of those five horses going out and walking the dog and stealing the race. … So a mid-pack horse might be all right.’’
Mylute and Departing are capable of rallying.
“I’m making a Stall-Amoss quinella, OK’’ said Amoss, apparently unaware that the Preakness offers exacta betting but not quinella betting. “I’m not going to be bold enough to make an Amoss-Stall exacta, but I’m going to make a Stall-Amoss quinella, OK.’’
Amoss might have to adjust and make an exacta box involving Mylute and Departing.
It’s the logical bet for buddies from New Orleans.