There were Hall of Famers, present and future, all over the Pimlico backstretch on a sunny and warm Friday morning.
Sitting in the shade on a bench at the far end of the stakes barn was 77-year-old Paul Hornung, a four-time NFL champion with the Green Bay Packers and a co-owner of Preakness contender Titletown Five.
Between interviews with television crews and newspaper reporters, Hornung chatted with the trainer of Titletown Five, D. Wayne Lukas, a Hall of Famer in his own right who also happens to be a co-owner, as well.
Retired jockey Jerry Bailey, who won the Preakness twice in his Hall of Fame career, in 1991 and 2000, was around gathering material to use as part of the NBC’s national television coverage.
Shug McGaughey, who added to his Hall of Fame resume with his first Kentucky Derby victory 13 days ago thanks to Orb, gave his daily morning address to the media, as fresh and cordial and gracious as ever.
He was followed by jockeys Joel Rosario, who’ll be on Orb, and Rosie Napravnik, named on Preakness challenger Mylute. The two young riders, both under 29, are rocketing into stardom, blessed with the kind of talent and work ethic it takes to get to the pinnacle of their sport.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert spent his first morning at Pimlico talking to whoever cared to stop by. Baffert trains Preakness long shot Govenor Charlie.
“Can you beat Orb? We don’t know,” Baffert said. “I think we can run 1-2-3. If we can run 1-2-3, then I’ll have a chance. I want to be competitive.”
The silver-haired Baffert has won with five of his 13 lifetime Preakness starters, the last being Lookin at Lucky in 2010. Govenor Charlie is the most lightly raced of the nine Preakness horses with just three career starts, including a record-setting win in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby on March 24, his most recent start.
Govenor Charlie punched his Preakness ticket this week after breezing six furlongs in 1:10 4/5 on Monday at Churchill Downs, galloping out in 1:24 4/5, in company with graded stakes-winning stablemate Fed Biz.
“I tell you, I wasn’t going to come until Monday, when that horse worked,” Baffert said. “When he did what he did, we were waiting for something like that. The light went on.”
A son of Midnight Lute out of Silverbulletway, an unraced daughter of Storm Cat and Silverbulletday, Govenor Charlie is bred for success. Midnight Lute, Silverlbulletday and his grandsire, Real Quiet, are all Eclipse Award winners; Silverbulletday is in the Hall of Fame, and Storm Cat is one of the most influential sires of his generation.
“He’s got that family. There’s just champions all over that pedigree,” Baffert said. “He doesn’t look like (Silverbulletday). He’s got a lot of the Storm Cat. He was actually a surprise to us because he was a real bulldog-looking horse, and when I stretched him out, he really showed a big race. He ran fast.”
Govenor Charlie broke the Sunland Park track record in his last race, running 1 1/8 miles in 1:47 2/5, winning by five lengths. That was his first time beyond the maiden ranks, and Baffert knows the Preakness represents a gigantic step up in class.
“I’m a long shot, and I should be a long shot,” he said. “I think we’re all hoping that Orb isn’t the kind of horse he is. He’s a very good horse.”