Baffert Seeking Finger-Licking Good 8th Preakness Win

October 1st, 2020

Marylander Annie Finney Having Fun on Art Collector

Calhoun Finds a Silver Lining with Mr. Big News

BALTIMORE – After his Preakness (G1) horses went to the track at Pimlico Race Course for their exercise Thursday morning, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert joked about the schedule for the days ahead.

“We gallop tomorrow and then we start fretting,” he said with a chuckle, emphasizing the last word as “fret-innn.”

Though he will worry, Baffert has a strong hand to play in the 145th Preakness Saturday: Authentic, who won the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs Sept. 5, and Thousand Words, who has won three stakes in California. Authentic will have Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez up when the 9-5 morning-line favorite breaks from Post No. 9. Thousand Words, winner of his most recent start, the Aug. 1 Shared Belief at Del Mar, is 6-1 in the morning line and will leave from Post No. 5 under Florent Geroux.

Authentic, owned by Spendthrift Farm LLC, MyRaceHorse Stable, Madaket Stables LLC and Starlight Racing, galloped 1 ½ miles Thursday under Humberto Gomez when the track reopened at 8:30 following a renovation. Gomez guided Albaugh Family Stables LLC and Spendthrift Farm LLC’s Thousand Words out to the track around 7 a.m. and rode him to the backstretch for some added distance before starting a lap around the one-mile track.

Video – Authentic

“He goes straight off,” Baffert said. “We don’t back him up. We have to fool him. He’s a little quirky.”

Thousand Words was scratched from the Derby after he reared and fell while being saddled. The Pioneerof the Nile colt was not injured, but Baffert’s assistant, Jimmy Barnes, had to be taken to the hospital with a fractured right wrist.

Baffert said he is pleased how his runners have adjusted to Pimlico since being shipped from Louisville on Tuesday.

“Both horses are doing fine. They both look good out here,” Baffert said. “This track is so soft. You just don’t hear them. I’ve always loved this surface here. They are both training well. There are no excuses.”

Both colts were schooled in Pimlico’s indoor paddock before the second race Thursday afternoon. Baffert said he will follow his usual approach and saddle his Preakness horses in the paddock and not on the turf course.

Baffert is seeking his record-setting eighth Preakness victory and has often said that he enjoys the atmosphere surrounding the classic when it’s the second race of the Triple Crown series. Due to changes from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Preakness is the last of the three classics for 3-year-olds to be run. He lamented this year’s cancellation of the Alibi Breakfast, a Thursday morning tradition on Preakness week,

“We miss the breakfast, though,” he said. “I like that fried chicken.  I don’t know if I can win a Preakness without fried chicken. I have to go find some.”

Baffert’s two starters will push his career Preakness total to 22 runners, passing Nick Zito into second place on the list of most starters for a trainer since 1909. D. Wayne Lukas is the leader with 44 starters.

Since making his Preakness debut in 1996 with Kentucky Derby runner-up Cavonnier, who was fourth at Pimlico, Baffert has participated in 18 Preaknesses. This will be his third-straight year and 10th in 11 years with a starter. The only year he was absent during that stretch was 2017.

Baffert won the Preakness both times he had multiple starters. In 2001, Point Given was the winner and Congaree was third. When American Pharoah picked up the second victory of his Triple Crown sweep in 2015, Dortmund was fourth.

ART COLLECTOR – Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector prepared for a start in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1) Thursday morning with a 1 ½-mile gallop under exercise rider Annie Finney.

“He knows the drill. He’s very easy to ride. He pretty much does everything on his own, which works out great for me,” said Finney, a Maryland-based exercise rider who got the call from Art Collector’s trainer Tommy Drury to help get the Blue Grass (G2) winner ready for his first start in the 2020 Triple Crown campaign.

“I used to work for Neil Howard and gallop his horses when he came for the Preakness, and I guess he and Tommy are good friends, and that’s I guess how I got the ride,” she added.

Finney grew up in Maryland, where she started to work for steeplechase trainer Michael Smithwick when she was 12. She went on to work for the late Dickie Small in the mid-Atlantic and Fair Grounds and subsequently worked for Todd Pletcher in New York for 11 years. She returned to Maryland five years ago.

Art Collector and Finney went to the track shortly after 8:30 a.m. Thursday, around the same time as Kentucky Derby (G1) winner and Preakness morning-line favorite Authentic.

“He just feels like he’s so classy,” Finney said. “It was kind of funny. We watched Authentic gallop by. It could have been a coincidence but [Art Collector] shook his head and was kind of laughing a little bit. He’s a really, really smart horse. I feel fortunate to get to ride him for a few days.”

Finney would be honored if Art Collector should win the Derby but downplayed her contributions to the effort.

“In that short amount of time, you can’t really do any good for the horse, but you can make the horse lose,” Finney said. “They’re such nice people, I would be so delighted to see them win, because he’s their baby.”

MR. BIG NEWS – Trainer Bret Calhoun, like everyone, wishes that the racing year wouldn’t have been thrown into chaos by the COVID-19 pandemic and that business would have been conducted as usual. On a personal level, at least, he’s been able to find somewhat of a silver living with Allied Racing Stable LLC’s Mr. Big News.

The postponements of the Kentucky Derby (G1) from May 2 to Sept. 5 and the Preakness from May 16 to Oct. 3 have given the late-developing son of Giant’s Causeway time to catch up with his 3-year-old peers.

“In a normal year, we probably would have missed a lot of this. Luckily, for me and the horse, the owner is pretty patient and lets us bring them along as they need to be. I don’t think this horse would have been ready for these kind of races early in the year,” Calhoun said. “It’s a crazy year for all of us. We’re all thankful that we’re racing and thankful to be here. Hopefully, we get back to some kind of normalcy next year, but this worked out well for Mr. Big News.”

Patience with Mr. Big News paid off with a third-place finish at 46-1 odds behind Authentic and beaten-favorite Tiz the Law in the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs.

“He’s a little bit of a late-maturing horse. He’s just now coming around and getting to his peak,” Calhoun said. “I was really happy to see how he bounced out of the Derby after a strong effort like that. He held his weight well and to bounce back and to train forwardly since then has made me awfully happy going into the Preakness.”

It took four starts for Mr. Big News to break his maiden before facing graded company at Fair Grounds in the Feb.15 Risen Star (G2), in which he finished fifth. He broke through with his first stakes win in the ungraded Oaklawn Stakes April 11, a “Win & In” race for the Preakness, before finishing a distant sixth in the July 11 Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland. In the Kentucky Derby, he made a strong move from 10th to enter contention at the top of the stretch before finishing evenly to check in third.

Gabriel Saez, who will have the return mount Saturday, was aboard the Kentucky-bred colt for his victory at Oaklawn, the only other time horse and jockey teamed up.

Mr. Big News galloped a mile and a half over a fast Pimlico oval Thursday morning.

“He was very comfortable on the surface and into his training pretty good. Everything’s going the way we’d like it to go,” Calhoun said.

SWISS SKYDIVER – Peter Callahan’s Swiss Skydiver galloped a mile and a half at Pimlico Race Course first thing Thursday morning in preparation for her second start against males in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1).

The multiple graded stakes-winning daughter of Daredevil, who has been ridden in races by five different jockeys, will be guided for the first time by Robby Albarado Saturday. The veteran jockey has ridden nine Preakness starters, including 2007 winner Curlin.

“Robby’s been a guy who has ridden for me. I think he’s just lacking an outfit right now. He’s been in this game and won this race. He rode a horse for me in this race; he rode a horse named Racecar Rhapsody [fourth in 2008],” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “He’s a big-game rider. I think he can get it done. Look, she’s shown she doesn’t need [a particular] rider. Everybody’s ridden her all year – Paco Lopez won on her, [Mike] Smith won on her, [Brian] Hernandez [Jr.] won on her;  [Tyler] Gaffalione won on her. She’s not a horse that needs her own rider.”

Albarado has ridden the winners of more than 5,200 races and nearly $220 million in purses, headed by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin.

NY TRAFFIC – Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. made the scene at the Preakness Stakes Barn Thursday morning and looked on as Ny Traffic prepared for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1) over a fast Pimlico race track.

“He galloped like a mile and an eighth, mile and a quarter, and he went well. He showed good energy, and we’re happy where we’re at,” Joseph said. “I saw him at Churchill. I wasn’t there for his breeze [Sunday] but today’s the first day I’ve seen him in a few days. I thought he trained good. He looks good. He’s held his weight good.”

Ny Traffic, who is owned by John Fanelli, Cash is King LLC, LC Racing, Paul Braverman and Team Hanley, finished a late-fading eighth behind victorious Authentic in the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby (G1) after losing an extremely close photo while finishing second behind Authentic in the Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park.

“Obviously at Churchill it was disappointing, not because of the result but more disappointed because of how good we thought he was doing. To see Authentic win and then you figure that you were pretty close behind him last time and pretty far behind him this time, that was a little disappointing in that aspect,” Joseph said.

“And that’s probably what gives us the hope probably to give it a try again. Sometimes in racing you don’t come up with reasons why horses don’t perform and then they come back and they run the race that you were hoping for the time before.”

Joseph is cautiously optimistic that Ny Traffic will show marked improvement Saturday.

“He trained really good going into the Derby. This time we’re coming in more reserved with our expectations after that result, but he hasn’t shown any sign that he shouldn’t run a good race,” he said.

LIVEYOURBEASTLIFE – Going out right after Kentucky Derby (G1) winner and Preakness (G1) program favorite Authentic, William H. Lawrence’s Liveyourbeastlife had a routine 1 ¼-mile gallop over Pimlico’s main track at 8:45 Thursday morning.

Video – Liveyourbeastlife

Trevor McCarthy, Maryland’s four-time champion jockey who will ride Liveyourbeastlife in Saturday’s Preakness, joined trainer Jorge Abreu to watch the Jim Dandy (G2) runner-up gallop under exercise rider Kenneth Cruz.

“I got out here about 8 o’clock just before the track closed and was able to see the horse and talk with Jorge a little bit and get to know these guys and watch the horse train, so it was exciting,” McCarthy said. “It looked like he went pretty good this morning. They were happy with him.”

Video – Kenneth Cruz

Abreu felt good about the way Liveyourbeastlife handled the main track. The son of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper jogged once the wrong way Wednesday morning over a track made sloppy by heavy overnight rain.

“He galloped well today. Yesterday he was more just looking around, but today he looked real comfortable,” Abreu said. “I like to warm him up good, so I back him up to the seven-eighths [pole] and gallop once around to the five [furlong] or to the half-mile pole. Today I told my rider to let him finish his gallop a little better tomorrow. Today was his first day galloping here and I didn’t want to overdo it, because he doesn’t need much. And he went well. He looks happy.”

Abreu said Liveyourbeastlife, one of two horses to supplement to this year’s Preakness, will gallop 1 ¼ miles again Friday and walk Saturday.

While they discussed strategy and Abreu filled McCarthy in about the horse, McCarthy was able to talk to Abreu about Pimlico, where the jockey has won three of his 12 career Maryland riding titles, including last year’s Preakness Meet.

“We talked and he saw the horse train, so I think we’re in good shape,” Abreu said. “We were just talking about the post and the horse and how the horse likes to run. He said he’s been studying the form and we’ll take it from there.”

It is the first Triple Crown race for Abreu and Liveyourbeastlife and second for McCarthy, who ran eighth on his 21st birthday aboard Bodhisattva behind Triple Crown champion American Pharoah in 2015.

“It’s a huge opportunity and I just want to do the best I can with the opportunity I’m getting. I think he’s a horse where he’s coming out of some good races and slowly is improving. It just seems like the race is going to set up pretty good for him,” McCarthy said. “There should be plenty of pace for him to run at and it seems like he’s going to be one of the closers that’s going to be coming.

“I’m really happy with my post. It seems like he’s a decent gate horse and he’ll give me a good break. I’ve got plenty of time to get over and save a little bit of ground. We’ll see how it unfolds, and I’m sure he’s going to give me a good effort,” he added. “I’m looking forward to it. I think he’s an underdog that has a big chance.”

MAX PLAYER, PNEUMATIC, EXCESSION – Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s trio of Preakness runners all went to the track Thursday morning under the direction of assistant trainer Darren Fleming.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Pneumatic had a schooling session in the starting gate before galloping a mile under exercise rider Roberto Howell. Calumet Farm’s Excession and Max Player, co-owned by George Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds, also went out for mile gallops with Howell.

“I thought they all acted well and seemed to go well over the racetrack,” Fleming said. “Everything is going our way so far.”

Fleming’s father, William, was a jockey and he hoped to follow him into the business.

“I tried to ride, but I was too big,” he said.

Fleming, 52, said he was working as an exercise rider at Canterbury Park in Minnesota in 1987 when he first met Asmussen. He has been a part of Asmussen’s team for over 20 years and now handles divisions in the Midwest.

Video Pneumatic:

Video Darren Fleming:

Calumet is the leading owner in Preakness history, with eight victories between 1941 and 2013. It has finished second with its last two starters: Bravazo (2018) and Everfast (2019). Excession, a son of Union Rags, will be Calumet’s 18th Preakness starter and moves the farm now owned by Brad Kelley to within one of the record of 19 set by Greentree Stable between 1921 and 1981.

Excession will be making his first start since the Rebel (G2) on March 14 at Oaklawn Park. Dismissed by bettors at 82-1, he rallied from last in the field of eight, 12 lengths off the pace, to finish three-quarters of a length behind Nadal, trained by Bob Baffert. He drew the rail for the Preakness and will be ridden by Maryland-based jockey Sheldon Russell.

The Preakness will be the fourth straight Grade 1 race for Max Player, a homebred son of Honor Code. He won the Withers (G3) for trainer Linda Rice on Feb. 1 at Aqueduct. He finished third in the Belmont Stakes (G1) on June 20 and third in the Travers (G1) on Aug. 8 at Saratoga. The ownership group transferred him to Asmussen’s barn prior to his fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby on Sept. 5. Paco Lopez and Max Player will start from Post No. 8.

Pneumatic will be Winchell Thoroughbred’s second Preakness runner – Tenfold was third in 2018. The Uncle Mo colt did not race as a 2-year-old but has won three of five starts in 2020. Veteran jockey Joe Bravo was aboard for Pneumatic’s most recent start – a victory in the Aug. 15 Pegasus at Monmouth Park – and has the mount in the Preakness. They drew Post No. 10 in the 11-horse field. This will be Bravo’s fifth Preakness appearance.

JESUS’ TEAM – Grupo Seven C Stable’s Jesus’ Team galloped a mile and a half Thursday morning at Pimlico in preparation for a start in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1).

“After he was finished galloping, he went to the starting gate to get him to know the starting gate, so there will be no surprises,” trainer Jose D’Angelo said. “At 10, he’ll go to the paddock to school.”

D’Angelo said his preference would be to saddle in the paddock instead of the infield turf course.

Jesus’ Team finished third in the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga after coming in second behind Preakness foe Pneumatic in the Pegasus and fourth behind a victorious Authentic in the Haskell (G1) at Monmouth.