Aggressive doesn’t fit, workmanlike seems too cliché, and forward can’t tell the entire story of Preakness Stakes contender Departing’s professional approach when he hits the racetrack either for competition or morning training.
Labels are always tough, especially when talking about high-class racehorses. Departing is certainly that and the son of War Front goes about his business like an old pro, not like an early spring foal who took a little while to figure things out. He may not have ever done that without being gelded shortly after going into training.
Departing gives his connections a positive feeling, drops his head a little, gradually picks it up as he gallops. Onlookers are usually impressed and they’ve been this week at Pimlico Race Course as Departing put his proficient work ethic on display, drawing raves from the unfamiliar and familiar alike.
Al Stall Jr.’s familiar with it. He’s seen it all winter and spring at Fair Grounds and Churchill Downs, and even before that. Perhaps he’d like to take credit for it, but he’s been around long enough to know better.
“He starts off easy, you don’t have to do anything to him, just sit on him and he gradually picks it up on his own starting at about the 4 1/2 or the 4,” Stall said Friday morning after Departing wrapped up his morning work with exercise rider Trina Pasckvale. “He just trains pretty strong the last half mile or so of his gallop. That’s his natural way of doing it. I’d love to say we taught him that, but he does it on his own, which is a very good trait in a horse.”
Deparating developed bad-boy traits during his early training with Jane Dunn at her Holly Hill Training Center in South Carolina, which led Dunn to recommend gelding him to owners Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider. The move paid off and Departing, whose win in the Illinois Derby was his fourth from five career starts, is more settled and relaxed. Definitely not lazy, and he showed it Thursday and Friday.
“He doesn’t carry a lot of weight, a typical kind of gelding,” Stall said. “He trains very hard on a daily basis in his gallops, so we just kind of ease him through half-mile breezes and he hits them just like we want him to.”
Departing might be up against it in Saturday’s Preakness considering some recent history and the fact that Orb, who was raised in the same field at Claiborne Farm, continues to show no signs of regressing from his Kentucky Derby victory two weeks ago.
Eight of the last 16 Preakness winners were Derby winners and five of the remaining eight ran in the Derby. The only “new shooters” during that stretch to win the Preakness were Red Bullet, Bernardini and Rachel Alexandra.
“Form holds up,” Stall said. “Everybody knocks the two weeks. The form is strong from the Derby to the Preakness. I know Orb’s going to run his race. It’s not like I think he’s going to take a step backwards. We just have to take a step forward, also.
“We’re confident we’re going to run well. The rest is out of our control, the luck and the Orb factor, we don’t know. But we’re confident we’re going to go out there and do our thing.”