Mike Trombetta commutes to his barn at Laurel Park or Fair Hill Training Center pretty much every day. It’s an hour either direction, so there’s plenty of time to think. About horses.
After the Kentucky Derby, Trombetta thought about his horse Win Win Win’s effort and how it happened. The dark bay colt finished 10th and got moved up to ninth on the disqualification of Maximum Security, but really didn’t do much running. He broke slowly, took more mud than a bobtail Bronco on bog night at Buck Motorsports Park, ran in a few spots, idled in a few more and was beaten 8 1/2 lengths.
Trombetta expected more out of the son of Hat Trick. Maybe it was the mud. Or the kickback. The tardy start. Maybe he’s not fast enough. Maybe he’s a turf horse. Maybe, well, maybe nobody knows. Then Trombetta started thinking about the Preakness.
After shipping back to Maryland, the Florida-bred looked good, ate everything in front of him, trained the same as always. Could he run back two weeks after the Derby? The Preakness wasn’t stacking up to be particularly deep, especially when it came to Derby runners. Maximum Security wasn’t coming. Neither were Country House, Code Of Honor, Tacitus. Improbable (fifth across the line) and War Of Will (eighth) were, and Win Win Win didn’t finish all that far behind them.
“The thing I can’t get past is I was only 5 lengths behind the favorite,” said Trombetta, of Preakness morning-line choice Improbable. “It might be a little different conversation if all those other horses were coming. I was 5 lengths behind the favorite, on that track. I’ve got to be there.”
Jockey Julian Pimentel told Trombetta Win Win Win didn’t get hold of the soupy track, and the trainer came to a similar conclusion.
“You go back and watch it, he’s climbing, then he’s spotty and not really running,” said Trombetta, who contrasted the performance with Win Win Win’s start in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland April 6. The Live Oak Plantation homebred got stopped on the final turn, but kept digging and rallied in the stretch to be second just to get in the Derby. “(In the Blue Grass), he was out in the clear, aggressively ridden for three-eighths of a mile, the last part, all out, wide open, everything you got. He didn’t get that opportunity in the Derby.”
Trombetta also turns to blinkers, hoping to help his horse leave from the gate a bit better and to just pay attention to the task at hand. Win Win Win started slowly in the Derby, and has done something similar in several starts. He wore blinkers at Fair Hill after the Derby and will break from post 13 with them in the Preakness. His trainer thinks the equipment change will help, but also knows it’ll be up to his horse.
“I just want him to focus,” Trombetta said, “and if they don’t help him, they help me.”
Most importantly, the trainer sees a fit, healthy horse going in the right direction – just like he saw before the Derby. Win Win Win gets a fast track, and a potentially crowded pace in front of him and a weaker field.
“If I saw anything that didn’t look right, I wouldn’t run,” Trombetta said. “Everything looks fine. I see the same horse I took to Kentucky.”
In 2006, Trombetta’s Sweetnorthernsaint finished seventh as the Derby favorite and rebounded to finish second to Bernardini in the Preakness so the trainer has at least a little experience with the Derby/Preakness timing. And he’s got plenty of Pimlico experience, going back the very beginning of his career.
As a senior at Perry Hall High 18 miles away, Trombetta groomed for trainer Frank Hendricks at the Baltimore track – getting his horses out and done up again by 11 so he could get to afternoon classes.
“I was a groom here, 17 years old,” he said Thursday after the Alibi Breakfast. “I had enough credits in high school that I only needed to go for half a day to complete my senior year so where most of the kids would get out and go to work after lunch I didn’t have to be there until after 11 so I’d come here first. Frank gave me a job rubbing two or three horses, everybody else pitched in and helped so I could get them out, get done and get to school.”
Trombetta took his first trainer’s test at Pimlico, and won two races there in his first season of 1989.
“I started like anybody else, driving up and down to Charles Town, Penn National, doing all that stuff,” he said. “Now I look up and I’m closing in on 10,000 starts (9,741 officially). It’s crazy. I grew up idolizing (Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas) and now I’m sitting across from him at the Alibi Breakfast.”