The countdown to the 140th Preakness Stakes continues as final preparations are being made for horses and horsemen contesting the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
American Pharoah, Firing Line and Dortmund – the first three under the wire in the Kentucky Derby – are back to galloping at Churchill Downs. They’ll ship north to Baltimore Wednesday with a large contingent of horses from Kentucky that will run in various races over the big Preakness weekend.
The complexion of the race changes almost on a daily basis, with news trickling of horses that will or will not run. Various published reports peg the Preakness field at only eight definite starters as of Monday afternoon with Todd Pletcher still considering whether or not to run Florida Derby winner Materiality. Pletcher and WinStar Farm took Carpe Diem out of consideration Monday and will decide about Materiality and some others Tuesday.
Entries for the Preakness are due Wednesday and post positions will be drawn at 6 p.m. EDT.
Our team from TIHR hit the Pimlico grounds Wednesday, but until then we’re happy to provide the latest updates from Dave Joseph and the press-office staff at Pimlico. Here’s the latest sampling from our Preakness preview bucket.
Baffert joins Preakness contenders at Churchill
Five-time Preakness-winning trainer Bob Baffert was back at Churchill Downs Monday morning to get his first live look in a week at Zayat Stables’ Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah and Kaleem Shah’s third-place finisher Dortmund.
“I was happy with both of them. It looks like they have kept the same energy level (as before the Kentucky Derby),” Baffert said after the colts galloped 1 1/2 miles following the morning track renovation break. “American Pharoah floated over the ground and picked up his gallop the last half-mile. He wanted to do more. Dortmund got aggressive with (exercise rider) Dana (Barnes) and galloped well.”
Baffert, who had returned to his Southern California base the day after the Derby, has traditionally kept his Preakness starters at Churchill until the middle of Preakness Week, a pattern he is following again this year with a Wednesday ship date to Baltimore.
“Coming out of a big race like the Derby, you don’t have to do too much. It is just a matter of keeping them at the same level,” Baffert said. “The good horses are easier to train. These two are used to running a lot and coming back in two weeks is not a big concern with them.”
American Pharoah was partnered Monday morning as usual by Jorge Alvarez.
Both colts are scheduled to gallop Tuesday morning and will train Wednesday before loading for the short van ride to Louisville International Airport and a Tex Sutton charter to Baltimore, one of two such flights scheduled that day.
American Pharoah is set to join his half-brother, Xixixi, on the Pimlico Race Course backstretch Wednesday. The 4-year-old son of Maimonides was claimed from Zayat Stables for $5,000 by trainer Charlie DeMario at Pimlico on April 3.
The Kentucky Derby winner and Xixixi are out of Littleprincessemma.
“My owner actually recognized the mare, where most people didn’t,” said DeMario, who trains Xixixi for Kirk Sheehan. “I thought for sure we would have to shake for him. I asked everyone else if they knew who he was and they said, ‘No.’ Nobody knew who he was.”
DeMario admits that there are few similarities between American Pharoah and his recent claim.
“Ours stops; American Pharoah keeps on going,” he said.
After being claimed out of a second-place finish, Xixixi has finished off the board in allowance and starter-allowance company in his first two starts for his new connections.
DeMario said he expects Xixixi will take to grass racing after winning two of his 15 starts on dirt.
“I think he likes the grass. We just have to find the right distance,” he said.
Bodhisattva a true success story for owner/trainer
When California Chrome won last year’s Preakness Stakes, it ended a 28-year drought in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown for horses bred in California. Despite anticipated long odds on Saturday, Bodhisattva hopes to make it two in a row for sons of the Golden State.
“We know we’re running with very tough competition,” said trainer/owner Jose Corrales, a 55-year-old former jockey from Panama. “You’re running with the best horses.”
And unlike predecessors California Chrome and Snow Chief (1986), Bodhisattva has never set foot on a West Coast racetrack. All 11 of his career starts have been at East Coast venues, including his most recent victory in the familiar Preakness prep, the Federico Tesio.
He was brought to Kentucky as a yearling by breeder Andy Stronach and given to Corrales, who trains a number of horses for Stronach and his father, Frank.
“I broke him at Laurel and I just kept him all the way through,” said Corrales, who saw something intriguing in the Student Council colt. “Andy’s my friend and I asked him if he would sell me the horse, not knowing what he could be or whatever. He just said that since I had done so many things for him and his father, ‘I’ll just give it to you’ and he signed a bill of sale.'”
Bodhisattva, a Buddhist term meaning “enlightened one,” needed four starts to break his maiden in 2014. After winning an optional claiming race last October, it’s been nothing but stakes competition. The progression culminated by a win in the Tesio at Pimlico on April 18 after he had finished second in Laurel’s Private Terms less than three weeks earlier.
“He’s been with me since he was a baby,” Corrales said. “Babies got to be taught, just like my kids. You don’t grow and know everything since when you were born. You have to be learning as you grow.”
Bodhisattva walked the shedrow at Laurel on Monday, a day after his leisurely 5-furlong work in 1:04 Mother’s Day. Corrales said he plans to van the colt to Pimlico on Thursday.
Trevor McCarthy is scheduled to ride in the Preakness.
Zetcher looks to turn tables on longtime trainer
During 15 years of owning Thoroughbreds, Arnold Zetcher has enjoyed considerable success in major stakes with horses trained by Bob Baffert.
Yet the Hall of Fame trainer was the only one who stood in the way of Zetcher experiencing every owner’s dream of winning the Kentucky Derby May 2 at Churchill Downs.
Firing Line, owned by the retired president and chief executive officer of women’s clothing retailer Talbots, ran a winning race in the Run for the Roses, only to be denied victory by the heavily favored Baffert-trained American Pharoah. Firing Line, who is scheduled for a rematch with the Derby winner in Saturday’s 140th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, was saddled for a run in the first jewel of the Triple Crown by Simon Callaghan.
Zetcher, who experienced Grade 1 success with the Baffert-trained Richard’s Kid, Gabby’s Golden Gal, Midnight Interlude, Rolling Fog, Liaison and El Brujo, still has horses in the four-time Kentucky Derby winner’s stable.
“I have horses with Simon, Bob Baffert, Chad Brown on the East Coast and John Shirreffs,” Zetcher said. “I spread them around a bit.”
Although he was denied a chance to experience the highest of highs for a Thoroughbred owner by one of his longtime trainers, Zetcher certainly has no hard feelings.
“We’re just proud of our horse,” the 74-year-old Century City resident in Los Angeles said. “Whatever happens on that side, we wish them luck.”
Firing Line gave his owner every reason to be proud of him in the Derby, pressing the pace set by Baffert-trained Dortmund before becoming engaged in a furiously fought stretch battle with American Pharoah.
“He was on the lead or near the lead for most of the race. It’s a bit unusual for a horse in the Derby to be near or on the lead early in the race and throughout the race and still hold on,” Zetcher said. “The only thing was the not switching leads coming down the stretch – that could have made a little difference maybe. But all in all, we’re very proud of the horse.”
Zetcher is confident that Firing Line will fire again in the 1 3/16-mile Preakness. After two battles with Dortmund in Southern California, in which he lost in a photo finish both times, the son of Line of David had an easy time of things while winning the Sunland Park Derby by more than 14 lengths under a hand ride March 22.
“Simon has managed this horse just beautifully and continues to do so. This was always the plan – to bring him into Kentucky a fresh horse. We did, and we think he’s pretty fresh for the Preakness, as well,” Zetcher said. “We think he’s fresh, and this has always been the plan.”
The first horse Callaghan trained for Zetcher in a partnership with Michael Tabor was Fashion Plate, who won the Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes and Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks in 2014.
“When you have your first horse with a trainer and she’s a multiple-Grade 1 winner, it kind of opens your eyes,” Zetcher said. “Before I had horses with Simon, I watched him, and I was always impressed with the competitiveness of the horses he put on the track.”
Firing Line certainly fits into the competitive category.
“The day we bought him, we were really impressed with him,” said Zetcher, who bought the Kentucky-bred colt for $240,000 at the 2014 Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale. “We brought him out to California, and Simon said, ‘I think we got one here.'”
Zetcher’s phone has been ringing since Firing Line’s valiant second-place finish in the Derby.
“It’s truly amazing. I’ve heard from people I haven’t heard from in years. It seems like everybody in the world watched the Kentucky Derby. We got a lot of congratulations,” he said. “People want to know how you feel. You tell them that you wished you won, but on the other hand, finishing second in the Kentucky Derby is pretty exciting also.”
Pletcher decision due Tuesday
Trainer Todd Pletcher reported Monday that he’ll be prepared to make a decision on the respective Preakness statuses of Florida Derby winner Materiality and stablemates Carpe Diem, Competitive Edge and Stanford Tuesday.
“Everybody galloped today. I’ll make a final decision tomorrow after I see them train,” the seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer said.
Materiality (sixth) and Carpe Diem (10th) ran in the Kentucky Derby, while Competitive Edge won the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile impressively on the Derby undercard. Stanford was entered in the Derby but was scratched two days before the race to consider other options.
Materiality, who entered the Derby undefeated in three starts, got away last from the starting gate and was forced to race wide before closing strongly in the Derby. Blue Grass Stakes winner Carpe Diem was well-positioned in fourth along the backstretch but failed to fire in the stretch run of the Derby. Competitive Edge is undefeated in four lifetime races, including victories in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes and the Pat Day Mile, which he won going away by 4 1/2 lengths. Stanford finished second behind Materiality in the Islamorada Stakes at Gulfstream Park and was the runner-up in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in his last two starts.
Firing Line open gallops a second day
Arnold Zetcher’s Firing Line, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, joined the Baffert-trained Preakness contenders on the Churchill track Monday morning.
Trained by Simon Callaghan, Firing Line stood at the 6-furlong gap for a few minutes before backtracking to the front side. Under exercise rider Humberto Gomez, Firing Line galloped 1 1/2 miles with the final half of the exercise being an open gallop similar to Sunday’s exercise.
“It was the same thing as yesterday; maybe a little slower,” Gomez said.
Carlos Santamaria, who is overseeing the colt’s preparations in Louisville while Callaghan is at his Santa Anita base, continued to give off good vibes about the colt who has compiled a 6-2-4-0 record in his career.
“He has been galloping good and eating well and very happy with the last two days,” Santamaria said. “I know he has a lot of heart and will give his best to the end (like he did in the Derby).”
Santamaria said Firing Line is scheduled to have a regular gallop Tuesday but likely would not train Wednesday morning before shipping to Baltimore where he will be trying to reverse a negative trend regarding Derby runners-up in the Preakness.
Since 1960, only three horses that ran second in the Run for the Roses took the Preakness. They were Bally Ache (1960), Summer Squall (1990) and Prairie Bayou (1993).
Danzig Moon, Tale of Verve continue preparations
One of the first horses on a fast main track Monday morning at Churchill Downs was John Oxley’s Danzig Moon.
With regular exercise rider William Cano aboard, Danzig Moon galloped 1 1/2 miles.
With a start Saturday, Danzig Moon would give Oxley and trainer Mark Casse Preakness starters in back-to-back years. Dynamic Impact, who won the Grade 3 Illinois Derby last year and skipped the Kentucky Derby, finished seventh last year behind California Chrome.
“We have a better gauge since he has faced these horses already,” said Norman Casse, assistant to his father. “They were better than he was on Derby Day, but we feel that he is getting better all the time.”
Danzig Moon is scheduled to gallop the next two mornings and ship to Baltimore Wednesday.
Charles Fipke’s Tale of Verve walked the shedrow a day after working 5 furlongs in company in 1:00.40.
“This fits right into our schedule,” trainer Dallas Stewart said of the walk day. “He’ll train Tuesday and Wednesday and fly Wednesday and won’t miss a beat.”
Tale of Verve will represent the fourth Preakness starter for Stewart, whose best finish was second with Macho Again in 2008.
“He had won the Derby Trial and we thought that he fit well in there among the other horses after Big Brown,” Stewart said. “We felt he could hit the board. We had always been high on the horse and he was doing well, so we thought we’d give it a try.”
Following the Preakness, Macho Again went on to capture a Grade 1 and two Grade 2 races and retired with earnings of more than $1.8 million.
Meanwhile, at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., Coolmore Lexington Stakes winner Divining Rod galloped in preparation for the Preakness.
“He’s doing very well. I think he came back in good shape from his breeze. He galloped this morning and looked very good,” said trainer Arnaud Delacour, whose colt breezed 4 furlongs in :51.60 Saturday.
Ex-claimer Brenda’s Way a true local success story
Come Saturday, Edward Buxbaum will continue a tradition that began in 1973 and hasn’t skipped a year since. The Baltimore-bred and based attorney will join with a group of his old middle school pals at Pimlico Race Course to watch Maryland’s biggest race, the Preakness Stakes.
This year, Buxbaum and his partners in Big Bertha Stable also have some important business at Old Hilltop on Preakness Eve. Their former claimer turned stakes winner, Brenda’s Way, will make her graded stakes debut in the Grade 3 Allaire DuPont Distaff on the Black-Eyed Susan Day undercard.
Bred in Maryland, based at Laurel Park and campaigned by an ownership group comprised primarily of Baltimore natives, Brenda’s Way has proven to be a true local success story.
Since being claimed for $15,000 in November 2013, the 5-year-old mare has run 14 times with four wins, two seconds, three thirds and $191,744 in earnings for her new connections. She ran for a tag in four straights starts from October to March 13 but went unclaimed, setting the stage for her – and her owners’ – biggest victory.
Brenda’s Way romped to a 10 1/4-length victory under jockey Jevian Toledo in the $75,000 Geisha April 18 at Pimlico. Like the DuPont, the Geisha is run at 1 1/16 miles on the main track.
“That was a big day. It was our first stakes win,” Buxbaum said. “The stretch run was kind of fun for us. I have to say, it was about as exciting as I can imagine. She’s just been unbelievably good.”
Brenda’s Way is one of only two horses in the stable for Big Bertha, named to reflect the partners’ affinity for golf. The other is 3-year-old filly Regina Christina, who the group claimed for $25,000 in early February, in large part thanks to the success of Brenda’s Way.
“We sort of leveraged her earnings to get another horse,” Buxbaum said. “We’re just absolutely, positively thrilled.”
Buxbaum grew up 10 minutes from Pimlico and now handles business litigation and insurance coverage cases for Whiteford Taylor & Preston in downtown Baltimore. He joined Big Bertha in 2010, and got a rude and realistic introduction to the risks of owning horses.
“The first horse we claimed when I got into the group got hurt,” he said “It started out poorly, but it has been a pleasure since then. We’ve had 13 or 14 wins out of the group. We’ve done remarkably well.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, so when I had a chance I jumped at the opportunity. We were really sort of playing in the $5,000 to $15,000 claiming ranks for a while, and we did well. Whether it’s a graded stakes or a $5,000 claiming race, when it’s your horse with the lead down the stretch you’re just as excited.”
Never was that more true than April 18, when Brenda’s Way sprang to the lead from the gate and never gave it up, expanding her advantage at every call. She ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:46.78 in her first try against fellow state-breds since finishing second in the 2014 Geisha.
“The thing that really makes me smile about it is, not that I mind running wherever, but it’s especially meaningful for the group who are mostly local guys to be able to do that and, for me, to be able to do that at Pimlico, where I first set foot on the racetrack,” Buxbaum said. “It kind of feels like home to me, and to have a horse running at this level and have a horse that would kind of canter home in a stakes race, albeit a non-graded stakes race, it was remarkably fun.”
The stakes get significantly higher for Brenda’s Way in the DuPont, named for the owner and breeder of five-time Horse of the Year Kelso. Among the horses being considered for the race are Grade 3 winners House Rules and Wedding Toast, stakes winners Blue Violet and Shayjolie, and any of Easy Living, Samantha Nicole and undefeated Via Strata, all coming off allowance victories for Kiaran McLaughlin, who also trains Wedding Toast.
“We recognize it’s a much tougher spot than the Geisha, but it’s been a thrill to even be thinking about races like this given where we started,” Buxbaum said. “Since the beginning of the year she’s just been training dynamite, and her last few efforts have just been dynamite.”
Regardless of the outcome for Brenda’s Way, Buxbaum and friends are set to enjoy their 43rd consecutive Preakness.
“My first Preakness I got to see Secretariat, and I haven’t missed once since,” he said. “In 1973 when I was 15 years old, I did go in the infield. Now that I’m 57, those days are long over for me. Our group, everybody knows kind of where and when to show up. It’s a little bit more civilized that it was back then.”