Two Pimlico punters cheered home their runners in Thursday’s second race, a $5,000 claimer, and raised enough of a ruckus to make several people flinch inside the track’s paddock. Alongside them, a bay colt some 30 hours from the biggest race of his life barely moved.
“Well, that’s a pretty good sign,” said the horse’s trainer with a scratch on the muzzle and a laugh.
Rodolphe Brisset, a former assistant to Hall of Famer Bill Mott, and Quip make their Pimlico debuts Saturday in the 143rd Preakness Stakes. And, if successful paddock schooling means anything, could make an impact on the $1 million race. Quip strolled the indoor paddock, stared down a handful of fans through the clubhouse windows and checked out a few of stalls. He stood, walked, stood, walked some more. Brisset put a saddle pad and tightened a girth on his horse, took it off, put it back on, let the colt stroll and compared the scene to Oaklawn Park – where Quip finished second in the Arkansas Derby in April.
“The Oaklawn paddock is like this,” Brisset said of Pimlico’s indoor area tucked between the clubhouse and grandstand. “We schooled him twice there and he was very good. He knows he’s not at the same place, but he has at least seen something like this. Oaklawn gets loud. It’s more open (to the fans) and the people are a little higher up.”
The indoor paddocks are not for nervous horses, or claustrophobic ones, or ones that want to fight with people. One of several Preakness horses to school Thursday, Quip handled the place like he lived there, even when the gamblers got loud outside. Bred and co-owned by WinStar Farm, he breaks from the rail in Saturday’s Preakness and will try to upset another WinStar runner in Kentucky Derby winner Justify.
Brisset, who had both horses in his barn at Keeneland last year, hesitates to compare Quip to Justify.
“I wouldn’t throw my position away right now, I wouldn’t switch anything, but we are all running for second if Justify runs his race,” he said. “What he did in the Derby was pretty impressive. We have to be realistic.”
After 11 years with Mott, Brisset saddled his first runner last year. Based at Keeneland, the early string included several 2-year-olds for WinStar. The horses started on the farm, went to Brisset and his team for stage two and then mostly headed to other trainers. Justify went to Hall of Famer Bob Baffert – and his now 2,842 career wins – in California. Somehow, Quip stayed put. As Brisset put it, the bay son of Distorted Humor progressed and the first few breezes showed promise.
On a visit to the barn, WinStar’s Elliott Walden walked the shedrow with Brisset and stopped at Quip’s stall. “I want you to keep this one,” he said. Brisset’s answer was predictable for a trainer just a few months into his career, “Really?”
Really. Quip gave Brisset his fifth win as a trainer at Churchill Downs in September, and backed that up with another win a month later at Keeneland. He couldn’t handle Enticed in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November, but earned a break and responded with two good efforts as a 3-year-old this year.
Quip upset the Tampa Bay Derby at 19-1 in March, then finished second to Magnum Moon in the Arkansas Derby April 14. The Kentucky Derby could have easily come next, but the team opted to pass. WinStar already owned parts of three horses in the big one, including favored Justify, and Brisset figured Quip might appreciate a bit more time.
“Everybody was in the same kind of mindset,” he said of the decision. “It was difficult and easy at the same time. From what I’ve seen in him, and what people have seen the last couple of days and what everybody is telling me, I think we did the right thing to pass the Derby.”
The time in Mott’s shedrow prepared Brisset well for such decisions.
“You do the right thing by the horse,” he said. “Trust me, he was petty banged after the Arkansas Derby. It would have been a mistake to run him back.”
Of course, Brisset didn’t pass on the chance to make a sales pitch toward next year, telling the team, “You know guys, you have to send me a couple more 2-year-olds so I get one (to the Derby) next year.”
For now, Brisset will worry about the Preakness. With stalls at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, he’s got 25 horses in training with a crop of new 2-year-olds arriving shortly. He appreciates every opportunity.
“It’s been a real pleasure to work with them, the whole WinStar crew,” Brisset said. “They’re good horsemen, you say what you think, they agree or don’t and you get good feedback. It’s been good for me, fun for me.”
NOTES: Quip (12-1, Florent Geroux) breaks from the inside post on a sloppy track and will have to deal with the forwardly placed Justify (1-2, Mike Smith) and some others likely looking to play early . . . In addition to Quip, Thursday paddock-schoolers included Lone Sailor, Diamond King, Good Magic and Tenfold. Lone Sailor stood motionless in a stall near the door to the track and watched racing. Eighth in the Derby, the son of Majestic Warrior looked like a conformation model with a deep, large shoulder, a wide forehead and a look any horseman would like. He’d be tough to handle in a fight. Lighter than Lone Sailor, Derby runner-up Good Magic was cool and calm in the paddock as well. Tenfold came over later than the other Derby horses, and even managed to share the paddock with 2-year-old fillies in the fourth race.