The Preakness preview bucket

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The notes just keep on coming. Pimlico Race Course sends regular updates about next weekend’s Preakness Stakes and – with eight days to go – the status of the various potential runners.

The Kentucky Derby’s top three – American Pharoah, Firing Line and Dortmund look to head to Baltimore. They’ll be joined by potential new shooters (and locals) Bodhisattva and Divining Rod, possibly Danzig Moon and a few others.

The Preakness, which signed on XpressBet as a title sponsor this week, heads a $3.6 million stakes weekend at Pimlico with opportunities for older horses in the Pimlico Special, 3-year-old fillies in the Black-Eyed Susan and other major races. Maryland’s hero Ben’s Cat aims to be part of the show in the Jim McKay Turf Sprint on a long list of potential story lines. Nominations for Friday’s stakes hit 277.

The TIHR staff will get to some original content, including a visit with Fair Hill’s Preakness horse Divining Rod early Friday morning, once we cross a few dozen other things off our lists but for now here’s a sampling from Dave Joseph and the press-office staff at Pimlico:

Derby’s top three aiming for Preakness
Led by the winner, American Pharoah, the top three finishers in the Kentucky Derby (G1) are headed to historic Pimlico Race Course for the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes (G1) on Saturday, May 16.

Zayat Stables’ American Pharoah won the Derby by one length over Firing Line, who finished two lengths in front of pacesetter Dortmund, owned by Kaleem Shah. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday morning that American Pharoah and Dortmund were both candidates for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

The last time that the top three from the Kentucky Derby went to the gate in the Preakness was 2009: Mine That Bird, Pioneerof the Nile – sire of American Pharoah – and Musket Man.

With five victories in the Preakness – including a perfect record with his three previous Derby winners – Baffert and his team have had plenty of success getting their runners ready during the two weeks between the Triple Crown races.

“The Preakness is the easiest race of the legs,” Baffert said. “To me, the Derby is the hardest. The Preakness is the easiest. If you run well in the Derby that means your horses are in top shape. You need a good horse and the Preakness to me has always been easier. Then after that, the Belmont, you see that it wears on them.”

American Pharoah dominated the competition in his four consecutive wins before the Derby. There was some question about how he would react when he faced the first really demanding test of his career. He answered with a gritty drive through the second turn and in the stretch to overtake and dismiss Dortmund and Firing Line.

“He finally had a hard work,” Baffert said. “He had a stiff race and he hadn’t had a stiff race. Everybody says they have to have one stiff race. Now that he’s had one from here on he should really move forward.”

While some trainers might not run one of their other horses against the stable’s Derby winner, Baffert said his owners understand that they could be facing stablemates in major races. Dortmund, who was unbeaten before the Derby, is a Preakness candidate.

 “My job is to get my people there,” he said. “If the horse is doing well do we run him there or wait for the Belmont? I don’t know  It’s one of those things where I will sit down and discuss it with Kaleem Shah. I’m sure he’s going to want a little revenge. His horse ran a really good race. If ‘Pharoah’ is that good he’s going to have to run hard. Right now I would say if all’s well (he would run); and Dortmund looked good.”

Firing Line’s owner, Arnold Zetcher, and the colt’s 32-year-old trainer Simon Callaghan, said they were serious about going on to the Preakness.

“You’d have to think if all is well that he’s earned that right,” Callaghan said. “We were glad we finally got to best Dortmund after he’d beaten us twice. And we believe we can be right there with American Pharoah. We’ll walk him here for the next three or four days and monitor him. We’ll then train him with the Preakness in mind. Maybe we’ll breeze him, or maybe we’ll just gallop him. We’ll let the horse tell us. If we go, we’ll probably ship up there at some point next week.”

Though the $1 million Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in Toronto is the primary goal for the Ontario-bred Danzig Moon, trainer Mark Casse said the Preakness might be up next.

“We’ll take a look at the Preakness. The Queen’s Plate is not until July 5. We probably won’t talk about it for a day or two,” Casse said.

Danzig Moon was fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and ran second to Carpe Diem in the Blue Grass (G1). Casse was so impressed with the way the Malibu Moon colt came out of the race that he decided to go into the Derby. The colt trained well at Churchill Downs and ran well despite a troubled trip.

Assistant trainer Carlos Santamaria is responsible for Firing Line
Firing Line takes Santamaria on road trip
Carlos Santamaria’s new job has already exceeded his expectations. Just six weeks after signing on as trainer Simon Callaghan’s assistant, he finds himself in the midst of the 2015 Triple Crown campaign with Arnold Zetcher’s Firing Line.

Santamaria was with the colt at Churchill Downs prior to his second in the Kentucky Derby last Saturday. Now he is helping to get the Line of David colt ready for a Preakness Stakes rematch with Derby hero American Pharoah at Pimlico on Saturday, May 16 as Callaghan tends to his Southern California-based stable.

Though he has spent half his life working with race horses, the Triple Crown is new territory for Santamaria, 37, who grew up near Mexico City. He started out as a teenage groom at a training facility near San Diego, moved to the racetrack soon after and landed jobs at Santa Anita with the legendary trainer Charlie Whittingham and David Hofmans before working for 19 years – the last 10 as assistant trainer – with Jack Carava. Callaghan hired him in March.

“You never know when you’re going to be here, but these kind of races you always have on your mind,” Santamaria said. “I never thought I was going to be at the Derby. Two months ago, I was working for Jack Carava and his business is more about claiming horses so I didn’t even think about it. But after a week and a half in this job my life changed. I was really happy to be at the Kentucky Derby. It was a really great experience. I’m enjoying it.”

Santamaria emigrated to the U.S. when he was 16 and picked up the job at the training center because his mother’s husband was working there.

“I said I would try that job and see what happens,” he said, laughing as he told the story. “I was afraid of them because of having never been with horses, but I still loved them because they are beautiful animals. Since the first day, I knew this was going be to be my job. I definitely fell in love with horses.”

Santamaria said he was timing Carava’s horses one morning in March at Santa Anita when Callaghan, 32, asked to talk with him. The British-born Callaghan, who has been training in the U.S. since 2010, proposed that Santamaria become his assistant.

“I knew who he was, but I didn’t know he was going to ask me that,” Santamaria said. “When he came out with the offer I was like, ‘Whoa.’ “

Santamaria said he told Callaghan that he would think about it and he could suggest some other people to consider.

“He said, ‘No, it’s just for you. If you can’t, it’s no problem. Just let me know,'” Santamaria said. “It makes me feel great to know that he was watching me and liked the way I do my job. That’s something good for me.”

Santamaria told Callaghan that he needed assurances that if he took the job he would have a regular day off and time to spend with his young teenage daughters, who live with their mother. He said Callaghan supported his need to have that family time, to take them to school at least once a week and be active in their lives.

“I told Simon that’s going to be one of things that’s going to help me make up my mind about this offer from you,” he said. “This way I can spend more time with my girls. I love to do that.

 “For me, working with the horses, I don’t call it a job. It’s more like a way of living. If you take this job as a job you’re going to turn crazy. You know what time you have to be at the barn, but you never know when you’re going to get out of the barn. You have to love it.”

Firing Line’s run-away victory in the Sunland Park Derby on March 22, just a few days after Santamaria joined Callaghan, earned him the qualifying points he needed to get into the Derby field and stamped him as one of the better 3-year-olds in the land. He turned in a big performance in the Derby under Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, finishing second by a length after having the lead in the stretch. Santamaria says he expects the colt will be just as game in Baltimore.

“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Santamaria said. “A lot of people were talking about how easy American Pharoah had been winning. This time, I think he had to run his guts out to beat us. I think we have a pretty good chance in the next race because he is competitive and he came out of the race good. His attitude is that he thinks he won the race. That will be a nice race.”

Firing Line is hardly an overnight sensation. Before his Sunland Park triumph, he gave Dortmund, the third-place finisher in the Derby, everything he could handle in two races at Santa Anita. Santamaria was confident that another gritty effort was coming in the Derby.

 “Everybody who knows the horse knows he’s going to give everything he has. Everything,” Santamaria said. “The only thing you have to think of before the race is you have to wish for is he breaks good and gets a good position. After that, we knew the horse was going to do his job.”

Though they haven’t worked together for very long, Santamaria likes the way he has been treated by Callaghan.

 “I’ve been telling everybody about Simon. I always call him a kid because he’s younger than me,” Santamaria said. “Working so long for guys older than me and now working for Simon, I feel like he’s a kid. But he’s such a great guy. I always say thanks to him because since the first day working for him, he’s never told me to do this or that. He’s given me the chance to run the barn like however I think it should be done

 “It’s been super great. He went back to California and he was like, ‘I know you’re going to be there.  I don’t worry.’ All the things he says make you feel good, super good. He trusts me, so I’m really happy to be working for him.”


Fair Hill-based Divining Rod aims for Preakness
Trainer Arnaud Delacour confirmed Wednesday that Lael Stable’s Divining Rod is on course to run in the 140th Preakness Stakes. Delacour plans to send the son of Tapit out for his final work for the Preakness at 9 a.m. Saturday at Fair Hill Training Center.

Divining Rod, winner of the Lexington Stakes (G3) at Keeneland on April 11, had 20 Kentucky Derby qualifying points and could have drawn into the field from the also-eligible list. However, Delacour and the colt’s owners-breeders, Gretchen and Roy Jackson, decided not to enter the Derby and pointed for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course.

“We weren’t sure we had enough points,” Delacour said. “We were on the bubble, and it’s very hard to train a horse to a race like the Derby not knowing if you’re going to get in. That puts some pressure on. Also, we would have been coming back in three weeks after a good effort in the Lexington and shipping. We thought that maybe it was coming back a little bit too quick. And also, the Jacksons saw statistics that showed horses that won the Lexington and came back in the Derby ran a little flat.           

“They were the first ones to say that if we didn’t think that the horse was really going to be at his best that they would rather wait another two weeks. I was completely fine with that.”

Delacour watched favored American Pharoah catch and pass Firing Line and Dortmund to win the Derby by one length on Saturday. Divining Rod will be one of the so-called new shooters in the Preakness taking on Derby grads – led by the top three finishers – coming to Baltimore. American Pharoah prevailed in what was easily the most demanding test of his career.

“It’s a tough bunch of horses,” Delacour said. “Going into the Derby everyone was talking about how good of a crop it was. I still feel the same way. The only thing is: I think everybody ran pretty hard, so you never know how they are going to come back in two weeks. We’ll see, but they are definitely tough horses to take on.”

Meanwhile, Delacour feels that Divining Rod has flourished since returning to his home at Fair Hill.

“I think he came back well,” Delacour said. “We gave him two easy weeks where we trained him lightly and let him get his level of energy back. That worked out great. He’s had two breezes since – one easy breeze and last week was a more significant breeze. I was pleased with both, really.  

“I think he’s really fit now and is ready to go. We just need to keep him doing well all the way to the Preakness.”


Bodhisattva aims for the Preakness after winning the Federico Tesio over the course. Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club photo
Owner-trainer considering Preakness for Tesio winner Bodhisattva
Laurel Park based owner-trainer Jose Corrales has not ruled out a possible start in the Preakness for Federico Tesio winner Bodhisattva.

Bred in California, Bodhisattva is a sophomore son of multiple graded stakes winner Student Council, whose Grade 1 wins include the 2008 Pimlico Special, also run at the Preakness distance.

“If the possibility comes, I think I will probably run,” Corrales said Monday. “I will not run a horse just to run the horse. If I don’t feel a horse can run in the first three, why run? That’s the way I think.”

Corrales entered and scratched Bodhisattva from the $75,000 Parx Derby on May 2 and instead breezed the horse seven furlongs in 1:29 at Laurel, his first work since winning the 1 1/16-mile Tesio by 1 ½ lengths over Noteworthy Peach.

 “I think this horse improved from that race. He just keeps improving every time. I think now I’ve got him where I want him,” Corrales said. “The reason why I scratched him at Parx was because it was too early to run him back and I wanted to work him before I decide what’s going to happen.

 “He worked the way I wanted to,” he said. “I put another horse at the half-mile pole and he was coming from behind to catch up with the other horse, a fresh horse, from the half-mile pole and he beat the other horse easy. I think he’s 90 percent of where I want him. If he had run in the stakes the other day he would have been 80 percent. I think he’s still going to get better.”

Bred by Andy Stronach, son of The Stronach Group founder and chairman Frank Stronach, Bodhisattva was among the early nominations to the Triple Crown. He ran second in the Private Terms in March at Laurel and fifth in the Remsen (G2) for 2-year-olds last fall at Aqueduct.

 “You start nominating a horse for the Triple Crown, sometimes just to see what could happen, like winning the lottery. Pretty soon you hit a number and then you hit another number and maybe you win the lottery,” Corrales said. “You dream, and people just wish to be in those kinds of races once. They pay a lot of money to get the chance to be in one of those races one day. I have a chance. You never know. Even if he loses, you still go on with life.”

Pletcher group under consideration: Early in the week, trainer Todd Pletcher remained non-committal about how many horses he might enter in the Preakness. Among those under consideration are Pat Day Mile winner Competitive Edge, Materiality, who was sixth in the Kentucky Derby, and Carpe Diem, who finished 10th at Churchill Downs. Stanford, most recently second in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, is also possible.


Kid Cruz could make the Pimlico Special. Tod Marks photo
Kid Kruz seeks Pimlico rebound
Vina Del Mar Thoroughbreds and Black Swan Stable’s Kid Cruz is set for a return to Pimlico Race Course on Black-Eyed Susan Day, May 15, a year after competing in the 2014 Preakness Stakes (G1).

The Linda Rice-trained 4-year-old is scheduled for an attempt to make amends for a subpar performance in the Preakness last year in the $300,000 Pimlico Special (G3), the historic 1 3/16-mile event for 3-year-olds and up.

Kid Cruz, who finished eighth in the Preakness after winning the Federico Tesio Stakes over the Pimlico main track, subsequently held his own against the top 3-year-olds of 2014 while winning the Easy Goer Stakes and the Dwyer Stakes (G3) at Belmont, before finishing third in the Jim Dandy (G2) and fourth in the Travers (G1) at Saratoga.

 “He didn’t come into the Preakness as well as we would have liked. The way he did perform, it kind of made sense because things didn’t go smoothly into that race,” said Rice, noting Kid Cruz had some minor foot issues. “We were disappointed of course. We were hoping things would go the right way, but things were not going smoothly into that race, so we just threw it out.”

The son of Lemon Drop Kid came out of the Travers with a bone chip in the upper knee joint in his left front leg and underwent surgery to remove it before going to the sidelines until February.  Kid Cruz finished sixth off the bench in the listed Evening Attire Stakes over the Aqueduct inner-track surface on Feb. 22 before showing vast improvement with a late-closing second in a mile optional claiming allowance over the Aqueduct main track on April 1.

“We were very happy with his last race. It was a little short for him, but he really was running real well late and he galloped out real strong,” Rice said Tuesday morning from her Belmont Park headquarters. “I’m hoping we have him back on track and we’re excited to try him in the Pimlico Special.”

Rice and Vina Del Mar Thoroughbreds claimed Kid Cruz for $50,000 out of a six-length maiden victory at Aqueduct on Nov. 22, 2013. Former owner Black Swan Stable subsequently reached a deal with the new owner to buy back a minority interest in the Kentucky-bred colt.

Rice is hopeful that Kid Cruz will come back stronger and better for his 4-year-old campaign.

 “I think the Pimlico Special will be a real telling point for us,” she said.

Kid Cruz is likely to clash in the Pimlico Special with Page McKenney, a multiple-stakes winner who finished third in the Charles Town Classic (G2) in his most recent start; and Transparent, the Kiaran McLaughlin-trained veteran stakes performer who captured an optional claiming allowance last time out. Other candidates include Tapiture, Albano and Turco Bravo.

Bob Baffert-trained Luminance is scheduled to run in the 91st running of the Black-Eyed Susan, a 1 1/8-mile stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Luminance finished second in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) last time out after winning the first two starts of her career for Kaleem Shah, owner of Derby third-place finisher and strong Preakness candidate Dortmund. Lightly raced Ahh Chocolate is being pointed to the Black-Eyed Susan by trainer Neil Howard after the daughter of Candy Ride won the first two starts of her career, including a first-level allowance at Keeneland while stretching out around two turns last time out.

Divine Dawn, a recent second in the Adena Springs Beaumont (G2) at Keeneland, is a prominent candidate for the Adena Springs Miss Preakness, a six-furlong sprint for 3-year-old fillies. Trained by Larry Jones, who saddled Lovely Maria to victory in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) last Friday, Divine Dawn was also nominated to the Black-Eyed Susan.

The Jones-trained Blue Violet is a prime candidate for the Allaire DuPont Distaff Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile event for fillies and mares. Stakes-winning Blue Violet finished third in the Doubledogdare (G3) at Keeneland last time out. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin nominated four horses, including undefeated Via Strata, graded-stakes winner Wedding Toast, recent allowance winner Easy Living and Samantha Nicole, the full sister to 2009 Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra.

The four graded stakes on May 15 will be supported on the card by the $100,000 Skipat Stakes, six furlongs for fillies and mares; $100,000 Hilltop, 1 1/16 miles on turf for 3-year-old fillies; and the $100,000 Jim McKay Turf Sprint, five furlongs for open company.


Lochte, Bluegrass Singer Pointed to Preakness Undercard Turf Stakes
Grade 1 winner Lochte and multiple stakes-winning 3-year-old Bluegrass Singer are poised to make their next starts May 16 at Pimlico Race Course on the undercard of the $1.5 million Preakness (G1).

Trainer Marcus Vitali said Tuesday morning he is pointing the 5-year-old Lochte to the $300,000 Longines Dixie Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds and up and Bluegrass Singer to the $100,000 James W. Murphy Stakes for sophomores, both run on the Pimlico turf.

Pimlico will be the ninth track in 25 lifetime starts for Lochte, who won two of five starts in the first three months of 2015 before getting a short break. Most recently he was seventh in the Appleton (G3) March 28 at Gulfstream Park.

 “He’s doing excellent. He just worked a good half-mile and he’s coming into the race good,” Vitali said. “I thought I’d give them all a little breather. They had a hard campaign. We’re getting ready for the summer and we actually backed off everything for a while.”

Lochte won the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G1) and was second in the Frank Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita in 2014. After returning to South Florida, he captured The Vid Stakes in September and the Tampa Bay Stakes (G3) in January.

“I’m expecting a great race out of him. I think it’s suited for him,” Vitali said. “We actually waited for this race and kind of pointed in that direction. So far, so good. If he stays healthy from now until then, we’ll be there.”

Bluegrass Singer has also made five starts this year, returning from nearly two months off to take the $75,000 Parx Derby May 2. It was the second career stakes win for the Bluegrass Cat gelding following the Mucho Macho Man, formerly the Gulfstream Park Derby, Jan. 3.

 “It was a confidence booster for him. That was the plan,” Vitali said. “We were going to go over for the Parx Derby. It was a little more distance than he likes, but I thought the company might have been a little easier. We let him go a mile and 70 yards in preparation for the Murphy.”

The one-mile Murphy will be the second time on turf for Bluegrass Singer, who was second by 2 ½ lengths in an optional claiming allowance Oct. 22 at Gulfstream Park West in his only other try on grass.

Based at Monmouth Park for the summer, Vitali said his horses should arrive at Pimlico by next Wednesday. Last year Vitali – who has three horses entered at Pimlico on Thursday and one on Friday – sent out Allstar to a fourth-place finish in the Murphy.

“They should get there three or four days ahead of time so they can train up there and get a look at the track,” Vitali said. “(Bluegrass Singer) is a much better horse (than Allstar), I believe. I think we’re going to see a lot more from him this year, as long as he stays healthy.”


Summer Squall’s Preakness Victory Still Sweet for Howard, Day
This year’s renewal of the Preakness Stakes will mark the silver anniversary of Summer Squall’s 2 ¼-length victory over Kentucky Derby hero Unbridled.

“I remember the overall experience,” trainer Neil Howard said of his first Preakness starter. “To be there with a horse that was a contender made it more exciting and more nerve-wracking. I can only imagine what (Bob) Baffert’s going through with those two horses (American Pharoah and Dortmund).”

For Day, Summer Squall represented the second of his five Preakness victories.

 “I felt like he should have won the Derby because I thought he was the better of the two horses,” Day said. “When we turned for home (track announcer) Mike Battaglia said ‘Summer Squall has taken the lead’ and 150,000 people let out a whoop you could have heard close to the moon.

 “His (Summer Squall’s) head went up and Unbridled ran right by. Then Summer Squall got to running again and galloping out, I couldn’t get him pulled up. I had to get an outrider.”

Two weeks later, it was a different story.

 “In the Preakness, I was going to stay on the inside,” said Day, who won his first Preakness on Tank’s Prospect in 1985. “I was able to cut the corner at the top of the stretch and got the jump on Unbridled.”

Day, now 61, is the only rider to win the Preakness three consecutive years. He did it with Tabasco Cat in 1994, Timber Country in 1995 and Louis Quatorze in 1996.

Howard, 63, has started only one other horse in the Preakness: Midway Road, who finished second to Funny Cide in 2003. If all goes well, he hopes to be there next weekend for the Black-Eyed Susan with Stoneway Farm’s Ahh Chocolate.

Howard also could possibly bring last year’s Sir Barton winner Class Leader back to Pimlico.


For more, see the official Preakness website.