Tuesday’s Preakness update

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One day away from entries being taken for the 140th Preakness Stakes and the field continued to take shape Tuesday.

The biggest news for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown is that Todd Pletcher, who entered four and started three horses in the May 2 Kentucky Derby, will sit this one out. Pletcher was considering the 1 3/16-mile Preakness for Materiality and Carpe Diem, with Competitive Edge and Stanford mentioned in published reports as possibilities. He informed the Maryland Jockey Club Tuesday that none would run and he’d wait for next month’s Belmont Stakes or other spots.

That news leaves a probably field of just seven as of early Tuesday afternoon – American Pharoah, Firing Line, Dortmund, Danzig Moon, Divining Rod, Tale of Verve and Bodhisattva.

The last time a field of seven contested the Preakness was in 1986, when Snow Chief defeated Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand and Broad Brush. Three times since that year the field was eight, the last time coming in 2000 when Red Bullet upset Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

Entries are due for the Preakness Wednesday – so any 11th-hour additions could still materialize – and post positions will be drawn at 5 p.m. EDT.

Dave Joseph and his crew at Pimlico continue to churn out the updates and we’re thankful to be able to provide them in advance of our own teams’ arrival in Baltimore Wednesday.


American Pharoah, Dortmund looking good in gallops

Zayat Stables’ Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah and Kaleem Shah’s third-place Derby finisher Dortmund galloped 1 1/2 miles on a mild Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs.

“Those two looked good,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “American Pharoah, he is something to see out there. He just floats over the track. Dortmund looked like a happy horse out there today.”

Going on the track after the harrow break, the two backtracked to the front side of the track. American Pharoah, with Jorge Alvarez up, began his exercise with Dortmund and Dana Barnes following less than a minute later.

Baffert, who has won the Preakness five times, is three-for-three with his Derby winners coming back in two weeks to prevail at Pimlico. Silver Charm was the first in 1997, followed by Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem in 2002.

“They were totally different horses,” Baffert said.  “The main concern is that they look healthy and are doing good. That is all you can hope for going into a race.”

Baffert’s other Preakness winners, Point Given in 2001 and Lookin At Lucky in 2010, had finished fifth and sixth respectively in the Derby before going to Pimlico.

“I always won with the best horse,” Baffert said. “Usually those were the best horses of that crop.”

All five of Baffert’s Preakness winners came on a fast track and the 62-year-old conditioner noted that the long-range forecast for Saturday in Baltimore called for a chance of thunderstorms.

“If it rains, we know American Pharoah loves the mud,” Baffert said alluding to the colt’s 6 1/4-length 2015 debut victory in the slop at Oaklawn Park in the Rebel Stakes. “I don’t know about Dortmund.”

After the two colts train Wednesday morning, Baffert and his Preakness candidates are scheduled to fly to Baltimore.


Firing Line completes Preakness preparation at Churchill

Arnold Zetcher’s Firing Line completed the Louisville leg of his preparation for Saturday’s Preakness by galloping 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Humberto Gomez after the morning break for renovation.

“He won’t train in the morning,” said Carlos Santamaria, assistant to trainer Simon Callaghan. “He will load here at 10 and Simon will be waiting for us at Pimlico.”

Firing Line had concluded his past two days of training with open gallops and Gomez said the colt was looking for more today.

“I wanted to give him an easy day today and he wants to do more,” Gomez said. “He’s got a great attitude and when he gets to the quarter-pole. He wants to go.”

Santamaria is ready for the next step on the Triple Crown trail to commence with the flight to Baltimore tomorrow.

“Everything has gone perfect,” Santamaria said. “The weather has cooled and he has done well. Knock wood, we keep it the same until we leave.”

Meanwhile, at Churchill, Charles Fipke’s Tale of Verve returned to the track Tuesday morning, galloping 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Kortez Walker.

“I was going to jog him today, but, instead, had him gallop an easy mile and a half,” trainer Dallas Stewart said of Tale of Verve, who had walked Monday following a five-eighths work of 1:00.40 Sunday. “He’ll jog in the morning and load at the barn (for the flight to Baltimore) at 10.”

With Tale of Verve going out early for his morning activity, Stewart has had time to do a little scouting of his other Preakness competition training at Churchill Downs.

“American Pharoah looks really good. He is the horse to beat,” Stewart said. “They all trained well before the Derby and Firing Line looks strong. Those two look the strongest and (trainer Mark) Casse’s horse (Danzig Moon) always looks good training.”


Materiality removed from Preakness consideration

Trainer Todd Pletcher informed Maryland Jockey Club officials Tuesday morning that Florida Derby winner Materiality will not run in Saturday’s Preakness. The seven-time Eclipse Award trainer will point his sixth-place Kentucky Derby finisher toward the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown at Belmont Park on June 6.

“We were considering it very seriously. Basically, it came down to we just felt two weeks was a little bit risky. We felt five weeks to the Belmont would be an advantage for him. He’s been at Belmont since two days after the Derby and has been training well. He’s by a Belmont-winning sire. If you come back in two weeks and you turn out to be wrong, not only could you not run well in the Preakness, it could compromise your chances in the Belmont as well.”

Materiality, a son of 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex, had captured his first three races, including the Florida Derby, at Gulfstream Park before getting away from the gate last in the Derby and closing well to finish sixth.

Pletcher reported that Carpe Diem, 10th in the Derby, is also likely to return in the Belmont Stakes; Competitive Edge, the undefeated winner of the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard, would run next in either the Woody Stephens or the Met Mile on Belmont Day; and Stanford, who was scratched from the Derby, is likely to run in either the Woody Stephens or Easy Goer on Belmont Day.


Security, pre-race procedures for Preakness horses

Security and pre-race procedures have been announced for all horses scheduled to compete in Saturday’s 140th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.

All Preakness entrants must be on the grounds and situated in Barns D, E and C by noon Thursday. Blood specimens will be drawn for all prospective runners later that afternoon.

Security cameras are installed and will be operational in those three barns upon the arrival of new barn occupants, and access to each barn will be permitted only at each corner. All persons must sign in when entering any of those barns.

Pre-race exams Saturday will begin at 8 a.m. and horses must be “clean-legged” and out of ice treatments until after they are examined. Practicing veterinarians will provide the Racing Commission with a list of treatments prior to administration except in an emergency.

No practicing veterinarian other than the one administering Salix shall be allowed into those barns after 6:15 p.m. on Friday without approval from the state veterinarian and the stewards, unless it is a documented emergency. All Salix must be administered no later than three hours prior to post time or the horse will be scratched.

Pre-race blood samples will be drawn from all horses entered in graded-stakes races on the Preakness program. A Racing Commission representative will supervise all treatments.


Castellano picks up mount on Divining Rod

 Trainer Arnoud Delacour received confirmation from agent Matt Muzikar Tuesday morning that champion jockey Javier Castellano will ride the Lael Stables’ Divining Rod in the Preakness Stakes.

Castellano, the two-time winner of the Eclipse Award, replaces Julien Leparoux, who is scheduled to ride Danzig Moon. Divining Rod will be Castellano’s fourth Preakness mount. He won with Bernardini in 2006.

Divining Rod galloped 1 1/4 miles on the Tapeta track at Fair Hills Training Center Tuesday morning then schooled in the gate. Delacour said he decided to use the synthetic surface instead of the dirt track because it had rained overnight.

Divining Rod turned in a breakthrough performance winning the Lexington Stakes April 11 at Keeneland. The homebred Tapit colt sat off the pace, accelerated when asked and moved on to a professional victory.

“I’m very interested to see how he will handle the step up in competition and the stretch out,” Delacour said. “I’m a lot more confident after the Lexington about his ability to do both.”

Earlier in his career, the colt used his speed to be on the lead and had some trouble lasting. He committed to the lead from an inside post in the Tampa Bay Derby and finished third. However, he showed a different dimension and rated kindly in the Lexington.

“I think the horse has started to understand it a little bit. This is the time of the year that a 3-year-old should start showing that experience,” Delacour said. “What I hope is going to make the difference now is that the horse can still break well and get a position – that he doesn’t have to make the lead and can sit off the pace a little bit if he needs to. That will be up to the jock and why we have that kind of rider.”


Danzig Moon full of energy for Preakness

 John Oxley’s Danzig Moon galloped a mile at Churchill Downs under exercise rider William Cano shortly after the track opened Tuesday morning. The son of Malibu Moon is scheduled to train again Wednesday before boarding a flight to Baltimore under the watchful eye of assistant trainer Norman Casse.

“Norman knows him better than anybody,” said father/trainer Mark Casse, who is slated to depart his home base in Canada for Baltimore Thursday. “I stayed around to watch for a couple days after the Derby and he was good. He’s a pretty simple horse to train. He’s doing well and he’s got a lot of energy.”

The versatile colt is slated to make the fifth start of his sophomore campaign at his fifth different racetrack in the Preakness. He was fifth in the Kentucky Derby despite a traffic-marred trip at odds of 22-1, but his trainer seems relatively at ease with the quick turnaround.

“Not that the two weeks is ideal for anybody, but I don’t think it will bother him much,” Mark Casse said. “He’s tough. You just never know until they run, but we think he’s still on his game.”

Danzig Moon had only two races as a juvenile and didn’t break his maiden until his sophomore debut at Gulfstream Park going a mile on Jan. 7. He was fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby and second to Carpe Diem in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in his final Derby prep.

“He’s a talented horse,” Casse said. “He likes to do what he does and if you’re not careful he can get a little too ambitious. The thing is, though, he will rate in a race.”


Bodhisattva seeking to make a name for himself

Neither horse nor trainer is exactly a household name, but owner/trainer Jose Corrales is hoping that changes by the end of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.

“Most people can’t even pronounce his name, not even me,” said Corrales, whose colt’s rambling moniker is derived from a Buddhist term meaning “enlightened one.” Corrales, a former jockey, is himself a relative unknown outside of Maryland making his first start in a Triple Crown race in either capacity.

“He’s doing great,” Corrales said Tuesday morning from Laurel Park after his chestnut colt jogged and galloped over the main track. “I don’t know if he’s going to run a big race or what, but so far everything’s going good. I’m so low-key – I was as a jockey and now as a trainer. I never wanted to say my horse is better than your horse or my horse will win this because you never know what’s going to happen. So many things can happen in a race.”

Corrales does, however, admit that he had Kentucky Derby aspirations with the son of Student Council as far back as last year. Despite having only a maiden win on his resume, Corrales took the colt to New York to run in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes, in which he finished fifth. A win three weeks later in a Laurel allowance revived his hopes.

But after running three minor stakes to start his sophomore season and only managing one second-place finish in the Private Terms, Corrales realized the Derby dream was over and he began to focus on the Preakness. When he won the Federico Tesio April 18 at Pimlico, it was full speed ahead to the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

“I just wanted to let my horse know one thing that I used to say as a jockey,” said Corrales, who won more than 1,000 races after coming to the U.S. from Panama in 1976. “When I was a jockey I used to say, ‘I’m not better than nobody, but nobody’s better than me.”


Owner looking for ‘Special’ effort from Page McKenney

As a poker dealer at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Adam Staple knows gambling. Nearly two summers ago he took a big gamble of his own, and the investment has continued to pay off.

Former director of stallion season shares at William Schettine’s Signature Stallions in Ocala, Fla., the 47-year-old Manhattan native had been out of racing for close to a decade when he spent $16,000 to claim a non-descript Pennsylvania-bred gelding with one win from 14 career starts out of sixth-place finish at Penn National.

Now 5, Page McKenney has run worse than third only twice in 20 subsequent starts with 10 wins, six seconds, two thirds and $622,060 in purse earnings. Four of those wins have come in stakes, two of them at Laurel Park to kick off the year, and most recently he was third in the $1.5 million Charles Town Classic in his graded stakes debut.

“It’s been the ride of a lifetime,” Staple said. “I’d been doing more of the breeding side of it down in Florida and never got that serious into racing. It was always that we were just trying to move horses on to people who were doing bigger things. We had a couple that we raced but nothing along the lines of this. This has just been insane.”

Based at Pimlico Race Course with trainer Mary Eppler, Staple and Jalin Stable’s Page McKenney will try graded company again on his home track in Friday’s $300,000 Sagamore Racing Pimlico Special.

The 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special is one of eight stakes, four of them graded, on the Black-Eyed Susan Day program at Pimlico that also features the Ultimate Girls Day Out, with several events dedicated to the spirit and strength of women.

“I looked at the last few years of the Pimlico Special and it just seemed so disappointing that no true local horses took a shot in there,” Staple said. “We took a shot at Charles Town, and everybody thought we were insane for doing that. I kept telling Mary, the Pimlico Special is the one I really want. So, let’s design a schedule to make that work.”

The schedule included taking on multiple Grade 1 winner Shared Belief, the 2-year-old male champion of 2013, at Charles Town, a 6-furlong bullring track in West Virginia just an hour from Pimlico.

Under jockey Horatio Karamanos, Page McKenney ran out of room in the short stretch but closed to be third, 4 ½ lengths behind winner Moreno and 2 1/2 in back of runner-up Imperative. He earned $142,000 for his effort, the biggest paycheck of his career.

“I wanted to pick a race that would set him up for Pimlico, and to be honest, Charles Town was the only one that made sense,” Staple said. “I kept saying I think we can get a third there. I thought Shared Belief would scare enough decent horses away that we could sneak in for third. If Imperative doesn’t cut the corner the way he did and we go five wide on that tight turn, the jockey got off and said if we were on a real racetrack, we run down the second-place horse for sure.”      

Page McKenney was bred by Dr. James E. Bryant, an internist, and his wife, Linda P. Davis, who live on a 110-acre farm outside Richmond, Va. He is by Eavesdropper out of the Yarrow Brae mare Winning Grace and named for Davis’ late Aunt Page, combined with a surname from her family tree.

Originally, Page McKenney was with trainer Jazz Napravnik, not breaking his maiden until his 13th try at Colonial Downs in June 2013. Exactly one month later, Staple and Eppler took him out of a $20,000 claiming event going 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

“We did some research on the pedigree. We had to do a little bit of digging, but it turns out this guy’s dam was a full sister to a very nice producer. There’s actually quite a bit of quality in the family there,” Staple said. “We kept thinking he’s a Pennsylvania-bred, how can you go wrong. That was really the angle at the time. We weren’t trying to think there’s a superstar hidden somewhere in there.”

Page McKenney raced one more time for a tag that year, winning at Laurel Park, and has been a model of consistency since. In 2014 he won the Robellino Stakes at Penn National and the First Responder Stakes at Parx, and was second in the Mountaineer Mile, Richard W. Small Stakes at Laurel, set a Parx turf course record for a mile and 70 yards, and capped the year finishing second in the Claiming Crown Jewel at Gulfstream Park.

This year, Page McKenney won the John B. Campbell by a neck as the favorite in February and the Harrison E. Johnson Memorial by 4 lengths in March, both at Laurel, prior to his run at Charles Town.

After two starts, Staple was contacted by Page McKenney’s breeders and agreed to sell them a share in the horse and have them take the horse back to their farm when his racing career is over.

“I got to talking with Jim a little bit and I said I absolutely have no right to say no to these people. I thought that would be greedy on my part, not that I ever thought this (success) was going to happen. To know that he’s going to be happy and healthy for the rest of his life really means a lot,” Staple said. “I kind of felt it was bad karma to say no, and the racing world is all about karma.”

Though the Pimlico Special represents another step up, Staple believes the time is right to take a shot.

“I just started feeling like we’ve really got to see where we really fit in the big picture on a real racetrack,” he said. “We have the home field advantage, at least. He loves Pimlico. It just seems like it’s the right spot.”


Friday’s Pimlico entries, courtesy of Equibase