Rebounding from the Preakness

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Stan Salter spoke volumes. “I’m trying to get my Preak off,” he said Tuesday afternoon while booking – late – a guest for a segment of Maryland Horse Radio’s weekly show.

I cracked up at the statement, because I understood, and agreed to do the radio interview. They told me I was on before Gene Simmons, the Stronach Group marketing consultant and former Kiss band member. Really.

For months, it’s been all Preakness all the time in Maryland. The marketing slogan “Get your Preak on” can be seen on billboards, heard on the radio, read in the newspaper. It means get ready – or perhaps look out – because the Preakness is coming. And now that the race and its attendant details are gone, everybody’s trying to recover.

Salter works in the racing office at Pimlico. His Preakness involved the stress of helping Georganne Hale put together back-to-back 13-race cards for Friday and Saturday. The Maryland Jockey Club hosted dozens of out-of-town horses and their connections, dealt with massive turnout from the public, covered the bases around the stable area, even raffled off a pink John Deere Gator.

You watch the racing and the pageantry, listen to Maryland My Maryland, see the trophy presentation, but you forget all the work that goes into it.  Nice job getting your Preak on again Pimlico, now get your Preak off.


 Jimbo the Story Teller

My friend Charlie Fenwick asked me to say a few words to a “small” group he was showing around Pimlico last week. I’d hate to see Fenwick’s version of a large gathering as the audience turned out to be about 300 people.

When I got there, retired jockey Vince “Jimbo” Bracciale Jr. was up and spinning yarns about his career in the saddle. Bracciale rode for decades, won more than 3,500 races and became something of a Maryland/Mid-Atlantic icon. From humble beginnings in a trailer park between Charles Town and Shenandoah Downs racetracks in West Virginia, he grew up to ride Ruffian and Broad Brush among others. Fenwick set up Bracciale with a “What’s the best race you ever saw?” question, and away went the former jockey.

“I was standing on the jocks’ room wall right here at Pimlico when Secretariat won the Preakness. It’s still emotional to me. He went from last under the wire to first on the turn. I thought ‘If this horse hangs on and wins today, he’s the best I’ve ever seen.’ ”

Of course, Secretariat hung on and then turned in his epic Belmont romp. A year later, Bracciale sat on one of the game’s true greats when he rode Ruffian twice for trainer Frank Whiteley.  Together, they won the Astoria at Aqueduct by 9 lengths with the chartcaller’s comment “Speed to spare.” Two starts later, Ruffian and Bracciale captured the Grade 1 Spinaway in a laugher – by 12 ¾ lengths. “Easily,” said the chart.

“I was young, but when you say you were a passenger that’s what I was that day,” he said of the Astoria. In the Spinaway, the dark bay filly was even better. She set quick fractions, but coasted home alone. After pulling up, Bracciale was asked how fast his mount went. The jockey thought about it…2-year-old filly, alone, geared down the last part, on a track not known for producing fast times. “To give her the benefit of the doubt, I said 1:11.” She went in 1:08 3/5.

A fan asked Bracciale what trainers tell jockeys and he drew a baseball comparison.

“It’s similar to when a coach talks to you when the bases are loaded,” he said. “They tell you to get a hit.”


Preakness Week Notes

• Orb sports a nasty scar on his right nostril, received when he caught it on something in his stall at Belmont Park last fall. “We don’t know how he did that, but somebody joked that maybe it helps him get more air,” said McGaughey. “It doesn’t bother him.” Champion steeplechaser Slip Away has a similar slice on his nose.

• McGaughey got asked frequently about winning his first Kentucky Derby after more than 30 years as a trainer. He put it succinctly every time, but allowed himself to think about the achievement.

“I’m not the best spokesman for the power of positive thinking, because sometimes I get thinking the other way, but you have to think that way,” he said. “I thought there was one out there with my name on it and I’m glad the one that had my name on it had their (Phipps and Janney) name on it too. They’ve been very, very good to me.”

• Racehorses lose, all the time, so don’t get too worked up about Orb’s defeat. McGaughey trained the great filly/mare Personal Ensign, who won all 13 of her career starts. There are a few others who put together winning streaks but, inevitably, they lose. And even Personal Ensign would have had a hard time staying perfect through the Triple Crown. Tuesday afternoon, owner Stuart Janney summed it up well, “I’m very proud of him,” he said of Orb. “That’s horse racing. They don’t win all the time.”

• The Derby winner gets all the attention, and rightly so, but you couldn’t miss Oxbow and a few others training at Pimlico. Trainer Wayne Lukas started his squad early, one at a time. The Hall of Famer led them all from his paint pony, up the long shedrow and out the door in front of McGaughey’s tack room. I remember Oxbow stepping through there at least twice. Security cleared a path, and off went the future Preakness winner. We should have paid more attention. In a better world, with no budget or staff concerns, I’d assign a stable of writers one or two horses each and cover them all like the Derby winner. Someday.

• Black-Eyed Susan winner Fiftyshadesofhay had a similar effect. I remember stopping to let her pass early in the week and thinking how good she looked. I also remember assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes clearing about a dozen photographers off the horsepath so he could give the filly a bath after training. “You have to move, and you and you and you and you and you too.” The cameras were all trained on Orb.

• Now it’s on to the Belmont, where there’s no Triple Crown buzz but still a compelling race with several Derby comebackers, the Preakness winner and perhaps another look at Orb on his home track. Like the Derby and Preakness, the day will be full of good racing and maybe that’s the true strength of the Triple Crown – its ability to pull together quality Thoroughbreds in a variety of conditions. Racing gets 3-year-olds, fillies, older horses, turf horses, sprinters together on a big day – or two. Outside of the Breeders’ Cup, you’d be hard-pressed to find two days of racing anywhere that match what we just saw at Pimlico Friday and Saturday, except maybe for two days in early May at Churchill Downs and two more in early June at Belmont Park.

And fans get to watch. Get your Belmont on.