Preakness Time

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Epicenter gallops at Pimlico on Preakness Week.
Maryland Jockey Club photo

Preakness Eve. From what may be the world’s most sprawling suburban hotel while Connor McDavid lights it up in the NHL playoffs, the second jewel of racing’s Triple Crown stands about 20 hours away. The Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike stayed in Kentucky, leaving a mixed bag of nine runners in the $1.5 million classic to go with an odd feeling of a missing element.

There’s no Derby winner to defend himself, no buzz of a potential Triple Crown, no “new shooters” trying to knock off the winner from two weeks ago

But there’s still a race.

Epicenter, second in the Derby as the favorite, gets a do-over as the Preakness favorite. He should win based on (pick one or all) that Derby performance; trainer Steve Asmussen’s adeptness at producing consistent efforts from quality horses; jockey Joel Rosario’s general excellence; eight rivals who don’t exactly make you think of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. Of course, this is horse racing so there’s no telling what might happen when the starting-gate doors open.

The Derby proved that. Epicenter did his job, running as well as he could and looking like a winner until Rich Strike motored past in the final yards at 80-1. Wednesday, Asmussen trekked back from the track after Winchell Thoroughbreds’ colt trained.

“Man your horse ran well in the Derby,” an observer said. “He did everything he was supposed to do.”

Like only a trainer could, Asmussen replied, “Except win.” The Hall of Famer raised his hands in a mock ‘I give up’ gesture and stepped into the barn. Thinking about what might have been, and what may be, with every footfall.

Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath makes you look. She’s the goods, even without the “Sunshine Boy” angle of trainer Wayne Lukas looking to further extend his seemingly endless career. The Hall of Famer is 86. He won the Preakness in 1980, 1985, 1994, 1995, 1999 and 2013. So why not 2022?

Wednesday morning, Lukas rode his pony along the outside rail while Ethereal Road trained. Five children and three adults leaned over the fence. “He stopped to see you,” Lukas said as the pony eased to a standstill and reached his muzzle toward the kids. They stretched. He leaned. Lukas chatted. Racehorses gallop and jog. The sun rises

At Thursday’s Alibi Breakfast, Lukas told a couple jokes. “There are three signs of old age,” he said. “The first is a loss of memory.” He let it hang there until everyone got the punchline. Next came some suggestions for the Preakness music festival, to which Lukas offered Willie Nelson, Toby Keith and George Strait. Somewhere Megan Thee Stallion felt a crick in her neck.

Trainer Chad Brown won the 2017 Preakness with Cloud Computing to give owner Seth Klarman a life-defining victory. Klarman grew up going to Pimlico Race Course before he became a billionaire with a Wikepedia page. They’re back this year with Gun Runner colt Early Voting, second in the Wood Memorial in April and 2-for-3 in his career.

Simplification finished fourth – it looked like third for a while – in the Derby at 35-1 and changes jockeys from Jose Ortiz (who jumps to Early Voting) to John Velazquez.

Trainer Kenny McPeek won the 2020 Preakness with Swiss Skydiver and shows up with Creative Minister, a gray son of Creative Cause. On looks, he’s a stunner. On paper, he still has things to prove. Second in his debut in March, he won his next two – a maiden at Keeneland in April and an allowance at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.

Fenwick, not named for the Maryland steeplechase family, is 50-1 on the morning line and deserves to be – until you talk to trainer Kevin McKathan. With his brother J.B., who died in 2019, McKathan helped prep Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, Derby-Preakness winners Silver Charm and Real Quiet and dozens of other stars on the farm in Florida. Fenwick was supposed to sell for big bucks at an auction as a 2-year-old, but stuff went haywire, he didn’t breeze well and was withdrawn. He dominated maidens at Tampa Bay Downs in March, finished 11th in the Blue Grass while chasing Derby points and regroups in the Preakness. Hey, Rich Strike won the Derby; why not another longshot in the Preakness?

“He’ll probably go off 80-1. I think this is one of those deals where you can stop and take a breath and say, ‘We can do this. This can happen,” McKathan said Wednesday morning. “This is a sport for the rich and famous but let me tell you what, you just end up with a good horse and you can beat them all. That horse has no idea what he costs, he has no idea who owns that guy, he has no idea what kind of plan they flew in here on. They don’t know. You lead the best one over there and you get the right trip anyone can get lucky.”

Happy Jack won his debut in January and lost each of his next four starts by double-digit lengths. He was 14th in the Derby, adds blinkers and switched jockeys to Tyler Gaffalione. Trainer Doug O’Neill won the 2012 Preakness with I’ll Have Another.

Armagnac used to be trained by Bob Baffert. Tim Yakteen takes the reins for his suspended former boss. The son of Quality Road looks the part and earned the Preakness start by blitzing Santa Anita allowance foes May 8.

Skippylongstocking leads the field in starts with nine. He leads the field with attention from fans of a certain children’s book too. He finished behind Early Voting in the Wood Memorial and Simplification in the Mucho Macho Man. Sire Exaggerator won the 2016 Preakness.

Post time is 7:01 Saturday night. See you there.