One by one, they stepped off the van – nine Preakness Stakes (gr. I) horses all traveling on the same plane from Louisville, Ky. The only two Preakness horses previously on the grounds were the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Dublin and Northern Giant, who had vanned from Louisville.
Such is the nature of the Preakness these days. Horses now arrive in Baltimore, Md., as late as possible. But to have nine horses for the second leg of the Triple Crown all coming from Kentucky was unprecedented. The only other Preakness horse in attendance, Caracortado, came from California by way of Louisville. Schoolyard Dreams will van over from Monmouth Park the morning of the race.
It was good to see Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Super Saver on his toes coming off the van, bouncing along through the gauntlet of photographers and TV cameramen.
Watching the horses go to the track for the first time the morning of May 13, it was obvious the Kentucky Derby took little out of Super Saver from a physical standpoint. The son of Maria's Mon has held his flesh very well and was bright and alert as he headed to the track for an easy jog.
While most of the Preakness horses who galloped took an easy spin around the track, Paddy O'Prado turned in his usual powerhouse of a gallop, pounding the muddy track and moving around there at a strong clip. This is a horse who loves to train, judging from his gallops and works, and he goes about it at full throttle. In other words, the Derby looks to have had little effect on him. He looks as strong as he did before the race.
Paddy’s stablemate First Dude made quite an appearance. He is a giant of a horse, with an enormous head, but he seems to be light on his feet, moving with effortless strides. He had his head perfectly straight and ears up the whole way around and couldn’t have been galloped any smoother. He did take a few minutes out to eye some photographers along the rail and kept stopping to pose. Back at the barn, he was led out to be washed and proceeded to eat the flowers and leaves from the decorative boxes on and adjacent to the fence. So, it’s safe to say this could be the character of the group.
Lookin at Lucky also was out for a light gallop and he too has held his flesh very well from the Derby.
Another horse who made an impressive appearance was Aikenite, whose coat looks great and he appears to be well muscled out.
Caracortado did not take his first plane flight particularly well judging from his appearance coming off the van, but he looked much better after being washed down and was 100% better this morning after a good night’s rest and cleaning out his feed tub.
As for the post position draw, Bob Baffert breathed a sigh of relief, first when Aikenite drew the rail and then when Lookin at Lucky drew post 7. Baffert is lookin’ for Lucky to get his mojo back and this was a good way to start. He turned to Lukas sitting next to him, broke out in a big smile, and gave him a thumbs up.
Lukas, however, wasn’t in as jovial a mood when Dublin drew post 12 on the far outside. At least Garrett Gomez is not going to have to worry about getting shut off or bumped along the rail this time. Dublin is a big, long-striding colt and prefers running on the outside, but he’ll need to tuck in somewhere to avoid getting hung too wide on that first turn.
First Dude, who has good early speed when it’s asked for, will have to break alertly and get himself in contention. He is another who has had some back racing luck and with his size you sure don’t want to get him stopped, so if he can cut over and sit outside the speed, or be the speed himself, the outside post shouldn’t bother him too much.
The one-hole will be fine for Aikenite, who needs to drop out of it early anyway. His best shot is to take back and make one late run. That is the running style he’s had the most success with.
Super Saver drew well in post 8 and Calvin Borel should be in a good position to see how the race and the pace shape up before deciding whether to use the colt’s natural speed to stay in contention or take back to mid-pack.
Schoolyard Dreams drew post 2, and he’ll obviously have to show enough speed to get a good spot going into the first turn. Although he was up on the pace in his early races, his best style right now seems to be laying about four lengths back and using that explosive turn of foot he exhibited in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III). He just needs to use it at the right time.
Jackson Bend will no doubt be close to pace, but we still don’t know who actually is going to set it. Trainer Mike Machowsky hinted we could even see Caracortado up close or even on the lead if no one wants it. He did win his debut going four furlongs at Fairplex coming from just off the pace, and was right on the pace in his allowance victory at Hollywood Park in December.
Another horse with excellent tactical speed is Yawanna Twist, who has shown he’s versatile enough to be right up close to the race or sit back three or four lengths off the pace.
So, this looks like it’s going to be a jockey’s race. The right move could win it and the wrong move could lose it. Keep a close eye on the field when they charge past the wire for the first time and see who gets the best trip into the first turn. The race could very well be won right there.