On the eve of Saturday's Preakness Stakes (gr. I), the buzz around Baltimore's Pimlico Racecourse is which horses will be on the lead or pressing the pace so that War Emblem does not get an uncontested victory as he did in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).
"Trainers say they are all going to jump on War Emblem but let's see who really does," said D. Wayne Lukas, who saddles two horses, including Derby runner-up Proud Citizen, in the Preakness. "Look it's more important to know what you can't do than what you can do. In the Kentucky Derby we weren't tight enough to run five-eighths of a mile with War Emblem. We are much tighter now."
John Ward, who sat out the Derby with confirmed front-runner Booklet, said he does not foresee any of the Preakness starters jeopardizing their chances for victory by engaging in an early speed duel designed to keep War Emblem from setting slow or moderate fractions.
"Nobody is going to take anybody out of this race or do anything like that," Ward said. "Everybody is out to win, but it will be a very sportsmanlike contest."
Rather than being concerned about Booklet per se, Ward said other trainers with horses in the race should be worried about jockey Pat Day, who rides Booklet. "Probably the biggest fear...is not of Booklet, but of Pat Day," Ward said. "And that's the way I meant it to be. I meant to give Pat Day a tool that he is dangerous with and that is front-end speed. There is no pressure on Pat. He can go out there and do whatever he wants and we will be happy with whatever the outcome is. The only thing I am going to do is give Pat a leg up and send him on his way."
Rhetoric aside, trainer Ken McPeek, whose Harlan's Holiday ran seventh as the favorite in the Derby, said the important thing is how the race itself unfolds once they break from the gate. "Races don't unfold like you think they're going to," McPeek said. "I tell riders not to assume there is or is not going to be a lot of pace.
Baffert agreed, noting that an unknown variable Saturday will the impact of the rain that is forecast for Baltimore and Pimlico. "Nobody knows what they're going to do, especially since its going to rain. At this point, you have a bunch of trainers trying to psyche each other out."