Preakness activity reached its peak Tuesday morning, as War Emblem, Harlan's Holiday, and Booklet worked at Churchill Downs, while Crimson Hero and U S S Tinosa tuned up at Pimlico. The accent was on light maintenance for all the workers except U S S Tinosa, who sizzled his half in :46 2/5.
The focus was on Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem, who turned in a very uncharacteristic Bob Baffert work of 1:03 for five furlongs. Before the work, we felt the son of Our Emblem was sitting on another huge race, and after this work we're even more convinced. Assuming this colt's ankle chips will continue to be a non issue, we see no reason why he can't duplicate his Derby performance. The talk has been about how he's going to be ambushed and run into the ground this time by a hit squad of speed horses. But we feel he's a lot more tractable than most people think.
This morning's work was all he needed, and we were impressed (watching on Pimlico's news feed) with the way he relaxed when asked, and turned it on when asked. He came out on the track with his nostrils flared and ready for action. Breaking from the pole, exercise rider Dana Barnes was way up in the saddle, letting him go off on his own. With his ears pricked, he rattled off a pair of :12 eighths. Barnes took a nice hold of him, still well up in the saddle, and he just went on cruise control around the turn and into the stretch. Down the lane, she still never asked him to do anything. Then, in the final furlong, she nudged him a little and showed him the whip in her right hand, and he got down to business, putting his ears back. He came home his final eighth in :12 and change and kept building up momentum, galloping out very strongly in 1:16. Coming back around, he still wanted to keep going. It wasn't so much that he came home well and galloped out strong -- he should have. It was how responsive he was throughout the work.
Remember, this colt has already won coming off the pace, and if you watch the Derby closely, he never went after the lead; it just fell in his lap. Once he shifts into cruising speed, he gets into that long rhythmic stride. We see no reason why he can't run the same race he did in the Derby, only this time do it sitting just off the pace. Of course, you never know until they prove it, but he shows all the signs of being sensible and versatile enough to handle any kind of situation. He showed it this morning when he turned it on and off on command.
The other work this morning that really impressed us was the half-mile bullet thrown in by U S S Tinosa. It wasn't the fast time, it was how smooth he was doing it, and against a very strong headwind. This little roan is a beautiful galloper, getting his head way down into the bit and covering the ground with effortless strides. He broke off from the half-mile pole with running on his mind, and threw in eighths of :11 2/5, :11 1/5, and :11 3/5. But he was always well within himself. With regular work rider Craig McGurn flying in for the work, U S S Tinosa switched leads smoothly after turning for home. He was extending himself nicely down the lane and came home his last eighth in :12 1/5 on his own before galloping out in :59 4/5.
"He just loves his job," McGurn said. He always works sharp. I knew he'd gallop out strong; that's just the way he is." You can't say he doesn't adapt quickly to new surroundings. He's been equally adept at Golden Gate, Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, and Pimlico, not to mention his exploits last year at Arlington Park, Beulah, Thistledown, and River Downs. He's an experienced traveler, and handled the 12-hour van ride from Churchill Downs like an old pro. We really don't know if he's good enough to handle these horses, but with a six-week layoff, he should be fresh, and based on his work and yesterday's gallop, he could surprise a lot of people on Saturday. You might want to keep him in mind in the exotics at a big price.
In other Churchill works, Harlan's Holiday and Booklet both turned in useful half-mile tuneups, the latter with jockey Pat Day aboard. At Pimlico, Crimson Hero put in his best running on the turn, especially from the three-eighths pole to the quarter pole. Exercise rider Jamie Sanders then had to get into him down the stretch, flicking the whip at him several times with her left hand. He got his half in :49, the five furlongs in 1:02, then galloped out in 1:18.
"Jamie's smiling, that's' a good sign," trainer Nick Zito said as the colt walked back. along the rail. "Anyway, it's not what they do in the morning that's important, it's what they do in the afternoon. If this horse wins the Preakness, he still won't even be three years old yet (He was born May 21)."
The day before, Zito sent out Straight Gin for a five-furlong work in 1:00 3/5, and the son of Go for Gin was impressive, doing it with no urging from Sanders.
Zito said he learned Monday afternoon that Gary Stevens, whom he was led to believe would ride Straight Gin in the Preakness if Sunday Break didn't go, would be riding D Wayne Lukas' late addition, Table Limit instead. Zito said he spoke to Stevens and told him he never head from Stevens' agent regarding the switch. Zito will give the mount to Robby Albarado, who rode the colt in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Bobby Frankel said Medaglia d'Oro would work three furlongs at Belmont Park on Thursday, then leave for Pimlico at 4 a.m. Saturday. "I'm treating him like I treat any of my horses," Frankel said. "Shipping the morning of the race is not a big deal. I'm not doing anything different than I do with my other horses." Medaglia d'Oro will take up brief residence in Barn A, several barns away from the stakes barn. "I spoke to Tony Dutrow, and he says that's the best barn there," Frankel said.
Equality was out for a light jog this morning. Trainer Graham Motion will return from Delaware on Wednesday.
Things should be hopping tomorrow with Proud Citizen, Table Limit, and Harlan's Holiday arriving on the first planeload of horses, which is scheduled to land at Baltimore Washington International Airport at 7:30 a.m. The plane will then return to Louisville and bring War Emblem, Booklet, and Easyfromthegitgo, among others. The second planeload is scheduled to arrive at BWI at 11:30 a.m.