Setting the Scene on Preakness Day

Setting the Scene on Preakness Day
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Take the Points arrives at Pimlico Preakness morning.

As of about 6:45 a.m. EDT, every horse was on the grounds at Pimlico Race Course for the May 16 Preakness Stakes (gr. I), the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

The 2009 Preakness is the most intriguing in recent memory, with the top four finishers from the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) joined in the field for the first time by the winner of the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). And, the winner of the Oaks, Rachel Alexandra, was not only made the morning-line favorite, but in the advance wagering on-track May 15, the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro  was installed the solid 3-2 choice.

On the day of the race, three members of the 13-horse field arrived by van from various points. First, Musket Man  , who finished third in the Derby, arrived from Monmouth Park in New Jersey with his trainer, Derek Ryan.

Then, trainer Todd Pletcher’s entrant, Take the Points, who skipped the Derby, walked off a van after being transported from Belmont Park in New York. Finally, the last to arrive was the local entrant, Tone it Down, who is stabled at Laurel Park about 45 minutes away. He settled in while accompanied by trainer William Komlo. Tone it Down also skipped the Derby, running third in the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico on Derby day.

The only slight drama on Preakness morning involved Big Drama, who became cast in his stall at about 6 a.m. It was a minor incident, the only noticeable scar being to his right front foot.

The colt, trained by David Fawkes, was washed down and appeared fine. Big Drama also skipped the Derby; his last start came in the March 28 Swale Stakes (gr. II), which would have been his sixth straight victory except he was disqualified to second.

Only four horses went to the track Preakness morning, the remainder walking the shedrow on an overcast start to the day. D. Wayne Lukas took both of his runners, Luv Gov and Flying Private, to the track, along with Bob Baffert’s starter, Pioneerof the Nile  , and Terrain, trained by Al Stall Jr.

Bennie "Chip" Woolley, who trains Derby winner Mine That Bird, was leaning on his crutches while conversing with Baffert near the stakes barn. The Derby was Woolley’s first ever start in a graded stakes, while Baffert has won the Preakness four times and in August will be inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame.

They share an upbringing in the Southwest and were discussing numerous matters, including the recent string of murders linked to the drug cartels in Mexico. Baffert was raised in Nogales, Ariz., and Woolley was born in Raton, N.M. Woolley's stable is based at Sunland Park, which is in New Mexico but near El Paso, Texas.

Just like on Derby day, a major concern was the weather. The latest forecast is for a 60% chance of precipitation in the Baltimore area at 4 p.m., rising to a 70% chance at 6 p.m., 15 minutes prior to the scheduled post time for the 1 3/16-mile race.

When the infield opened at 8 a.m., there was no rush through the tunnel like in previous years. The track changed its policy this year, not allowing patrons to bring their own alcohol in, and the crowd, at least early, was considerably smaller.

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