Team Valor International and Mark Ford's Went the Day Well galloped a mile, stood in the starting gate and galloped another mile at Pimlico Race Course Thursday morning. Fourth in the Kentucky Derby, he joins Derby also-rans Creative Cause, Daddy Nose Best and Optimizer in the Preakness.
Trainer Graham Motion, who shipped Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom to Pimlico last year on the morning of the Preakness, has opted to ship in Went the Day Well from Fair Hill Training Center a few days before Saturday's middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
Animal Kingdom dropped far back before making a strong wide run in the stretch to finish second, just a half-length behind victorious Shackleford.
"I thought the track was a little deeper," said Motion, who sent Went the Day Well to Pimlico on Wednesday. "I never saw a horse come back with so much dirt in his face."
While a lot of thought went into the decision to bring Went the Day Well to Pimlico early, Motion said it was an easy decision to run the fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher in the Preakness.
"We made a quick decision to run here after the Derby. It wasn't a hard decision. He's a horse that never seems to get tired, to be honest," Motion said. "We've noticed when we work him or we run him that he never seems to get tired."
Went the Day Well was closing fastest of all at the finish of the Kentucky Derby, in which he got off to a slow start and encountered bumping before launching a late surge through the stretch. Went the Day Well finished just 2 1/2 lengths behind the Doug O'Neill-trained winner, I'll Have Another. After watching his late run, it wouldn't seem far-fetched at all to think that the son of Proud Citizen could have won the Derby with a better trip.
"So many people can come back and say that after the Derby," Motion said. "Doug's horse had a great run. It somewhat amuses me that people want to talk about the other horses. He won the race. He was the best horse on the day. He had a great trip; we had a great trip last year. There's always going to be horses that didn't have a great trip in the Derby. Doug's horse is the horse to beat."
Although Motion admitted that he's more comfortable flying under the radar heading into a big race, he enjoyed his experience leading up to last year's Preakness.
"When you come to the Preakness with a Derby winner, that's cool," Motion said.
Yet, Animal Kingdom's narrow loss still stings a little.
"I was kind of shocked to see Shackleford's picture on the grandstand when I drove in this morning," Motion said. "I kind of got a pit in my stomach."
John Velazquez, who rode Animal Kingdom in both the Derby and Preakness, will have the return mount aboard Went the Day Well.
Trainer Mike Harrington arrived at Preakness Stakes Barn D shortly after the renovation break Thursday morning to visit Creative Cause the day after their cross-country flight from Los Angeles.
"The horse looks pretty good this morning," said the 71-year-old conditioner, who will be saddling his first Preakness runner on Saturday. "He just walked today."
Harrington removed the blinkers for Creative Cause's last two races, including his fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, although he had previously worn blinkers in an impressive victory in the Grade 2 San Felipe over Preakness morning-line favorite Bodemeister.
"I thought he ran fine without the blinkers," Harrington said. "In the San Felipe, he was kind of wandering around until Bodemeister came over to where he could see him, and when he saw him he took off. The rider (Joel Rosario) suggested maybe I should open the blinkers up. They already had a big hole in them, so I just took them off."
In his next start in the Santa Anita Derby, Creative Cause was a fast-closing second to I'll Have Another, losing by a nose. Then he finished a respectable fifth in Louisville after being forced eight-wide in the stretch run.
Harrington and owner Heinz Steinmann decided to take their colt back to California and weigh their options. They decided to come back East for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
"Several people have asked me how come you came (to Baltimore), like it was foolish for him to come," Harrington said. "He's beaten both those horses (I'll Have Another and Bodemeister) and he only got beat three lengths in the Derby, so why not come?"
Bob and Cathy Zollars' Daddy Nose Best has settled in at Pimlico after shipping in from Louisville on Wednesday. The Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby and Grade 3 Sunland Derby winner went out for a gallop early Thursday morning.
Trainer Steve Asmussen didn't talk about Daddy Nose Best as a possible starter for the Preakness after he finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby, but Asmussen's longtime assistant, Scott Blasi, said the middle jewel of the Triple Crown was being discussed quietly.
"Mr. Zollars put absolutely no pressure on us to run the horse," Blasi said. "If the horse was good, came out of the race perfect, he wanted us to consider it. That's why we waited so long to make the decision.
"The horse was training so well going up to the Derby. The Derby is an event; this is more like a horse race. That's why we thought he deserved another chance."
Blasi said the colt showed an ability to bounce back quickly last fall when he won an allowance race three weeks after competing in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.
"He ran an unbelievable race," Blasi said. "We're giving him another chance. He looks too good. He may not be good enough, but he may."
Blasi said Daddy Nose Best will gallop and school in the gate on Friday morning.
Jockey Julien Leparoux will ride the colt in the Preakness.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas sent Optimizer out for a "restrained gallop" of about 1 1/2 miles along with his other weekend runners on a sunny Thursday morning at Pimlico.
Had certain circumstances been different, the Hall of Fame conditioner admitted he might have chosen to run Optimizer in Saturday's James W. Murphy Stakes instead of the Preakness Stakes.
"I'm not so sure if the grass race here had been a mile-and-an-eighth race, I wouldn't have run him on the grass here and taken a soft approach and tried to win the Belmont," Lukas said. "But because it's a mile, I don't think he could get up here."
Owned by Brad Kelley's Bluegrass Hall LLC, Optimizer began his career on the turf and broke his maiden at first asking at Saratoga last summer. He raced once more on grass in a Grade 2 Saratoga stakes, but has been on the main track for his last eight starts.
Optimizer was 11th in the Kentucky Derby and is still looking for his second victory, but it will be with a new rider in the Preakness. Corey Nakatani has replaced Jon Court.
"If it's not working in this game, you've got to try different things," said Lukas, who has won the Preakness five times. "Jon Court's riding well. In fact, since I switched, he's won two races for me and rode brilliantly at Churchill.
"Two thoughts on that: No. 1 is getting the experience, getting somebody who's been in one of these (Nakatani's fourth Preakness mount). Jon hasn't been in this arena or the Belmont.
"The other thing is: I selfishly think that my horse's best race is going to be the Belmont. I really believe he's (Nakatani) going to be a real good fit in the Belmont. The Belmont has been lost by riders more than horses -- we all know that. We're trying to get a little edge if we can."
Optimizer will be Lukas' 37th Preakness runner. His five winners include: Codex (his first starter in 1980), Tank's Prospect (1985), Tabasco Cat (1994), Timber Country (1995) and Charismatic (1999). Lukas did not have a Preakness entrant in 2011.