Preakness Stakes (gr. I) contender Dance City, working in company with Gulfstream Park allowance winner Escort, turned in a bullet five-furlong workout at Churchill Downs May 15.
The Todd Pletcher-trained son of City Zip was clocked in 1:00 1/5 over a track labeled “good” with exercise rider Fernando Espinoza up. It tied as the best of 20 workouts at the distance.
Owned by the Estate of Edward P. Evans, Dance City spotted Escort a half-length at the outset of the work and finished five lengths in front. He produced fractions of :11 4/5, :23 1/5, :34 4/5, and :46 3/5, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14 1/5.
Mike McCarthy, Pletcher’s Churchill Downs assistant, waited until after the renovation break for the work.
“We waited on purpose because we wanted a harrowed track,” McCarthy said. It was Dance City’s third work at Churchill Downs since finishing third in the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) in his most recent start.
McCarthy was with Dance City this winter in South Florida and has spent the past four weeks with the colt in Louisville.
“I like what I see from here, and I was very pleased with his work today,” said McCarthy. This was Dance City's first timed workout since a five-furlong drill one week ago in company with Praetereo, who had finished 11th in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I).
A further boost to Dance City’s Preakness prospects came May 14 at Belmont Park when Alternation won the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II). Alternation was 4 ½ lengths behind Dance City in the Arkansas Derby. Dance City finished 1 ½ lengths behind Nehro, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) runner-up.
“The Arkansas Derby has turned out to be a very live race,” McCarthy said.
At Belmont Park, West Point Thoroughbreds’ King Congie went to the track early May 15 for his final serious preparation for the Preakness.
“He worked 1:04 3/5 around the dogs,” said trainer Tom Albertrani of the five-furlong move. He noted that King Congie was able to breeze on a fast track that later turned muddy. “It was a nice work and he finished up very nicely.”
Exercise rider Edgar Acosta was aboard the son of Badge of Silver who finished third in the Blue Grass at Keeneland last time out, just a head behind victorious stablemate Brilliant Speed.
At Fair Hill Training Center, trainer Graham Motion chuckled at a question about turning the page from the week after Animal Kingdom won Kentucky Derby to the week leading up to the Preakness.
“I think we’re starting to get more into Preakness mode,” he said.
For Motion that means returning to the basics of his business.
“It’s worrying about everything,” he said.
Since he is based at Fair Hill in Elkton, Md., 60 miles northeast of Pimlico, heavy rain overnight did not impact Animal Kingdom’s training schedule. Rather than sending the Team Valor International colt out to exercise on a wet dirt track, Motion used Fair Hill’s inner Tapeta racing surface. Animal Kingdom galloped 1 ½ miles.
With rain in the forecast for much of the week, Animal Kingdom may be going out on the Tapeta more often.
For Animal Kingdom, who had his shoes changed May 15, the move into Preakness week will mean a slight change in his training program.
“He basically had a pretty normal gallop today,” Motion said. “We’ll just start doing a little more with him this week. Today, he had the most spirited gallop that he’s had and that’s probably going to be what’s going to happen during the course of the week.”
However, Motion isn’t planning a timed work for the colt because the Derby and the Preakness are so close together.
“I think it’s unlikely. I don’t think he needs it,” Motion said. “I might give him a couple of strong gallops.”
Motion likes Animal Kingdom’s appearance and the way he is acting as he approaches an important date at Pimlico.
“He just seems in really good form,” Motion said. “He certainly hasn’t missed a meal and has barely missed any feed since he ran. He seems very content. He was strong in his gallop today. He looks well. Knock on wood, I couldn’t be happier with how everything is.”
Meanwhile, owner Ahmad Zayat told the New York Racing Association’s press office Sunday that the decision on whether to run Derby runner-up Nehro in the Preakness will be made Monday, May 16. He is considering skipping the Pimlico event and waiting for the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
“I am leaving for Louisville in a few hours and I will be there to watch the horse breeze at Churchill Downs at 6 a.m. Monday,” Zayat said. “Right now I am 70-30 to run in the Belmont and 50-50 to run in the Preakness. He’s had three good races in six weeks; if he goes in the Preakness it will be four races in eight weeks.
“However, he is doing very well. His coat, his energy level, his demeanor have all been excellent since the Derby. After he breezes Monday, I will sit down with (trainer) Steve Asmussen and make a decision as to where we go.”
Nehro's Derby effort followed seconds in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and the Arkansas Derby.
Weather permitting, Asmussen has scheduled workouts for both Nehro and Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton’s Astrology , his other Preakness-bound colt. Rain is in the forecast for Louisville for the next 24 hours, including a 60% chance of showers Monday morning.