BIG BROWN – Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said May 16 that he is nearly as confident that the Boundary colt will win the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) as he was before his dominating win in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
“I think that it’s our race to lose,” Dutrow said. “I think that he is the best horse in the race and I think if he breaks with the field, he’ll win the race.”
However, Dutrow said a few times that a clean break from the gate is essential and noted that War Emblem’s chances of sweeping the Triple Crown in 2002 were wiped out when he fell to his knees leaving the gate in the Belmont Stakes.
“When you come out of the gate and the horse stumbles pretty bad, right away horses are in front of them then, and you’ve got a lot of things that you have to deal with,” Dutrow said. “So the break, in my opinion, is the only issue we have to worry about.”
Since Dutrow does not see any speed in the race, he figures that if Big Brown breaks with the field he will be galloping on the lead going down the backstretch.
“It’s all about the break for us,” he said. “If he breaks clean, things will be right there for him. If he wants the lead or wants to sit off it, whatever.”
Still, Dutrow acknowledged that his confidence level is not the same since the Preakness comes up so quickly after the Derby.
“It’s a little bit different because of the training,” Dutrow said. “He was training like clockwork going into the Derby; it was great. Now, he seems like he’s the same horse; it’s all good, but you never know because you don’t have the breezes. No one can tell me how he is going to run. He looks like he’s going to run his race, but two weeks is a question mark.
“I don’t see it being a question mark as to where he’s supposed to get beat, but I just can’t feel as confident tomorrow as I did with the Derby. He had a great post for the Derby. He trained like clockwork for it.
“I’m not saying that if he (regresses) some tomorrow that somebody is going to beat him. I don’t see that that’s going to happen. I feel very confident tomorrow with him.”
Big Brown went to the track at 8:30 a.m. May 16 and jogged once around the muddy course under exercise rider Michelle Nevin. Dutrow decided not to breeze Big Brown in the two weeks between the Derby and the Preakness. When the track was fast, Big Brown was allowed to gallop. When the track was wet, he was limited to a jog.
Dutrow said he plans to give the colt a short blowout in the stretch Saturday morning. He said it’s a tactic he uses on occasion when a horse misses a workout or races are spaced close together.
“I just feel that it will help him tomorrow,” Dutrow said. “That’s all. I like doing it when the opportunity arises and this is a perfect opportunity to try it.”
New padded glue-on shoes were put on Big Brown May 14. Dutrow said he had not planned to change shoes before the Preakness, but went along with the recommendation of Ian McKinley, who specializes in working with horses who have quarter cracks in their hoofs. Big Brown had problems with quarter cracks during the fall and winter, but his feet have been fine for three months.
“Ian was here and said `Rick, I think you should change them for the race.’ So, I said, `well, go ahead.’” Dutrow said. “He’s an expert at what he does. I didn’t want to take a chance and shoe him up front because anything can happen. I left it up to Ian because he knows what he’s doing and that’s how we played it.”
BEHINDATTHEBAR – The Lexington Stakes (gr. II) winner was scratched from the Preakness May 16 after it was discovered that he had a foot bruise.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he first noticed that the colt might have an issue when he was warming up for his daily 6 a.m. gallop at Belmont Park.
“The way he went this morning, he was a little bit off on his left front,” Pletcher said. “It appears that he’s got a foot bruise in the inside corner of his left front hoof. It’s unfortunate timing.”
Pletcher said the problem might disappear in a few days.
“I would expect that it could possibly be resolved by the beginning of next week,” he said. “Sometimes foot abscesses or bruises can be tricky, but hopefully that won’t be the case and it will be quickly resolved.
GAYEGO – The Arkansas Derby (gr. II) winner went to the track shortly after 6 a.m. May 16 for a 1 1/2 -mile gallop under exercise rider Jody Pieper.
Gayego, who had been first or second in his five career starts, finished a disappointing 17th in the Kentucky Derby after a sluggish start and early traffic.
“He missed at the break, got squeezed, clipped heels and got rank. When he crossed the wire for the first time, I thought, ‘the race, I think, is gone. I just hope he breaks better this time because he had a horrible, horrible race at Churchill Downs,” trainer Paulo Lobo said. “He needs to break better to get a better position. If he doesn’t break well, I think I’m going to be in trouble again.”
Cubanacan Stables’ colt will be equipped with blinkers in the Preakness for the first time.
“They’re very light blinkers, very light open blinkers. They’re just to see if he pays attention a little bit more,” Lobo said. “I have been thinking since January about putting blinkers on him. He was doing well and running well, so I didn’t want to change for the Kentucky Derby. But now he’s going to run with blinkers.”
Lobo reported that Gayego, who had been returned to his Hollywood Park base after the Derby, convinced him he was ready to continue on the Triple Crown trail.
“I only brought this horse here because he showed to me that he’s doing well, eating well,” he said. “He’s happy, he’s pulling the rider. All the signs that he’s giving to us encouraged me to bring him here.”
GIANT MOON – Albert Fried Jr.’s New York-bred son of Giant's Causeway arrived at Pimlico May 16 at 10 a.m. following a four-hour van ride from Belmont Park.
“He just jogged a little in the shedrow to give him a little bit of exercise before shipping him out,” trainer Richard Schosberg said.
This is the first time that the colt has been shipped out of New York for a race and Schosberg said Giant Moon handled it well.
“He did good. He looks fine,” Schosberg said. “He’s eating his lunch now. All we’ve got to do is get this rain out of here.”
HEY BYRN – The Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) winner enjoyed an early training session at Pimlico May 16, when he galloped 1 1/2 miles under Peter Shelton in preparation for his Preakness start.
“The track was very good. We tried to get him out as early as we could, that way he’d get a good track,” said Juan Perez, longtime assistant to trainer Eddie Plesa. “We got really lucky. The track was good and the rain wasn’t hard. So I think he did the right thing.”
Hey Byrn will be ridden by Chuck Lopez.
ICABAD CRANE – The Federico Tesio winner galloped 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Xavier Aizpuru at Fair Hill Training Center May 16, one day before he’s scheduled to board a Pimlico-bound van to run in the Preakness.
Trainer Graham Motion is well aware of the challenge Icabad Crane will face while competing against the undefeated Kentucky Derby winner, Big Brown.
“Big Brown has to not run his race for us to even consider beating him, but that’s why we’re in there. It’s horse racing. I was always told by my old boss that you should never duck one horse,” Motion said. “So many things can happen in a horse race, especially in what’s now a 12-horse field.”
Take Big Brown out of the equation and Motion feels pretty good about the chances of his New York-bred colt, who has won three of his four races, his only loss coming on a synthetic surface. Motion, who saddled the hot-blooded Adriano for a 19th-place finish in the Derby, said Icabad Crane has a lot going for him.
“I think we stack up with it differently to how we went into the Derby. We didn’t know how (Adriano) was going to behave on the day. We didn’t know how he was going to handle the dirt,” Motion said. “We have a horse with the right temperament who’s going to handle the track and loves the distance. With that in mind, I can go into it feeling fairly good about it. I think we stack up really well with the other horses.”
Jeremy Rose, who guided Afleet Alex to victory in the 2005 Preakness, will be aboard Icabad Crane.
KENTUCKY BEAR – Trainer Reade Baker sent his lightly raced son of Mr. Greeley out to the track for a three-mile jog the wrong way around the Pimlico oval under Cassie Garcia and pronounced his colt ready for his first try in a Grade 1 race.
“How good are they?’’ Baker asked when told his confidence level seemed higher than most of the other challengers to 1-2 morning-line favorite Big Brown. “If this horse beats me on Saturday, I’ll know he’s the best 3-year-old around still standing. If he’s going to be a big-time superstar, let him run with Curlin this fall, and I’ll be right in line to tip my hat to him.’’
Big Brown had one start as a 2-year-old; Kentucky Bear had none.
“He was a month away (from his debut),’’ Baker said. “I was just going to run him at Woodbine and go from there. In hindsight, if I would have gotten him there at the time, I would have been thinking Derby right away and would have tried to get some graded earnings someplace and play catch-up.’’
Instead Baker took Kentucky Bear to Florida in the winter and won his debut convincingly at odds of 10-1. From there, they went right to the prestigious Fountain of Youth (gr. II) with only a maiden win.
“In hindsight, we should have gone to the Lane’s End (gr. II) and we shouldn’t have run in the Fountain of Youth, but we didn’t have any brilliant idea at the time to avoid that,’’ Baker said of the colt’s seventh-place finish. “He grabbed himself leaving the gate and got jostled around badly in the first turn. I knew I was cooked the day after I committed to the jockey (Joe Bravo) when he told me I’ve got to be up front. He got knocked around so much he just quit.’’
Jamie Theriot, who rode Kentucky Bear to a close third in the Blue Grass (gr. II), will be aboard for the Preakness, where a crowd of 120,000 is expected.
“Kentucky Bear’s got a great disposition, but you never know what they’ll do,’’ Baker said. “We’ve done everything we can, but I guess the Derby horses take an advantage over us there; they went through that thing.”
Baker recalled being amazed at how Secretariat handled an adoring and boisterous crowd at Woodbine before his final race in 1973.
“He had a big set of cupped blinkers and (fans) started yelling and even started throwing things at him when he went under the old tunnel,” Baker recalled. “There were some other horses in front of him. They were freaking and going nuts, throwing riders and everything. This horse never blinked. It was amazing.’’
MACHO AGAIN – Trainer Dallas Stewart sent his Derby Trial winner to the track May 16 to make the best of a gloomy rainy morning.
“He just galloped, oh, about three-quarters of a mile. The track was OK when we galloped,” Stewart said.
West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again has been no worse than second in five of six starts on conventional dirt, including his fast-closing triumph over Kodiak Kowboy in the Derby Trial three weeks ago at Churchill Downs.
“We thought about the Ohio Derby, but we thought looking at the field we matched up with the other horses beside Big Brown,” Stewart said. “If he comes up with the race he ran in the Derby, probably no one will beat him. But it’s a horse race.”
The son of Macho Uno has run off the early pace in all three of his career victories.
“Hopefully it sets up well for us. Our horse places himself well, not too far back. There should be plenty of speed. Normally in this race there’s a good pace. We’ll need a good pace.”
Julien Leparoux, currently leading the jockey standings at Churchill Downs, will have the return mount on Macho Again.
RACECAR RHAPSODY – Exercise rider Jose Castanon took Racecar Rhapsody to the track at 8:30 a.m. May 16 to jog a mile and gallop about 1 1/4 miles.
The Tale of the Cat colt finished fourth in his two starts this year and will be making his first start on dirt since finishing fourth in the Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III) in December.
Trainer Kenny McPeek is pleased with the way Racecar Rhapsody looks on the eve of the Preakness.
“The horse is doing great,” McPeek said. “He’s sharp, eating good.”
McPeek knows something about longshots winning Triple Crown races against heavy favorites and is ready to take on Big Brown. In 2002, McPeek saddled Sarava, who won the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) at odds of 70-1. War Emblem, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, stumbled leaving the gate, was rushed up into contention and faded in the last quarter of a mile to finish eighth.
“David would have never slayed Goliath if he had put his slingshot away,” McPeek said. “We’ve got to do something. You can’t have any fear in this game. Weird things happen all the time. Horses stumble, or the race doesn’t set up for him or the rider makes an early move that was too soon and the next thing you know, you’ve got a double-digit or triple-digit price on the board. You can’t have any fear.”
Robby Albarado, who rode Curlin for a Preakness victory last year, will be aboard Racecar Rhapsody.
RILEY TUCKER – The winds of fate landed New Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado aboard this Bill Mott-trained colt for the Preakness, and while he likes his place in this field, oh, what it might have been.
Prado was injured two races before he was scheduled to ride Big Brown in his debut on Sept. 3 at Saratoga and unable to take the mount. Jeremy Rose filled in that day for the colt’s 11 1/4 romp on the grass, and when it came time to name a rider for his 3-year-old campaign, IEAH Stables and trainer Rick Dutrow went to Kent Desormeaux. The rest is unfolding history.
“I was very disappointed,’’ said Prado, who got the bad news in a phone call from Dutrow.
Riley Tucker has won only one race in seven starts but has been stakes-placed in his last two starts.
“This is a nice horse. He has tactical speed and he’s by Harlan’s Holiday, so I don’t think distance would be any problem,” Prado said. “Another thing is: he’s fresh.’’
Prado admits Riley Tucker will need his best to stop the Big Brown express.
“I hope he runs his A-plus and Big Brown runs his B-plus,’’ said Prado, whose other Triple Crown aspirations were crushed when Barbaro went down in the 2006 Preakness and ultimately failed to survive months of surgery and rehabilitation attempts.
Riley Tucker, who finished a solid third in the Lexington in his last start, was on a wet track at Pimlico after the break Friday morning and then given a bath outside the shedrow. Mott was scheduled to arrive later in the day from Belmont Park.
“I galloped him about a mile and a quarter and stood him in the paddock again,’’ said assistant trainer Leana Willaford. “The track was actually pretty good. It was sealed sloppy, but it holds water pretty well. He’s grown up a little bit. He gets a little excited, but he’s been handling this trip pretty well. We’ll know more tomorrow.’’
STEVIL – Trainer Nick Zito walked the fourth-place finisher in the Blue Grass in the Preakness Stakes Barn shedrow following some activity on the track after the renovation break May 16.
“He schooled in the gate and galloped a little,’’ said Zito, who is saddling his 19th Preakness starter, more starters than the other 11 trainers in the field combined. “He’s doing good, knock wood.’’
Stevil is listed at 30-1 on the morning line, but Zito-trained runners have often found a way to hit the board in the Triple Crown events. C P West was fourth last year to Curlin and Hemingway’s Key finished third in 2006. Stevil has been second or third in three of four starts at 3.
“He’s developed weight-wise and fitness-wise,’’ Zito said. “He’s definitely got a good shot to be in the money. I’d be surprised if he didn’t run a good race. He tries all the time. I thought his Louisiana Derby race was a great race because Pyro actually got in front of him, took his spot. He ran terrific.’’
Zito hasn’t missed a Preakness since 2003.
“I like coming to Pimlico,’’ he said. “It’s a lot more enjoyable than the Derby. Pimlico is a little easier on everybody.’’
But Stevil’s task on May 17 won’t be easy.
“The horse (Big Brown) looks tremendous right now unless something happens,’’ Zito said. “We’ll see what happens. We can’t anoint anybody yet. We’ve still got to run the race. I remember a lot of people around me didn’t think we had any kind of chance with Louis Quatorze (1996 winner). He set the track record.’’
Zito said he is surprised that so many horses have come to Baltimore to challenge the Derby winner.
“I actually couldn’t believe it, so I guess there is something to running in the Triple Crown races. There is something to running in these big races, so maybe that’s why the field is big. But I am surprised. When Stevil ran a good race in the Louisiana Derby, I thought about the Preakness. Then, naturally, when he ran a decent race in the Blue Grass, I thought about the Preakness. But I didn’t think there would be that many horses after Big Brown’s performance.”
TRES BORRACHOS – Trainer Beau Greely sent the third-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) out for a 1 5/8-mile gallop and a half-mile jog on the sealed surface May 16 in final preparation for his grade 1 debut in the Preakness.
“He handled it well, and it was just what we planned to do,’’ Greely said. “I don’t think it (the track condition) would matter that much to him. He seems to handle it well. You never know, but his breeding indicates that he would, and every time he’s trained on it, he’s gotten over it well.’’
Greely dismissed the notion that he might be among a number of trainers hoping to secure the place purse behind the prohibitive favorite, Big Brown.
“We’re not running for second money, we’re running for first money,’’ said Greely, who will have Hollywood Park’s leading rider, Tyler Baze, here for his first Preakness mount. “Whether it happens or not, who knows? Obviously, if they’ve got that much of a favorite, everyone’s going to think they’re running for second money, but these are all 3-year-olds, so we’ll see what happens.”
Greely said the defection of the late-running Behindatthebar wouldn’t have much effect on his colt because they have such contrasting styles. It might hurt some of the hunch players who were considering an exacta wager on the two tavern-associated runners. Tres Borrachos is Spanish for “Three Drunks.’’
“We named him after ourselves,’’ said Greely’s brother, John. “We named him after myself, my brother Beau and Philip Houchens (the three owners). (We’re) a bunch of fun guys having a hell of a good time.’’
YANKEE BRAVO – Trainer Paddy Gallagher sent Yankee Bravo to the track shortly after the renovation break May 16 for some light exercise.
“He went to the gate and just loped around the track,” Gallagher said. “We didn’t want to do too much with him.”
Gallagher had just started as Bill Shoemaker’s assistant when the Hall of Fame jockey-turned-trainer became paralyzed in an automobile accident in 1991. The “Shoe” was a source of inspiration for his assistant.
“He acted like himself, even though he was paralyzed. He talked and acted like he always did. It was amazing,” he said.
Shoemaker, of course, needed more hands-on help from his assistant.
“I think he helped me more than I helped him,” said Gallagher, who eventually took over the training of the stable. “He helped me in every way.”