Nick Zito will start Stevil in Saturday's Preakness (gr. I).

Nick Zito will start Stevil in Saturday's Preakness (gr. I).

Anne M. Eberhardt

Preakness Notes: May 14

Entrants make their way to Pimlico, Zito voices concerns for horses and racing.

(Edited press release)

BIG BROWN – Before leaving for Maryland, the Kentucky Derby winner made one more visit to the track at Churchill Downs Wednesday morning.

Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said the colt went out for a gallop with his regular exercise rider, Michelle Nevin.

“It was just a regular gallop,” Dutrow said. “He went good.”

Dutrow will accompany Big Brown on the afternoon flight from Louisville, Ky. to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The flight is scheduled to land at BWI at approximately 5:30 p.m.  The van carrying Big Brown, which will receive a police escort, is expected at Pimlico about one hour later. Big Brown will go to the track at Pimlico Thursday morning, but Dutrow said he had not decided when the colt will go out for his morning gallop.

Dutrow said he has scrapped a plan to give the colt a short breeze late in the week at Pimlico. Big Brown will gallop up to the race.

With a few days remaining before the Preakness, Dutrow likes the way the colt looks.

“It’s just what I want to see,” he said. “Everything is good with him.”
BEHINDATTHEBAR - The stretch-running winner of the Lexington Stakes (G2) at Keeneland on April 19 had a routine morning at Belmont Park, galloping 1¼ miles, trainer Todd Pletcher said. The Lexington victory made Behindatthebar a candidate for the Triple Crown series. Pletcher and principal owner Satish Sanan decided not to run the colt back in two weeks in the Kentucky Derby and pointed him toward the Preakness. Behindatthebar, who began his career doing most of his training and racing on the synthetic racing surfaces in California, turned in a strong five-furlong breeze of 1:00.13 Sunday over dirt at Belmont Park.

Nevada residents Michael Shustek and W. Don Stanley sold a 90 percent interest to Sanan earlier this year. After the sale, Behindatthebar was moved from trainer Craig Dollase to Pletcher’s stable.

Behindatthebar will ship from New York Saturday morning. He will be ridden in the Preakness by David Flores.

GAYEGO – Trainer Paulo Lobo put Gayego on a plane at 5 a.m. Wednesday, confident that his Arkansas Derby winner would have no problems enduring the cross-country flight from Los Angeles to Baltimore. The flight to BWI Airport was the son of Gilded Time’s third shipping experience in five weeks. Gayego flew to Little Rock for his Arkansas Derby score on April 12 before returning to his Hollywood Park barn. He was shipped east again to Louisville for his disappointing 17th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3.

“He’s a very good shipper. He’s a very, very calm horse and he’s a very, very good eater,” said Lobo, who expects to join his Preakness hopeful late Thursday afternoon. “He’s a big strong horse.”

GAYEGO – Trainer Paulo Lobo put Gayego on a plane at 5 a.m. Wednesday, confident that his Arkansas Derby winner would have no problems enduring the cross-country flight from Los Angeles to Baltimore. The flight to BWI Airport was the son of Gilded Time’s third shipping experience in five weeks. Gayego flew to Little Rock for his Arkansas Derby score on April 12 before returning to his Hollywood Park barn. He was shipped east again to Louisville for his disappointing 17th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3.

“He’s a very good shipper. He’s a very, very calm horse and he’s a very, very good eater,” said Lobo, who expects to join his Preakness hopeful late Thursday afternoon. “He’s a big strong horse.”

GIANT MOON - Trainer Richard Schosberg said the Giant’s Causeway colt bounced out of Tuesday’s snappy half-mile breeze in :47.77.
“He’s great, super,” Schosberg said. “He was feeling very good this morning. We had to walk him with a lip chain. He’s very, very sharp right now.”

Though the breeze was a little faster than Schosberg had expected, he said it wasn’t a problem.

“It’s not like he worked (five furlongs) in :57,” Schosberg said. “The way the work shaped up, it was more like a three-eighths of a mile blowout and then galloped out the half in :47 and change, which is OK. It’s basically to open their lungs up and sharpen them up, and I think that’s what we did.”

Schosberg, 46, is looking forward to saddling his first starter in a Triple Crown race. The native New Yorker opened his public stable in 1988.

“You always want to have a horse that is worthy of the 3-year-old classic races,” he said.  “It’s great to have the opportunity to take a shot in a race like this. We’ve had some good horses in the past, no doubt. We’ve run in our share of Breeders’ Cup races and Grade 1s, and I think we’ve done pretty well for a small outfit. Certainly, this is the biggest race we’ve run in, purse-wise. We’ve run in a couple of $1 million races, but the total purse on this one is going to be the biggest and probably the most prestigious.

“So, we’re excited, but we’ve got to stay focused on other things, too. We still have another whole barn full of horses that we’ve got to get trained in the morning and try to not lose our focus on what the daily routine is and not fret much about getting down there. Hopefully, everything will fall into place.”

Giant Moon is scheduled to be shipped from Belmont Park to Pimlico Friday morning. Schosberg said he expects the van carrying Albert Fried Jr.’s homebred colt to be on the road by 6 a.m.  Jockey Ramon Dominguez will ride Giant Moon in the Preakness.

HEY BYRN – One day after arriving from his South Florida base at Calder Race Course, the Eddie Plesa-trained Hey Byrn took a light jog over the Pimlico racetrack Wednesday morning.

“The horse is very happy,” said assistant trainer Juan Perez, who accompanied Hey Byrn and Maryland Lottery Pimlico Special contender Gottcha Gold on a 20-hour van ride. “They both handled the trip very well. They feel like they’re home.”

Hey Byrn, who has won three of his four starts this year, is owned by Beatrice Oxenberg of North Miami, for whom Plesa has trained for 25 years.

“The owner’s been with Eddie and the stable for many years, so it’s nice to see a loyal owner have a horse come out like this,” said Perez, who has worked for Plesa for 15 years. “It’s very special for the owner, for us and the stable.”

The Florida-bred son of Put It Back, who won one of four races and was stakes-placed as a 2-year-old, debuted this year at Gulfstream Park with a 14½-length romp.

“We weren’t surprised because we knew the potential of the horse the way he was training after the layoff,” Perez said. “We saw the horse coming up better and stronger, so we knew he had the potential.”

Hey Byrn returned to score in a second-level allowance by six lengths, but finished fourth behind Big Brown in the Florida Derby (G1) after getting bumped at the start. Two weeks later, he won the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) in an effort to make the Kentucky Derby, but he fell short in graded-stakes earnings to qualify for the field.

“He’s matured from 2-year-old to 3-year-old,” Perez said. “This horse, the older he gets the better he gets. He’s proven it. We’ve just run fourth in the Florida Derby; he ran two weeks later and won the Holy Bull; and now he’s training super. We can’t ask him for any better.”

ICABAD CRANE – Trainer Graham Motion scheduled a schooling session at the starting gate for Icabad Crane prior to a 1½-mile gallop at Fair Hill Training Center Wednesday morning. Motion, who saddled the New York-bred colt for a game victory in the Federico Tesio at Pimlico in his most recent start, expressed considerable respect for Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown.

“I think we could all be in trouble if he runs the same race he ran in the Derby,” Motion said. “We’re hoping to pick up the pieces, but it is a horse race. A lot of things can happen. It would be a shame not to be in there and not have the opportunity to win. He’s doing well and he has a good win over the track.”

Icabad Crane will be vanned to Pimlico on Saturday.

KENTUCKY BEAR – The third-place finisher from the Blue Grass (G1) galloped twice around the Pimlico oval Wednesday morning under exercise rider Cassie Garcia, who said the chestnut colt was “awesome.’’

It’s been a week since the lightly raced son of Mr. Greeley arrived from Keeneland, and he’s well rested coming into the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.

“From the Blue Grass he’s really developed and put on weight,’’ said trainer Reade Baker, who had plans to fly from Toronto later in the day for the post-position draw at the ESPN Zone in the Inner Harbor. “There’s no grass to graze on in Florida, and once he got to the grass at Keeneland and Churchill the horse has been doing phenomenal.’’
Kentucky Bear, who has had only three career starts and was unraced at 2, has had three five-furlong works since the April 12 Blue Grass, one each at Churchill Downs (:59.60, muddy), Keeneland (:59, fast) and here at Pimlico (1:01, sloppy).

“Works obviously can be deceiving, but he was really coasting in those works,’’ said Baker, who will saddle his first Preakness runner. Jockey Jamie Theriot, who was aboard Kentucky Bear in the Blue Grass, will be back in the saddle for his first mount in the Triple Crown’s Middle Jewel.

MACHO AGAIN – The Derby Trial winner had a light training schedule Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs.

“He just jogged around the track and will ship this morning,” said trainer Dallas Stewart shortly after arriving at BWI Airport Wednesday morning.

Macho Again, who has been first or second in all but one of his six starts on conventional dirt, was slated to arrive in early afternoon.
The son of Macho Uno will be ridden by Julien Leparoux.
– Trainer Kenny McPeek watched his colt gallop a mile and a half Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs, then sent him off to the Louisville airport for the flight to Baltimore. McPeek said that Racecar Rhapsody is fine and ready for the Preakness. The Tale of the Cat colt is scheduled to be on the plane that will carry Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown and is expected to land at BWI at 5:30 p.m. McPeek laughed as he listened to a question about why 12 challengers are prepared to line up against Big Brown, who was so impressive winning the Derby.

“Second money, probably,” he said with a chuckle. “I don’t know about the others, but in our case the horse is doing well. We want to try him at a mile and three-sixteenths. Other than Big Brown, it looks like the race is wide open. We all know that anything can happen. You can’t have any fear. I think there are some good horses that haven’t run yet at this level.

“And I think it’s good for him to be tested again. If he’s going to be a Triple Crown winner then make him work for it.”

RILEY TUCKER – Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who indicated he may not be here until race day, got his final look at the son of Harlan’s Holiday Wednesday morning at Belmont Park.

“He galloped a little bit,’’ said Mott, who is saddling only his second Preakness starter and first in 24 years (Taylor’s Special finished fourth in 1984). “He comes in later today. He’s going to school in the paddock, probably Thursday.’’

Riley Tucker, a $375,000 yearling purchase at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky sale, is part of the substantial contingent of Zayat Stables, which finished second nationally among North American owners behind Stronach Stables with more than $6.1 million last year. Zayat posted 98 victories last season, including the maiden victory of Riley Tucker last July at Belmont Park. He is 0-for-6 since, but has hit the board five times.

Edgar Prado has been aboard Riley Tucker in three of his seven career starts, including the maiden victory. Prado won 14 riding titles at Pimlico from 1990 to 1999, but he has yet to ride a winner of the Preakness in 11 tries.

Riley Tucker was second in the Arlington Washington Futurity (G3) last September, then didn’t run again until February when he was off the board in the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn. His last two starts were on  Polytrack at Keeneland, a close second in the Transylvania (G3) and third in the Lexington Stakes (G2).

STEVIL – Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito drove into Pimlico Wednesday morning around 9 a.m., several hours before the scheduled van arrival of his 19th Preakness starter, Stevil. He brought with him a message about the burgeoning issue of synthetic surfaces vs. the traditional dirt tracks, like those at Pimlico and Churchill Downs.

“I made some statements about the synthetic tracks, and the one thing I needed to address and get across is that our family and our owners daily basically rescue horses,’’ Zito said. “The Hancocks have a horse shelter that they put together. Kim, my wife, was involved along with a lot of other great people. What we do in our stable, all my owners from John Hettinger down, is we’re rescuing horses and saving horses’ lives, supposedly doing the right things for horses. Because I speak out on the synthetic surfaces, it’s not because we never want to protect horses.’’

Zito said he still believes that dirt tracks, with a little research and development, remain a preferable alternative to synthetics, which have been widely implemented nationally and also are under consideration for study by other groups like the New York Racing Association (Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga Race Course).

“As you know, I’m a dirt-track guy,’’ he told a group of media members outside the Preakness Stakes Barn. “The issue with Eight Belles (who broke down after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby and was euthanized) is going to come up over and over this week. You know just as well as I do, or better, it’s more than the tracks. My thing right now is to try to protect the dirt surfaces as good as we can.’’

Zito said he did some personal research on the recent Oaklawn Park meeting, where from some 4,600 starters, there were only five breakdowns (one a 7-year-old, one a 9-year-old) during the meeting that went from Jan. 18 to April 11 – a 30 percent drop from last season.

“They resurfaced the track this winter,’’ Zito said. “They also installed an on-site soil analysis lab. They lost just three days of racing (that were weather related).  Zito said the entire cost of the resurface and lab operation was roughly $100,000 – a significantly lower number than the $50 million NYRA officials had given a local publication when estimating the cost of going synthetic on its three tracks.

“We have a big issue protecting these horses,’’ said Zito, who said he and several colleagues were concerned that the synthetic surfaces might tend to produce future generations of thoroughbreds with turf proclivities and reduced dirt-track abilities. “If (Oaklawn) can do something like that with that least (amount of ) money, there should be more research into dirt. I’m here to protect the game. We’re in American racing, not in English racing or French racing. If you go to all synthetics, there’s a good possibility you’ll be racing in England and France.’’

Zito also said there’s not enough research regarding soundness as it pertains to synthetics vs. dirt at this time. He also said that famed acupuncturist Dr. Marvin Cain has detected some physical issues (particularly in the hind quarters) with certain horses he’s treated for Zito after they have performed on synthetic tracks, referring to it as Polytrack Syndrome.

Cain examined both Cool Coal Man and Stevil after the Blue Grass on Keeneland’s Polytrack and found  the former had a physical reaction after the race, while Stevil did not. Stevil finished fourth, Cool Coal Man was ninth.

“It’s not an exact science, but one horse (Cool Coal Man) didn’t like the Polytrack and had some issues in behind,’’ Zito said. “The other horse cleared perfectly. The horse is the main thing. We want to preserve the game.’’

TRES BORRACHOS – The third-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby (G2) had a light morning at Churchill Downs following Tuesday’s workout and was being put on a plane from Louisville by trainer Beau Greely.

“We just walked today,’’ said Greely, who will be flying in earlier from Louisville. “He came out of the work well, and he’s just getting ready to go to the plane at about 3:30. The horse should be on the grounds around 5:45 or so. I’m going to go to the draw, then come back to the barn to check on the horse. Knock on wood, he travels very well.’’

Tres Borrachos, the only gelding in the field of 13 expected to go postward, worked four furlongs in :49.80 at Churchill. The son of Ecton Park earlier breezed five furlongs in :59.60 on May 7 under the Twin Spires. The Preakness will be 35 days from his last start at Oaklawn Park.

A bargain purchase of $7,000 at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Sale, Tres Borrachos is owned in a partnership by Greely, his brother John Greely IV and Phil Houchens. His first five races all came on synthetic surfaces in California.    

Tres Borrachos was being pointed at the Kentucky Derby, but needed to win the Arkansas Derby to have sufficient earnings to make the 20-horse field. Greely, 36, is a Kentucky native and fourth-generation horseman who graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1992. Based in Southern California, Greely won the 2005 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Pacific Classic with Borrego, his only prior Preakness starter (7th in 2004).

YANKEE BRAVO – Trainer Paddy Gallagher made the scene at the Preakness Stakes Barn at Pimlico Wednesday morning with plenty of time to spare before Yankee Bravo’s scheduled afternoon arrival. The Southern California-based trainer understands the daunting task that awaits the son of Yankee Gentleman.

“If Big Brown runs his race, he looks like he’s the winner,” Gallagher said. “We’re all here to try our best and see what happens.”

Yankee Affair was purchased privately after Gallagher viewed the video of his winning debut in a five-furlong maiden turf race in Great Britain.

“I don’t know what he was beating, but he beat a full field and he won by three or four,” said Gallagher, recalling his favorable impression of the video that led to the purchase. “That was sprinting, but he did it really well.”

Yankee Bravo, who’ll be ridden by Alex Solis, has won on turf and synthetic surfaces in the U.S. and will race on dirt for the second time in the Preakness.

“He’s only run on it one time and the race was encouraging,” said Gallagher, whose colt finished third behind Pyro in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.