D. Wayne Lukas explains why Flying First Class is the one to beat.

D. Wayne Lukas explains why Flying First Class is the one to beat.

Barbara D. Livingston

Alibi Breakfast: The Lighter Side of the Preakness

It was a tradition begun in the late 1930s when a group of horsemen began gathering on the porch of the Pimlico Racecourse to trade stories – many true and some not so true.

The Alibi Breakfast has now morphed into an organized affair held annually two days before the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). In addition to the presentation of awards for media and others who have made contributions to Maryland racing, the event features interviews with the different interests of horses starting in the Preakness.

With the serious workouts over and a bit of a lull in activity before Saturday’s second leg of the Triple Crown, Thursday’s breakfast was conducted on a lighter note, aided by the lively personality of Chris Lincoln, the master of ceremonies.

Noting the absence of Todd Pletcher, who is sending out Circular Quay and King of the Roxy in the Preakness, Lincoln said the two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer falls into the “category of the rat-bastard who did not show up.”

Lincoln then went on to remind the group that Pletcher is 0-24 in Triple Crown races. “That’s too bad Todd; you should have showed up and defended yourself.”

Trainer Larry Jones said he was concerned about how Hard Spun, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) is being trained for the Preakness. “Before the Derby we took all kinds of bashing and criticism about how we brought out horse up to the Derby. We had six weeks off and they said that couldn’t be done. We worked him too slow over the Polytrack and we worked him way too fast at Churchill Downs…Since the Derby I haven’t heard any criticism, so maybe I’m training the horse the way the media would Iike. I‘m starting to second-guess my opinions here. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

On a more serious note, Jones said Hard Spun was doing well and would have a local advantage Saturday, with all-time leading Maryland jockey Mario Pino in the saddle. “This is Pino country. Hopefully, if there are any land mines out there set up for these horses he will know how to dodge them.”

Trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito each used the Alibi Breakfast as an opportunity to bestow accolades on the Maryland Jockey Club and the local Preakness hosts.

“Maryland is our favorite place,” Lukas said. “Nobody hosts the Triple Crown like the Maryland people. And I don’t stand here saying that because I’m trying to get a bigger car. I’ve a little bitty mini-van…and I want a little bigger car. So I’m kick out a few bouquets and hope for a Chrysler when I leave here…but we do love Maryland and the Preakness.”

Lukas said he sent Derby Trial winner Flying First Class “because we could catch some of these horses coming off the Derby with only two weeks’ rest…after watching Street Sense work Tuesday I don’t think that’s the case. He looked well rested. But this is the Preakness and things happen here. It’s a different race, with a different configuration and different circumstances. Our horse is very quick.”

Nick Zito, who trains longshot C P West, agreed with Lukas about the hospitality in Maryland.

“They treat you so good here. It’s nice. I love the surroundings and the horse has done good here.”

Zito said C P West was behind most of the other 3-year-olds in his development, resulting in only two previous starts this year.

“I just want to see how far we’ve come. Anything can happen here in the Preakness. In the end, you’ve got to play the game and they still have to go around here.”

Trainer Carl Nafzger said if Lukas and other trainers held his Derby winner Street Sense in such high esteem, they could help him out by scratching their horses out of the Preakness. Noting Street Sense’s winning move on the rail to win the Derby Nafzger said “if they open the rail up” in the Preakness, “we’ll do OK.”

Win, lose, or draw, Nafzger said he has enjoyed the experience with Street Sense so far.

“He’s brought us here and let’s see if he finishes the trip. If we get beat, we get beat. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s going to be a beautiful race. Let’s have a good time.”

Owner Jim Tafel told Lincoln that the decision to breed the mare Bedazzle to the stallion Street Cry, resulting in Street Sense, was “brilliant, just brilliant. And a lot of luck.”

Filling in for Steve Asmussen, who had a death in his family, was assistant Scott Blasi. Blasi said Curlin had a troubled trip in the Derby before running late to finish third in the race. ”I thought it was a very good race. We had no excuses. Street Sense ran a great race that day and we will have to run great to beat him.”

In the absence of their trainers, two owners touted their Preakness starters at the breakfast.

Co-owner Dominic Zannini said Xchanger was sent on to the Preakness after winning the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico, making him the only Preakness starter with a win over the track.

“He ran great over this track, so we’re looking for the same result,” Zannini said.

Jeff Seigel, partner with Barry Irwin in Team Valor, said King of the Roxy was not ready to go on to the Kentucky Derby after finishing second in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).

“We’ve been pointing for this race ever since (the Santa Anita Derby). The horse is doing great. We’ll just take our shot and see how good he is. He is 12-1 in the morning line, which I think is fair. Hopefully, he will outrun his odds.”