Fourteen horses, the absolute limit, have not started in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) since 1992, but as events continue to unfold, it appears the starting gate could be filled to capacity for the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
Galloping Grocer, a New York-bred runner who piqued interest with three straight victories as a 2-year-old and a third in the Gotham Stakes (gr. II) earlier this year, will be entered when post positions are drawn at the ESPN Zone May 18.
The top seven starters are determined by graded earnings, the next four by earnings minus restricted races with the final three spots determined by overall earnings.
Expected starters for the Preakness include Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo, Afleet Alex, Greeley's Galaxy, Hal's Image, Scrappy T, High Limit, and Malibu Moonshine.
Afleet Alex, who was the first horse to arrive in Baltimore, went to the track around 6:15 a.m. Thursday. The son of Northern Afleet
jogged 1 1/2 miles, then stood on the track and galloped 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Salamon Diego.
"It's quiet at this barn right now," said the colt's trainer Tim Ritchey. "He can get acclimated to the atmosphere of the barn without all the media or other horses. I think he'll have a little bit of an advantage, training over the track for an extra few days. Every track is a little different, so the sooner you get to the track you are going to run over I think has to help.
"He tells me, more or less, how to train him. I just have to read his body language. He's got enough tactical speed so we can be flexible in where he needs to be. He can do just about anything. Through his training, we've strived to make him pliable, so that he'll relax. He does that very well."
John Shirreffs, who conditions Giacomo, checked in Thursday with the media relations staff at Pimlico. Over the phone Shirreffs said, "We had a basic gallop this morning. He is really recovering well from the Derby. His coat looks great and he is eating well."
Giacomo will ship to Pimlico on one of the Sutton shuttles Wednesday. Shirreffs, his wife Dottie, and the colt's owners, Ann and Jerry Moss, will be at the draw that evening.
Warren Stute, trainer of Greeley's Galaxy, was also in contact with Pimlico staffers. The Illinois Derby (gr. II) winner will be arriving at Pimlico Wednesday.
Stute said, "Everything looks fine. There have been no surprises, which is a good thing. We're looking forward to redeeming ourselves in the Preakness.
"Right now we don't have a set rider. Kent (Desormeaux) is riding a multi-million dollar race in Japan, so he'll be unavailable for the Preakness. We should have a jockey lined up in the next day or so."
Jose Santos has picked up the mount on Unbridled Stakes winner Hal's Image.
Trainer Barry Rose said, "Jose rode him two races back (in an Aqueduct allowance) and liked him a lot. Since Jose was coming in for the Pimlico Special (to ride Funny Cide), I approached him about riding Hal's Image in the Preakness. He was happy to accept the mount.
"Everything's on target. We'll work him on Saturday (at Calder) and he'll leave via van on Tuesday."
Withers Stakes (gr. III) winner Scrappy T will be the second Preakness starter at the Pimlico stakes barn when the Robbie Bailes-trainee ships Sunday.
Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel has reserved a spot on one of the Wednesday flights from Louisville for Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner High Limit.
King Leatherbury reports multiple stakes winner Malibu Moonshine will work at Laurel Park Saturday.