Afleet Alex, here finishing third in the Derby, ships to Pimlico today.

Afleet Alex, here finishing third in the Derby, ships to Pimlico today.

Skip Dickstein

Afleet Alex to Arrive First for Preakness

(from Pimlico report)
Trainer Tim Ritchey confirmed Wednesday that Afleet Alex will be the first Preakness (gr. I) shipper to arrive at the Pimlico stakes barn. The third place finisher in Saturday's Kentucky Derby is to get on a van Wednesday morning at Churchill and is expected at Old Hilltop in the late afternoon.

John Shirreffs, who conditions Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Giacomo will be hustling back to Louisville from California Tuesday evening to make shipping arrangements as soon as he examines the colt.

Shirreffs told representatives of the racing department at Hollywood Park Tuesday that he hopes to van Giacomo to Baltimore in advance of Wednesday's air shuttles from Louisville. Shirreffs will return to California Thursday.

Ritchey said he plans to be at Pimlico to greet Afleet Alex Wednesday.

"I traveled back to Delaware (after the Derby), where we had some horses running but I will be at Pimlico around 4 p.m. Wednesday to receive Afleet Alex," Ritchey said. "Right now he's doing great. Everything is going as planned."

Besides making the early move to acclimate to Pimlico, Ritchey spoke of another prospective edge. "Jeremy Rose probably knows this track better than any other Preakness rider. So it's kind of a home-town advantage."

Rose began his career in Maryland in 2001 and has 374 career victories at Pimlico and Laurel Park, including a win in the Maryland Breeders' Cup (gr. III) on the Preakness undercard in 2003.

Derby runner-up Closing Argument has settled in at home in New York. His trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said, "He's doing fine. He shipped overnight to Belmont. Tomorrow he'll go out for a light jog. We haven't decided on a ship date, but it will probably be Wednesday of next week. His final breeze will most likely be at Belmont.

"I always had faith in this horse," he continued. "I was confident when I asked the owners to put up $50,000 to run in the Derby. It was an easy question for me to ask and for them to answer. They had equal faith in Closing Argument and we're excited about his chances in the race."

Trainer King T. Leatherbury and jockey Steve Hamilton, the local connections of Preakness hopeful Malibu Moonshine, are anticipating the role of spoiler in the May classic. Leatherbury has had three Preakness starters during his legendary career, but this will be the first Preakness ride for Hamilton.

"Malibu Moonshine is doing great," Leatherbury said. "He's kept up his morning routine. As far as I'm concerned, we'll be running on the 21st. At this point, it could be the Preakness or the Sir Barton. There are other people involved in this decision and we're still weighing our options.

"I think the Derby outcome really confused the issue," he added. "It just opened the Preakness field right up. If one of the favorites had dominated, maybe fewer horses would be taking a shot. I'd much rather have seen Bellamy Road dominate and scare off some of the competition. Those Derby (also-rans) are good horses and some of them will come back to their best race."

Jockey Hamilton is living a rags-to-riches story come true. After toiling as a journeyman through the 1990's, Hamilton abandoned the game to work in the oil fields of Oklahoma. He returned to the saddle after a three-year hiatus in January 2004 and won Pimlico's spring riding title. He leads the current stand with 17 victories.

"This is an unbelievable feeling," Hamilton said. "It's every jockey's dream to ride in a Triple Crown race. But don't think for a minute we can't compete. I think he is a legitimate runner and fits the race."

In the past, Nick Zito has been one of the first to arrive in Baltimore after the Derby. Although Zito has not announced which horses are coming this year, the restaurants in Baltimore's Little Italy seem to motivate the popular New Yorker and still might hasten his early arrival. This morning Bellamy Road was found to have developed a left front leg injury and will miss the rest of the Triple Crown. Zito is still considering High Fly, Noble Causeway and Sun King for the middle jewel.

Many discounted the chances of California's Derby contingent. Among them was Wilko, winner of last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) who was sixth in the Derby, beaten by 6 3/4 lengths. Trainer Craig Dollase confirmed that the plan remains for his charge to fly from Louisville to Baltimore on May 18. He took a certain satisfaction in the west coast's Derby domination as four of the top six finishers were Southern California-based.

"Our horse ran a big race," Dollase said. "When you consider the fact that he bled and endured kickback from 18 other horses, it looks like a solid effort. I am proud of the way the California horses performed. We have beaten those horses which makes me very confident going into the Preakness."

The Ron Ellis-trained Don't Get Mad romped in the Derby Trial, just seven days prior to the Kentucky Derby, where he was fourth, beaten 3-1/2 lengths. On Tuesday, the trainer indicated that the Preakness will not be in the colt's picture.

"He just had two major efforts in two weeks," said Ellis. "We'll take him off the trail for now, but the Belmont remains a strong consideration."

Like Dollase, Ellis expressed pride at the finish of his California-based sophomore. When asked if his horse just woke up after shipping to Kentucky, Ellis quipped, "I think the world woke up to the quality of California's 3-year-olds. This horse has been on his game all year."

B. Wayne Hughes, who owns Don't Get Mad, is to be represented in the Preakness, by Greeley's Galaxy, who was 11th in the Derby.

Trainer Warren Stute spoke from California about Greeley's Galaxy but was brief in his comments. "He seems to be doing fine." The trainer has never been to Pimlico and said he and his brother (Mel) have not talked Preakness strategy. Mel Stute won the Preakness with Snow Chief in 1986.

Likely Starters
Closing Argument
Afleet Alex
Greeley's Galaxy
Malibu Moonshine
Scrappy T
Hal's Image
Possible Starters
High Fly
Noble Causeway
Sun King
High Limit
Going Wild
Flower Alley
First Word
A.P. Arrow