Steve Haskin's Preakness Report (5/8): All Eyes on Kentucky

Two planeloads of horses are scheduled to arrive in Baltimore next Wednesday, and then the 127th Preakness Stakes can officially begin. Until then, the Pimlico backstretch will remain relatively quiet, with only the Nick Zito pair of Crimson Hero and Straight Gin and the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained U S S Tinosa on the grounds. Equality is due to van from Delaware Park on Friday.

Medaglia d'Oro's trainer Bobby Frankel, who has replaced Laffit Pincay with Jerry Bailey, said his colt will van from Belmont Park to Pimlico the morning of the race, leaving at about four or five that morning.

Frankel said he made the switch after receiving a call from Bailey's agent Ron Anderson. "I thought I was going to get Bailey anyway," Frankel said. "The horse is going to be in the East all the time, and if I'm going to get an Eastern rider I might as well get the best. We've been lucky together. I have nothing against Laffit. He said the horse had his head turned at the start. We had no choice but to come from off the pace this time, but the Preakness will be different."

The eagerly awaited Kentucky contingent will include the one-two finishers in the Kentucky Derby, War Emblem and Proud Citizen, as well as seventh-place finisher Harlan's Holiday, and newcomers Booklet and Easyfromthegitgo. Harlan's Holiday's trainer Kenny McPeek said Wednesday morning they are leaning toward running. "I think this horse is capable of doing much more early in the race," he said. "I had an instinct it would happen that way, and although we wouldn't have beaten the winner, I feel we would have been a lot closer had we been up near the leaders."

McPeek said he's undecided about whether to run Kentucky Oaks runner-up Take Charge Lady in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes or wait for the Dogwood Stakes at Churchill Downs a week later.

Booklet, winner of the Fountain of Youth Stakes, will be on the second flight from Kentucky, along with War Emblem and Easyfromthegitgo. Proud Citizen and Harlan's Holiday will be on the first flight, expected to arrive late in the morning. Other trainers shipping horses from Kentucky that day are Elliott Walden, Frank Brothers, Carl Nafzger, and Pat Byrne.

"That Wednesday flight has been pretty successful in the past, so we figured we'd try it that way" said John Ward, trainer of Booklet, who will be ridden by Pat Day. "We'll work him at Churchill on Tuesday, then ship the next day and let Pat Day work his magic. I don't know if we can win, but we'll sure scare a hell of a lot of them."

Bob Baffert said War Emblem came out of the Derby in excellent shape. Baffert has become a believer in the colt, who just keeps running his opposition into the ground. "He showed that he's as good as any horse I've ever had," Baffert said. "I knew he could really run, but I wasn't sure what to expect."

Better than Point Given, last year's Horse of the Year? "Yeah, I think he is," said Baffert. "He's fast. He's a different style of horse. But, the thing is, he still has to have the luck. The Preakness will be the toughest leg. I hope there are speed horses and I hope there's a full field and everything. If he does do it, I want him to earn it. I don't want it handed to him."

Murray Johnson, trainer of the Derby third-place finisher Perfect Drift, said he hasn't had a chance to talk to the owners yet, because of a bad case of laryngitis. He did say he wanted to see how the gelding is doing over the next week, but added, "We're probably looking at the Belmont Stakes more than anything."

Neil Drysdale, trainer of Sunday Break, who failed to make it into the Derby field due to insufficient graded earnings, will remain in Kentucky until he finds out for sure whether or not he's in the Preakness field, which is determined by lifetime earnings.

A new addition to the Preakness picture is Menacing Dennis, who most recently finished second in the Snow Chief Stakes at Hollywood Park, while Tails of the Crypt, who was unplaced in the Lexington Stakes, is now considered unlikely to run. Menacing Dennis, trained by Jeff Bonde, has demonstrated excellent speed in sprints, with half-mile splits in :44 and change prior to the nine-furlong Snow Chief, in which he was caught in the final strides.

The remainder of the probable Preakness field is made up of Tampa Bay Derby winner Equality and local favorite Magic Weisner.

Equality's trainer Graham Motion said the colt will ship to Baltimore from Delaware Park on Friday, gallop on Saturday and breeze on Sunday. "We somewhat had this race in mind since Gulfstream," Motion said. "He worked six furlongs this past Sunday and I caught him in 1:12 3/5. The clockers got him in 1:13 1/5. This is a deeper surface here and that was a very impressive work."

Three horses currently on the outside looking in are Withers runner-up Shah Jehan, Straight Gin, and recent Keeneland winner Table Limit, who like Proud Citizen and Shah Jehan, is trained by D. Wayne Lukas.