Steve Haskin's Preakness Report: The Action Heats Up

The Derby winner, the speed, and the new arrivals dominated the Preakness scene at Old Hilltop this morning. Richly Blended, the last of the Preakness workers hit the track at 8:30 for an easy half-mile breeze, which was followed by another awesome gallop by Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos. At 10:30, two vans arrived on the backstretch, carrying Bob Baffert's pair of Point Given and Congaree, and Dollar Bill. A fourth Preakness starter, Mr. John, was dropped off at Mary Eppler's barn across the track on the backside. Finally, all the pieces are in place, leading up to tonight's post position draw.

When it comes to Monarchos, there is a fine line separating works from gallops. John Ward's schedule of giving the big gray an occasional day off all but insures that a bear will be unleashed the first day back, and a tiger the second. Ward returned from a brief trip to Lexington Wednesday morning, and loved what was awaiting him – a powerful, on-the-muscle gray colt who was full of himself and ready for some major action. Monarchos was looking to get it on down the backstretch, as he walked with the pony before his gallop.

When exercise rider Bryan Beccia broke him off into his gallop, Monarchos grabbed hold of the bit, and tried to take Beccia's arms with him. With Beccia way back in the saddle and his arms fully extended, Monarchos kept building up steam, then dropped to the rail, looking very much like a horse who was working. When the Pimlico clocker saw that he gone from the three-eighths pole to quarter pole in :12 4/5, he couldn't believe it. "He's so deceiving," he said. "You could have sworn he was going in around :14. And he still galloped the last half-mile in :56."

"Man, he made me sweat today," Beccia said after dismounting back at the barn. "He was dragging me along. I was just along for the ride."

Although Ward is convinced he's left a lot in the tank, he admits he has no idea what's going to happen Saturday or how the race is going to be run. "That's what makes me totally uneasy," he said. "You got different players and different riders, any my biggest fear is Jerry Bailey on Congaree, and how that's gonna play. You have the one speed horse, Richly Blended, and who's going to go with him I don't know. Some suggest Congaree might bounce (regress), but we're eligible to bounce, too, having run that fast and coming home the last quarter in :24 2/5. I'm having a hard time digesting what all that means. That's why we're going along on the program we've mapped. We want a horse who's crying to run, not dreading to run."

Ben Perkins Jr. wasn't looking for any speed from Richly Blended in this morning's work. The son of Rizzi just ran two weeks ago, easily winning the Withers Stakes.

"Just break him off at the half, and if he goes :49, fine," Perkins said to jockey Rick Wilson, who was aboard for the work." When Perkins was told the track had not been playing fast, he amended the last part of his instructions. "OK, make it :50."

Richly Blended broke off smoothly and was going easily throughout, in fractions of :12 3/5 and :24 4/5. After three-eighths in :37 1/5, Wilson let him finish a little, and he came home the final eighth in :12 3/5 , with his ears cocked, to complete the half in :49 4/5. "Just what I told Rick," Perkins said. "He's never been a really great workhorse. But the one time we did ask him for speed, he worked six furlongs in 1:10. Also, he did race just two weeks ago. The difference between this race and the Wood Memorial (Richly Blended's only defeat), is that he was coming off all sprints and one-turn race. Now we have a two-turn race in him."

As for strategy, Perkins said, "It'll be up to Rick. Ideally, I'd love for him to sneak away and open a couple of lengths, while slowing the pace down. Now that he has the Wood behind him, he should be a little kinder this time.. Hopefully, he'll relax and go as far as he can."

Point Given and Congaree arrived at Pimlico looking in excellent condition, hair coat-wise. Point Given did a lot of looking around at all the activity, while Congaree bounced off the van, bounced his way to the barn, and bounced around the shed. Both colts looked bright and alert, and their coats showed no effects from the plane trip. Point Given's coat was shining, with dapples breaking out. Their biggest concern was stablemate Flame Thrower, who was put in his stall first, then tried to savage anything that walked within striking range of his teeth.

Dollar Bill's coat, which we loved in Louisville, began looking better after he got cleaned off and was brought out to graze in the sun. He's still packing good flesh, and his dapples are still there in full bloom. He should be holding his flesh, considering he hasn't been able to do much racing in his last three starts.

Mr. John settled into to his new home on the backside, so we won't be seeing too much of the son of Golden Gear.

Griffinite had another very impressive gallop this morning, under the watchful eye of owner Ernie Paragallo. It's still amazing how much his action reminds us of his sire Unbridled's Song. He has a long, beautiful stride, and just watching him, we have little doubt this a very talented colt.

The award for the horse you want to take home with you and put in your backyard goes to Percy Hope. This little, unassuming colt loves posing for the camera and has a sweet disposition. Coming off the track following his smooth, effortless gallop, he broke off into a show horse canter, as if he loved parading in front of the railbirds.