By John Scheinman
After the vans pulled in late the afternoon of May 14, all the contenders for the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (gr. I) were on the grounds at Pimlico Race Course except for Ring Weekend, who will arrive May 15 before noon.
After taking a Tex Sutton charter from Louisville that left an hour late, Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) winner Ria Antonia, Illinois Derby (gr. III) winner Dynamic Impact, Derby Trial (gr. III) runner-up Bayern, and Pablo Del Monte stepped off their vans just after 4:30 p.m. EDT and were led into the Pimlico stakes barns.
"I thought he shipped in fine," said Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark Casse, trainer of Dynamic Impact. "I rode over personally with him. It seemed like everybody on the entire plane traveled well, so I have no complaints."
A crowd of about 150, mostly media and racing officials, were on hand under overcast skies for the arrival. Other horses, including Pimlico Special (gr. III) entrant Moreno, also were led into the barns.
Casse said he decided to wait as late as possible to bring in Dynamic Impact, based on the advice of a Hall of Famer.
"The reason we decided to do this—and this is no joke—we went over and asked Wayne Lukas, and he's won a ton of them and he said come over as late as possible and that's what we did," Casse said.
Of the Preakness horses already on the Pimlico grounds, Ride On Curlin was the only one to turn in a timed worked Wednesday, breezing a half-mile in :49 3/5 under exercise rider Bryan Beccia.
Timed from the half-mile pole, the Kentucky Derby seventh-place finisher went in fractions of :12 2/5, :25 1/5, and :37 3/5 for three furlongs, before finishing up in :49 3/5. He galloped out in 1:03 3/5.
"I thought it was good," said trainer Billy Gowan, who invited Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome's trainer Art Sherman to join him and owner Daniel Dougherty in the press box to watch the work. "He probably couldn't make him go much slower without just throwing him down. He could have gone a little faster, of course. We've been taking it real slow since the Derby. I usually like to work him five or six days out (from a race), but with the Derby, walking him three days and shipping up we had to wait."
California Chrome had an early morning 1 1/2-mile gallop, hitting the track just before 7 a.m. under regular exercise rider Willie Delgado.
Trainer Art Sherman said afterward that the Kentucky Derby winner took hold of the bit his second time around the track "and was pulling pretty good ..."
Sherman, who has been holding a daily media conference outside the stakes barn, expressed concern about racing back after just 14 days, but also said California Chrome appears ready for it.
"It always bothers me coming back in two weeks, like I think it does most trainers," he said. "It takes a horse a good 10 days to bounce out of a race, but he's holding his weight, which is a big factor. He's eating good; he finished every oat last night. He seems to be thriving in this type of training, so I'm not changing anything."
A key question Sherman was asked to address was pace. The 1 1/4-mile Derby went in moderate fractional times—:47.37 for the first half-mile, 1:11.80 for six furlongs, 1:37.45 for the mile—and California Chrome stalked the leaders comfortably three wide off the leaders and then took over with a quarter-mile to run.
The Preakness has new shooters, particularly Social Inclusion and Bayern, who appear fully capable of setting a far more demanding pace, changing the dynamic California Chrome might face.
"The Preakness field is different to me because of the speed-laden horses that are in there," Sherman said. "But my horse, people don't realize, has got a little gas himself. He's run some super races. He can go :22, 45, 1:09 and change, a mile in 1:33. he's run that. I think I'm in just as good shape as anybody. How the field breaks away from there and where you're at - the first 70 yards are very important to me in a race."
Skychai Racing and Starlight Racing's General a Rod galloped 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Joel Barrientos.
"Nothing out of character," trainer Mike Maker said. "He takes a good hold in his training, and here it's been no exception. He gets over it good."
General a Rod put in a mild run through the lane before being steadied and finishing 11th in the Kentucky Derby. Eclipse Award winner Javier Castellano will replace Joel Rosario for the Preakness. Castellano rode the son of Roman Ruler one time before, beaten a head by Wildcat Red in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) in February at Gulfstream Park.
"We're not here just because it's the Preakness," Maker said. "We have a lot of confidence in our horse, but having said that, we've got to really step up and get a fair shake this time."
Vina Del Mar Thoroughbreds and black Swan Stable's Kid Cruz galloped 1 1/2 miles under exercise rider Reul Munoz. The Lemon Drop Kid colt is the only Preakness runner with race experience at Pimlico, having won the Federico Tesio by 3 1/2 lengths on April 19.
"That's definitely a plus," said trainer Linda Rice. "But these are much better horses, so he'll have to step up quite a bit."
Social Inclusion, who has made a favorable impression since arriving Friday as the first contender, jogged from the gap at the top of the stretch to the three-quarter pole before galloping a mile.
Ring Weekend will be the final Preakness runner to arrive on the grounds, expected to van in from the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., Thursday. He reportedly galloped 1 5/8 miles Wednesday morning under exercise rider Alice Clapham for trainer Graham Motion.