Monday, May 17, 2010


TRAINER BOB BAFFERT FEELING ‘LUCKY’ AT PIMLICO; PREAKNESS WINNER TO SIT OUT BELMONT STAKES


Trainer Bob Baffert broke form the morning after the Preakness, beating several reporters to the stakes barn. Rarely an early bird, Baffert’s appearance shortly after 6 a.m. was a far bigger surprise than Lookin At Lucky’s victory by three-quarters of a length in Saturday’s 135th Preakness Stakes.

Baffert said that the colt came out of the race in good condition, but was being given some time off and would not compete in the Belmont Stakes on June 5. However, there may be a Baffert-trained horse in the Belmont, the final leg of the Triple Crown series: Lone Star Derby winner Game on Dude. Noting that Preakness runner-up First Dude was likely to go on to the Belmont, Baffert said it would be the “Battle of the Dudes.”


While Lookin At Lucky was being prepared for the van that would take him to the airport and the next leg of a journey to California, Baffert leaned against a fence answering questions and occasionally chiding late-arriving members of the media.

“You missed it all,” he said. “You have to get out of bed. When Bob Baffert beats you to the barn, that’s not a good thing.”

Baffert had plenty of reasons to be happy about the Preakness. With new jockey Martin Garcia aboard, Lookin At Lucky had finally emerged from the bad karma that had enveloped him this year: a victory despite a troubled trip in the Rebel; a third with a world of problems in the Santa Anita Derby and a sixth after starting from the inside post in the 20-horse Kentucky Derby run over a sloppy, sealed track.

“It was so easy to get up this morning,” Baffert said. “At Churchill after the Kentucky Derby, it was hard to get up. I felt like I’d gone a mile and a quarter in the mud. That alarm went off and I jumped out of there like, `yes, I’ve got to go talk about it.”

And talk Baffert did. He said he did not have a problem with the Belmont Stakes, where Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002) all failed to complete their Triple Crown sweep.

“I like the Belmont. It’s a tough, long race,” he said. “When I ran my other horses for the Triple Crown, I had to give them a break. It’s tough on them. I want to keep this horse around.”

Baffert said that he didn’t have a plan in place for the colt, but that the Haskell Invitational on August 1 at Monmouth Park was a likely target.

Between the Derby and the Preakness, Baffert changed jockeys, dropping the heralded Garrett Gomez for 25-year-old relatively inexperienced Martin Garcia; drew the favorable post No. 7 and caught a fast track. Garcia provided a solid ride.

“He got the trip that you need to win a classic,” Baffert said. “The trip is all-important. His post positions were just killing him. The post position was the whole key. He finally was in a spot where he could negotiate a little bit. And Martin rode him with a lot of confidence.”

Baffert said the jockey switch was not a shot at Gomez.

“It was just trying to shake something up, trying to change my luck,” he said. “I felt bad about taking Garrett off; I still feel bad about it. I felt bad for Garrett last night. He’s a good friend. It’s got to be tough for him to see his horse win a classic. You don’t get very many chances.”

Baffert said he had reached out to Gomez after the race.

“I texted him last night and said I’m sorry how it worked,” he said. “I’ll find some other good horses for him. He’s made me a lot of money. I’ve made him a lot of money. He’s been the recipient of some jockey changes. He’s still a great rider.”

The 2010 Preakness win was Baffert’s ninth in a Triple Crown race, but his first in eight years since Point Given won the 2001 Belmont Stakes.

“It seemed like 12 years until yesterday,” Baffert said. “When we hit the wire it seemed like about three years since we’d won it.”

And it seemed like a long time since Lookin At Lucky, the 2009 juvenile champion, had caught a break in a race.

“I was just happy for that little horse,” Baffert said. “He deserved to win. He’s been a true warrior.”


SUPER SAVER/AIKENITE – Trainer Todd Pletcher’s Preakness horses, the Kentucky Derby-winning beaten-favorite Super Saver, and Aikenite, left the stakes barn early in the morning for the van ride to Belmont Park.

“Both horses came out well,” Pletcher said by phone at 11:30 a.m. “Both have already arrived at Belmont in good order and are settling in there. I left at 6 and they left right around the same time.”

Neither will run in the Belmont Stakes, Pletcher said.

Super Saver, Pletcher’s first Derby winner, stalked the pace for a mile in the Preakness under jockey Calvin Borel, but ran out of energy and finished eighth.

“Like I said, after the race we wanted to win the Preakness,” Pletcher said. “There’s nothing more that I would have loved to have done than to come back to Belmont with a chance at the Triple Crown, but we are so happy about the way he ran in the Derby and so thankful about that, that it would be hard to be disappointed about anything he ever does from this point on. I think it softens the blow a bit. You can always look back and know you won the Derby and that’s paramount. Any time you lose a race and don’t run as well as the horse is capable of, it’s disappointing, but it’s no reflection on how good of a horse he is and we’re glad to have him.”

Pletcher said the stress of getting to the Derby, running a strong race and coming back in two weeks in the Preakness probably took a toll on Super Saver.

“Sometimes you can look at all the signs on the outside and while he’s eating well and he’s training well and acts enthusiastic and energetic, someone asked me when do you know if two weeks is enough time?” he said. “Really, it’s at about the three-eighths pole in the race when you really know. He ran well up to that point and when Calvin called on him for a response at that point he didn’t have that extra gear on the day. It’s not only the two weeks from the Derby to the Preakness, but it was also back in three weeks off the Arkansas Derby. So he had two very good races close together. It probably wasn’t enough time for him to improve and put forth another top race.”

Pletcher said he spoke with Cot Campbell, the president of Dogwood Stable, after the Preakness about plans for Aikenite, who finished 10th Saturday.

“We decided that he would come back to Belmont, we’d give it few days to see how he came out of it and come up with a game plan,” Pletcher said. “He still has allowance conditions left. It’s possible we could look for a softer spot. He’s also possible for a race like the Pegasus at Monmouth and some other opportunities like that. We probably won’t come up with any concrete plans for another week or so, but he would be considered possible for all the obvious races this summer.

“Super Saver came back well, also. I talked to Elliot Walden (of WinStar Farm) briefly after the race and the only real decision that we’ve made so far is that he will not run in the Belmont. We’ll kind of freshen him up let him tell us. But we know that he loves Churchill and with the Breeders’ Cup Classic being at Churchill this year, we’ll focus on that and try to figure out the best game plan on how to get there in top shape.”


FIRST DUDE/PADDY O’PRADO – Everyone found out Saturday why trainer Dale Romans would have been upset if First Dude was excluded from the Preakness field, which was a distinct possibility early last week. The son of Stephen Got Even, who wouldn’t have qualified to compete in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown had 15 horses been entered on Wednesday, gave Lookin At Lucky all he could handle before grudgingly yielding to the 2009 juvenile champion in deep stretch.

“I’m not disappointed at all. He had a big effort and he got beat by a champion,” said Romans, whose second-place finisher broke alertly from the No. 11 post and showed the way into the stretch. “He did all the work up front and he still finished and they had to work to get by him.”

The late-developing First Dude set solid fractions of :22.91, :46.47 and 1:11.22 for the first six furlongs of the 1-3/16th-mile signature race of the Pimlico meeting but still had a lot of fight in him through the stretch run. Roman’s gave jockey Ramon Dominguez the option to set the pace with his Donald Dizney’s colt.

“If he broke sharp, I told Ramon, ‘Feel free and go ahead and go if no one else was going and just keep him in the clear,” he said. “I didn’t want him to get stopped and to try to re-start, he’s such a big old horse. When he’s got the momentum going, you can’t have him stopped and get him going again.”

Romans reported that his colt, who was shipped back to his Churchill Downs base early Sunday morning, came out of the Preakness in good order and will be pointed toward the Belmont Stakes on June 5.

“I think he’s going to move forward again,” he said. “The mile and a half suits him and we’re excited to go up there.”

Among the horses he will likely meet in the final leg of the Triple Crown is Fly Down, who beat him by a head and a half-length in two meetings.

“It’ll be the third time,” said Romans of the growing rivalry with the stablemate of Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box. “Maybe the third time’s the charm and we’ll catch him.”

Although Preakness hero Lookin At Lucky and Derby winner Super Saver are scheduled to sit it out, the Belmont Stakes hasn’t lost any luster for Romans.

“I think it’s a great race to win regardless. I think it’s going to end up being a pretty good field of horses,” Romans said. “With horses like Ice Box, Fly Down and my horse, it’ll be a good race.”

The Kentucky trainer reported that Paddy O’Prado, his third-place Derby finisher who ran sixth Saturday, checked out fine Sunday morning before joining First Dude on the trip back to Louisville.

“I don’t know if he liked that racetrack; it was kind of sandy and deep,” he said. “I’m not saying he won’t run on a fast, firm racetrack somewhere else, but if I’d have to say right now, I’d probably say he’ll go back to the grass.”

Romans said he will have great memories of Preakness 135.

“It’s a great event. They always treat you well at Pimlico. Even when we came up for the undercard races, they always bent over backwards to take care of us,” he said. “We made it an enjoyable vacation with the two horses here. It was very exciting.”


JACKSON BEND – Trainer Nick Zito, who had the best two legs of the Triple Crown of any trainer who didn’t win either race, may be holding most of the aces for the upcoming Belmont Stakes. Zito, who finished third to Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness with Jackson Bend after a good second to Super Saver in the Kentucky Derby with Ice Box, could have as many as three runners in the Belmont Stakes two weeks from Saturday.

Jackson Bend came out of the Preakness in good shape, according to Zito, who said he wasn’t about to make a decision about the Belmont after his colt’s two tough races in two weeks. Both Ice Box and Jackson Bend, who finished a troubled 12th in the Derby, are owned by Robert LaPenta, which may make the decision easier.

“He’s a tough little horse,” Zito said Sunday morning, pointing to the son of Hear No Evil in his stall at the near end of the Preakness Stakes Barn. “I can say it a thousand times – he’s very, very, very tough. He wants to fight all the time.”

Zito skipped the Preakness with Ice Box to train him up to the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes, but he may now dominate the field if Jackson Bend rebounds from the Preakness and Dwyer Stakes winner Fly Down stays healthy over the next three weeks.

“I never say never, but I doubt it,” Zito said of Jackson Bend’s probability of running in all three Triple Crown events. “I think he needs a rest. But you never know with him.”

Zito, who saddled Louis Quatorze for a victory in 1996, was seeking his second Preakness success, and Jackson Bend nearly delivered it. He was beaten by less than a length for all the money, finishing a head behind pacesetting First Dude for second. Ice Box was flying too late when second in the Derby.

“It’s up and down; it’s a lot of rewarding things,” Zito said. “You try to put everything in a proper perspective, but it’s so hard, because you want to have peace, you want a little peace. You get it if you win those races because that’s what we do it for. On the other hand, you’ve got to be thankful and grateful for how good they run and how good they come back. It’s frustrating when you get beat in these big races, and believe me, I liked Lookin At Lucky yesterday. I always salute the winner, which is the right thing to do, and I hate making excuses. But a little break here and there…it might have been a little closer or a lot closer. We could have won the thing. You give us the horse and we’re going to try to get you there. The good thing, unfortunately, is that victory needs no explanation.”

Jackson Bend was loaded onto a New York-bound van Sunday morning.


YAWANNA TWIST – The New York-bred son of Yonaguska was vanned back to Aqueduct Sunday morning after an eventful fourth-place finish for trainer Rick Dutrow and Steel Your Face Stables.

“Not too bad,” said managing partner Jim Riccio when asked how Yawanna Twist exited the Preakness after being steadied in the backstretch and racing five-wide through the stretch. “I thought he ran big. He was live. Going in, I really thought he was live. He showed up, so we were happy.”

Ridden by Edgar Prado, the lightly raced Illinois Derby runner-up finished less than two lengths behind Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky. It was only his fifth career start. Riccio said he spoke to Dutrow Sunday, but no decision had been made regarding his next start.


CARACORTADO – The California-bred gelding, who faded to seventh after vying for the lead at the top of the stretch, came out of the Preakness in good shape, said breeder/part-owner/trainer Michael Machowsky Sunday.

“He’s fine,” said Machowsky, whose Preakness runner left Pimlico early Sunday morning for a cross-country flight back to California.

Caracortado tracked the pace in fourth into the final turn, where jockey Paul Atkinson sent his mount after pacesetter First Dude. The Santa Anita-based gelding responded to enter contention at the top of the stretch, only to tire through the lane.

“He maybe got tired a little more than we thought he would,” Machowsky said. “When he went head and head with them coming off the turn, it gave us a little excitement.”

Machowsky said Caracortado would be given a break before returning to action.


SCHOOLYARD DREAMS – Trainer Derek Ryan was back at his Monmouth Park base Sunday morning, his ninth-place Preakness finisher, Schoolyard Dreams, having safely vanned back to New Jersey Saturday night.

“He shipped back good and came out of the race fine,” said Ryan, who had a more satisfying trip here last year when Musket Man finished third. “Other than that, we got beat, we got beat. Take your ball and go home.”

The Preakness was only the seventh career start for the son of Stephen Got Even, who will now get a break from competition, according to Ryan.

“We’ll probably go in the Pegasus that they moved to the middle of the Monmouth meet (June 19),” he said. “It’s a Grade 3. We’ll go from there. We still feel pretty good about this horse.”


PLEASANT PRINCE – The grandson of A.P. Indy came out of the Preakness in good order, but will get some rest after beating only one horse on Saturday for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Pleasant Prince left for Louisville on a plane at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday and will not be considered for the Belmont Stakes, according to Ken Ramsey.

“I would say that my weekend was priceless,” said Ramsey, a Kentucky native who almost thoroughly enjoyed his first trip back to the Preakness since Ten Cents a Shine suffered a similar fate to Pleasant Prince by finishing next-to-last in 2003. “I learned a whole lot. It was a good experience, and I think I’ll be able to take something out of it and maybe come back and make a run on the Triple Crown trail next year. I always look at the glass as half-full, not half-empty.”

Ramsey said he will do things a little differently next time. He said that in his haste to get to the Kentucky Derby, his ultimate goal, he may have pushed Pleasant Prince a bit too hard. He needed more graded-stakes earnings after losing the Florida Derby by a nose, and failed efforts in the Blue Grass and Derby Trial left the Preakness as the more viable option.

“We had to hustle this horse to get him to the Derby,” said the self-made multi-millionaire during the cell phone boom. “I’m not going to do that next year. WinStar (Super Saver owners) had it figured out. You need to put your 2-year-olds and your young 3-year-olds in these graded stakes races and get the money so you don’t have to scramble around at the 11th hour like we did trying to make it. I learned a whole lot. I’m only 74, so most of my best memories are probably still ahead of me.”

Ramsey said he will look for an allowance race at Churchill Downs and maybe have Pleasant Prince in line for a stake like the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 1.


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