BAFFERT LOOKING FOR CONTINUED SUCCESS WITH NAPRAVNIK;
RING WEEKEND JOINS THE PREAKNESS PARTY AT PIMLICO; AZPURUA SEEKS PREAKNESS HISTORY WITH SOCIAL INCLUSION
CALIFORNIA CHROME – Kentucky Derby (G1) winner California Chrome is being treated for the recurrence of a minor throat irritation that his connections say will not affect his preparation for the 139th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course Saturday.
“He’s fine,” Alan Sherman said. “He had it going into the Derby and it went away. After he ran in there, it came back a little bit, but it’s not a big deal at all.”
After the colt coughed, blood work was done and he was scoped. Nothing but the blister was found. Alan Sherman said a throat blister is fairly common.
“I don’t know how they get them, but a lot of horses get them,” Sherman said, comparing it to an itchy throat for a human.
When questions arose about the status of the colt’s health, Alan Sherman issued a statement to dispel rumors that California Chrome was sick.
“The horse is completely fine,” he said in the statement. “His blood work came back perfect. He coughed about four times today and we got him checked out right away. The blister isn’t going to affect him at all; the vet said there were absolutely no other problems, nothing else going on.”
During his meeting with the media Thursday morning, Art Sherman repeated that he dislikes running a horse back in two weeks, the time between the Derby and the Preakness, and talked in general terms about what else he worries about during the Triple Crown.
“I’ve always got concerns: the weather, hoping that he doesn’t get a cold,” Sherman said. “You’re always watching him, taking his temperature three times a day because of the change in weather. One day it’s hot; one day it’s like this. The next day it will be raining. You’ve got to monitor your horse really well and make sure that he is 100 percent. That’s my key worry right now, that he doesn’t catch a cold, or anything like that.”
Sherman acknowledged the arrival of some fast new entrants will present pace challenges in the Preakness that did not materialize in the slowly run Derby.
“I think there is a going to be a different scenario of the race,” Art Sherman said. “It looks like there is going to be some legitimate speed, but don’t underestimate this horse. He’s been head and head with horses in :09 (1:09) and change and did draw off and he did do a mile in 1:33 and change. He can go with the best, I think. He’s proven it. He’s kind of like push-button. You don’t have to be on the lead, but when you ask him to run he’s going to give you a burst coming down the lane.”
California Chrome drew post 3 and is the 3-5 morning-line favorite in the Preakness.
BAYERN – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, seeking his sixth Preakness victory, said he would relish having Bayern’s rider, Rosie Napravnik, make history as the first female jockey to win Maryland’s signature race.
“It was like when Chantal Sutherland was riding Game On Dude,” Baffert said. “I got so much joy out of winning a big race that had never been done before with a female rider. It brought an extra flair to it.”
Napravnik, who won her career debut at Pimlico in 2005, is making her second appearance in the Preakness. She was third on Mylute last year. Bayern and Napravnik finished first in the Derby Trial (G3) at Churchill Downs on April 26, but were disqualified and placed second for interference in the stretch. Baffert kept her on the speedy Bayern for the Preakness.
“I’ve had a lot of success with her, but I’ve put her on a lot of live horses,” Baffert said. “She helps me out at Churchill. She’s got the right attitude. She knows that I could bring somebody in from California to ride a horse at any time, and she has no problem with that. When she breezes my horses she knows what I want, what I expect. She works really well with us.”
According to Equibase stats, Napravnik has eight wins, three seconds and earnings of $1,045,434 with 15 mounts on Baffert horses. Five of those victories have come in stakes, topped by three Grade 1 triumphs. In addition to Bayern, Napravnik has two other stakes mounts on Baffert horses at Pimlico this weekend: Jojo Warrior in the Miss Preakness and Cat Burglar in the Pimlico Special.
“I ride her because she’s a great rider and I think she’s getting better and better,” Baffert said. “She’s better this year than she was last year. I’ve seen her really changing a lot. Once you have it, you still need the horse underneath you. A great jockey like her keeps a good horse from getting beat.”
Baffert said Napravnik is focused and fiercely competitive.
“A lot of jockeys are intimidated when they ride for me. She’s not,” he said. “She just rides her horse. I never say hardly a word to her. I just throw her on there, that’s it, and I just leave her alone. She does her homework and I don’t have to say too much to her.”
Baffert acknowledged Napravnik’s connection to Pimlico and Maryland racing, but said a win in the Preakness would be special, period.
“I think if she was from Alaska it would mean a big deal to her,” he said. “Believe me, when you cross the wire and you win the Preakness or a classic race, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, it’s huge.”
Under the direction of Baffert’s assistant, Jim Barnes, Bayern galloped on the track at Pimlico Thursday morning. The son of Offlee Wild shipped from Kentucky to Baltimore Wednesday.
DYNAMIC IMPACT – John Oxley’s Dynamic Impact enjoyed an easy first day at Pimlico after arriving from Churchill Downs by galloping 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Wayne Brown.
“He likes to take his time out there,” said Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark Casse, who will be at Pimlico Friday. “It was a very good first day and it looked like he got over the track real well.”
Dynamic Impact went to the track after the renovation break, which was a departure from his normal routine of going out around 6:30 with the second set of Casse-trained horses.
“It was our first day here and I’m glad I brought another horse so I could do a test run,” Norman Casse said of taking Miss Preakness entrant Tepin to the track first on a foggy morning.
“Tomorrow he will go out at 6:30.”
Training hours Friday are 5-9 a.m. with no renovation break and training Saturday is limited to Preakness horses from 5-6 a.m.
For Brown, it was the first time he had been aboard Dynamic Impact since March at Oaklawn Park.
Dynamic Impact, listed at 12-1 on the morning line, will break from post position one and be ridden by Miguel Mena. This is the first Preakness mount for Mena.
GENERAL A ROD – Skychai Racing and Starlight Racing’s General a Rod made his regular early-morning appearance on the track at Pimlico to gallop a mile and a quarter, but trainer Mike Maker basically had to take the word of exercise rider Joel Barrientos for it. He and fellow Preakness contender Kid Cruz were both out at the same time.
“I don’t know,” Maker said when asked who won the galloping contest between the two. “It was too foggy for me to tell.”
That was the second concern for Maker in the past 12 hours or so at Pimlico. The first occurred at Wednesday’s post-position draw.
“It was all good until we drew the 2-hole,” the former D. Wayne Lukas assistant said. “It is what it is. Obviously the makeup of the race is going to decide (strategy). If he can get out, so be it. If he can’t there’s really nothing you can do, unless you plow somebody over. That’s why we’ll let (jockey) Javier (Castellano) decide.”
Starlight Racing’s managing partner Jack Wolf stopped by Barn D to check on the colt co-owned with Skychai Racing, who was named – not for the famous Yankee third baseman, but – for original owner J. Armando Rodriguez. Starlight and Skychai purchased the colt after his close third-place finish in the Florida Derby (G1) on March 29 at Gulfstream Park.
“I’ve always liked this horse since the first time I saw him on January First,” Wolf said. “He’s a fighter.”
Maker was the original trainer and retained his position in large part because of his past associations with Skychai. He was thrilled to remain General a Rod’s trainer.
“I’ve always had a lot of confidence in this horse,” Maker said. “He’s got a great attitude and he never gets nervous about anything. If he’s good enough, he’ll prevail. If not, we’ll find a softer spot next time.”
The Kentucky Derby was the first time he had been off the board in six career starts (11th) after breaking slowly and encountering typical Derby traffic.
General a Rod is actually still eligible for preliminary allowance conditions no matter what happens Saturday in the Preakness. Other than the maiden-breaking win in his first start at Keeneland in October, his only other victory came in a stakes race – the ungraded Gulfstream Park Derby on his 3-year-old birthday New Year’s Day.
KID CRUZ – Trainer Linda Rice was on hand to watch Kid Cruz go to the track for his regular post-6 a.m. gallop with exercise rider Reul Munoz. He and fellow Preakness contender General a Rod were out at the same time, but Rice was unaware of it.
“I didn’t see him (General a Rod),” she said. “There was so much fog out there I was struggling to find my own horse. We let him stretch out down the lane a little bit and try to let him know where the wire is. He’s doing well.”
The son of Lemon Drop Kid is set to make his first graded-stakes start in the Preakness. He comes into the Preakness with only five starts, but his last two were stakes wins in the Private Terms at Laurel and the Federico Tesio at Pimlico. He is the only Preakness candidate to run over the Pimlico track.
“He’s won over the track, so we’re going to find out if he can handle this type of competition,” said Rice, who will be saddling her first Preakness starter in hopes of making history. A female trainer never has won the Middle Jewel of Triple Crown. “I’m excited to see how it plays out. We’re here and we’re ready to go.”
Owned by Vina Del Mar Thoroughbreds and Black Swan Stable, Kid Cruz appears to be one of the contenders who would benefit most from a lively, contested pace. All three of his victories have come from off the pace, sometimes far off it.
“When he ran in the Private Terms, he was so far back, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what’s wrong?’” she said. “He was 22 lengths back. We planned to be off the pace and make a run, but that was a surprise to me and actually a concern at the time.”
Jockey Julian Pimentel apparently was less concerned as Kid Cruz passed all nine opponents and went on to win by four widening lengths. However, that victory came with an unexpected price tag as Kid Cruz incurred an apparent shoulder injury that would keep him out of the Wood Memorial (G1) and cost him any chance he had of making the Kentucky Derby.
“I had sent him for a lot of tests and exams, nuclear scans and what not,” Rice said. “We figured out everything it was not, and then landed on it being a pinched nerve at the base of his neck. He responded well to treatment, but that caused us to miss the Wood. I knew it was an outside chance we could even make the Wood, but I was trying to keep the Derby dream alive.”
Plan B was the Tesio on April 19 as a prep for the Preakness. His 3 ½-length victory in that race was less harrowing for Rice as Pimentel kept him a bit closer to the pace. Pimentel has ridden in the Preakness only once previously, having finished 11th aboard Norman Asbjornson in 2011.
“He impressed me enough in his last two races, and he’s trained very well where I think he deserves a chance at this race,” Rice said.
PABLO DEL MONTE – During his first morning at Pimlico Thursday, Pablo Del Monte galloped 1 ¼ miles through the fog under exercise rider Mike Clark.
The Wesley Ward-trained chestnut colt was shipped from Louisville, Ky. to Baltimore Wednesday and settled in nicely, members of Ward’s staff reported. Pablo Del Monte drew post 9 for the Preakness and will be ridden by Jeffrey Sanchez.
RIA ANTONIA – With exercise rider Maurice Sanchez aboard, the only filly in Saturday’s Preakness field, Ria Antonia, jogged a mile in dense fog a little after 6:30 Thursday morning at Pimlico.
“It was like driving 60 in the fog,” Sanchez said with a laugh. “I don’t think she noticed the fog, but I sure did.”
Trained by Tom Amoss, Ria Antonia shipped to Pimlico Wednesday afternoon from Churchill Downs and Sanchez, who traveled with the filly on the flight, said everything about the ship was smooth.
Ria Antonia was scheduled to school in the paddock Thursday and will train at about the same time Friday.
Ron Paolucci, head of Loooch Racing and owner of the filly along with Christopher Dunn, has no qualms about tackling the colts with Ria Antonia after her sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
“This can’t be any harder than running against (Oaks winner) Untapable,” Paolucci said. “It looks to me like California Chrome and everybody else.
“She is the second-leading money earner in the field behind only California Chrome and she is the only other Grade 1 winner in the field besides California Chrome. How can people say that she does not belong?”
Calvin Borel, winner of the 2009 Preakness aboard Rachel Alexandra, the most recent filly to run in the Preakness, has the mount Saturday and will break from post position six. At 30-1, Ria Antonia is the longest price on the morning line.
RIDE ON CURLIN – Trainer Billy Gowan led Ride On Curlin on a 35-minute walking regimen in the shedrow of the Preakness Stakes Barn Thursday morning, a day after his final breeze (half-mile in 49 3/5 seconds) for Saturday’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
“He looks really good; his legs are good, and he ate everything, so we’re fine,” Gowan said after the lengthy walk.
Gowan originally had some trepidation about drawing the far outside post in the Preakness field of 10, but ultimately decided he’ll be much better off than he was in Louisville, where he drew post 18 and trailed the field early after jockey Calvin Borel took a sharp left out of the gate to get to the rail.
“It is what it is,” Gowan said of post 10. “It’s better than being in the 1-hole. My horse has got a little speed, you know. He doesn’t have to be dead last like he was in the Derby. He’s got tactical speed. I think it’s really perfect because there ought to be some speed to go out there. Hopefully, he can just tuck in before we get to the turn and save a little ground.”
Gowan said Borel took a chance that just didn’t work out because of the slow pace.
“It wasn’t anything we discussed,” he said. “That was his idea, not mine. With this jock (Joel Rosario), I’ll just tell him that our horse does have speed and just use your own judgment. If the pace is crawling – Calvin didn’t know the pace was going to be crawling in the Derby – just let him run away from there and see where he is. If the pace is crawling, go up there and join them. If it’s blistering just lay off them. It’s common sense, you would think.”
Before the Derby, Ride On Curlin was a good second in the Arkansas Derby (G1) and third in the Rebel (G2) at Oaklawn Park.
“I think he’s a good horse,” Gowan said. “I think he’s one of the top 3-year-olds in the country. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. Hopefully, one of these days we’ll get the chance to show it, maybe Saturday.”
RING WEEKEND – St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Ring Weekend arrived at Pimlico Thursday shortly before 11 a.m. following a van ride from trainer Graham Motion’s base at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md.
“We trained him this morning,” assistant trainer and exercise rider Alice Clapham said. “He’ll just walk this afternoon and he’ll train tomorrow morning.”
The Tampa Bay Derby (G2) winner was accompanied on the van by Under Control, who was entered in Thursday’s seventh race at Pimlico. Ring Weekend was knocked out of a run in the Kentucky Derby when he lost a few days of training with a fever.
“We’ve been really happy with him. He breezed very well the other day, and I think after that they decided to give him a shot in here,” Clapham said.
Ring Weekend, who followed up his Tampa Bay Derby win with a second-place finish in the Calder Derby on April 5, is rated at 20-1 in the morning line.
SOCIAL INCLUSION – Rontos Racing Stable Corp.’s Social Inclusion jogged a half-mile and galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Domingo Navarro Thursday morning at Pimlico.
The 3-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile is scheduled to make only his fourth career start in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, and if successful in prevailing over Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome and eighth other rivals, his trainer, Manny Azpurua, would become the oldest trainer to saddle a Preakness winner.
Two weeks after 77-year-old Art Sherman became the oldest trainer to saddle a Kentucky Derby winner, the 85-year-old Azpurua would eclipse the record of legendary “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, who was 82 years and 10 months old when he scored with Bold Ruler for a 1957 Preakness victory, should Social Inclusion win Saturday.
Azpurua, who saddled more than 3000 winners in his native Venezuela before venturing to the U.S. in 1979, has never given a thought to retirement.
“I love this business. I love the horses,” said Azpurua, his voice cracking with emotion.
Aspurua’s passion for training, which has enabled him to achieve longstanding success in South Florida for more than three decades, is appreciated by Ron Sanchez, who operates Rontos Racing.
“I feel a lot of respect for him. He was a national hero of racing fans in Venezuela. The more I know him, the more I want to learn from him. I’m proud of Manny Azpurua,” said Sanchez, who moved to the U.S. from Venezuela permanently in 2010. “This is my man. We’re going to make it. No matter what, we’re going to stick together. He knows the horses; he loves the horses.”
Sanchez’s loyalty was in evidence when he received offers to buy Social Inclusion after his maiden victory by 7 ½ lengths and following his track record-breaking triumph in his second start at Gulfstream.
“I respect him so much. I didn’t sell the horse because they wanted to take the horse away from him. Loyalty is a big word,” Sanchez said.
Social Inclusion, who is rated second in the Preakness morning line at 5-1, will have a lot of support in Venezuela Saturday as the tries to rebound from a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial (G1) at Aqueduct on April 5.
“Everybody is focusing attention on this horse, like they did with Wildcat Red (trained by Venezuela native Jose Garoffalo) in the Kentucky Derby. But I think there’s more focus because they think this horse has a better chance of winning than Wildcat Red did,” said Sanchez, who has received several requests for interviews from the Venezuelan media. “He’s second choice. They’ll be cheering for us. Venezuelan horse racing fans are the best. There are 500 simulcast facilities around the country.”