Mine That Bird closed from last to score by 6 ¾ lengths at Churchill Downs on May 2, followed by Pioneerof the Nile, Musket Man and Papa Clem, all of whom will contest the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. Beaten Derby favorite Friesan Fire will also seek redemption in the 1 3/16-mile classic.
The post position draw, which will get under way at 5 p.m. Wednesday, will be televised on HRTV. It can also be viewed on ESPN 360.com.
134th PREAKNESS STAKES FIELD
Horse Trainer Jockey Record Earnings
Big Drama David Fawkes John Velazquez 7-5-1-1, $890,250
Flying Private D. Wayne Lukas Alan Garcia 11-1-4-0, $193,080
Friesan Fire Larry Jones Gabriel Saez 8-4-1-1, $603,265
General Quarters Tom McCarthy Julien Leparoux 12-3-3-1, $641,735
Luv Gov D. Wayne Lukas Jamie Theriot 10-1-3-1, $62,896
Mine That Bird Chip Woolley Mike Smith 9-5-1-0, $1,791,581
Musket Man Derek Ryan Eibar Coa 7-5-0-2, $772,600
Papa Clem Gary Stute Rafael Bejarano 7-2-2-0, $890,940
Pioneerof the Nile Bob Baffert Garrett Gomez 9-5-1-1, $1,634,200
Rachel Alexandra Steve Asmussen Calvin Borel 10-7-2-0, $958,354
Take the Points Todd Pletcher Edgar Prado 6-2-2-0, $156,190
Terrain Al Stall Jr Jeremy Rose 8-3-1-1, $512,084
Tone It Down William Komlo Kent Desormeaux 6-2-2-1, $54,720
MINE THAT BIRD GETS ACQUAINTED WITH PIMLICO TRACK
MINE THAT BIRD – The Kentucky Derby victor pleased his trainer Wednesday during his first morning of exercise at Pimlico in preparation for Saturday’s 134th running of the Preakness. Mine That Bird, who shocked the thoroughbred world while scoring at 50-1 odds in the Derby, had arrived at Pimlico Tuesday evening following a one-stop van ride from Churchill Downs.
“He made the trip really good. He was bouncing. (Exercise rider) Charlie (Figueroa) said, over on the backside, he was really bucking and playing, so it looks like he made the trip good,” said trainer Chip Woolley, who drove the pickup towing Mine That Bird’s van during the trip that took less than 10 hours. “We stood him; backtracked him about a little more than a half-mile to the gates; stood him and loped him a full round, then backtracked him back. So he did almost two miles. He looks super.”
Although he soundly defeated his rivals by nearly seven lengths at Churchill Downs, Mine That Bird might not be taken seriously by some bettors who regard his Derby as more of a fluke than a true measure of his talent.
“Horses fire big races, and I’m not saying he didn’t run over his form, but they do fire big races, and hopefully he’ll fire back like that this week,” Woolley said. “If he does, that’s wonderful, if he doesn’t, we’ll regroup and aim him for the Belmont and see what happens.”
Mine That Bird’s dominating performance in the Derby will always be appreciated by his trainer.
“He passed 18 head of Grade 1 horses from the three-eighths pole to the wire, so it’s not like he stole an easy lead and just got away from them,” Woolley said. “The horse had to work for it and earned it. That speaks for itself.”
Jockey Calvin Borel, whose rail-skimming ride has received much of the credit for the last-to-first victory at Churchill, will not be aboard Mine That Bird, having opted to ride Rachel Alexandra, whom he rode to a 20 ¼-length triumph in the Kentucky Oaks. Mike Smith has been named to replace Borel.
“Calvin did a great job, but he also gave Mike, if he rides him, something to go by, because that’s the trip we’ve been looking for all along,” said Woolley, who has maintained that Borel will ride his gelding in the unlikely event that Rachel Alexandra defects from the Preakness. “Now, they see that he’s fired his very best races when he’s run that way, so it gives him something to gauge by going into this race.”
Like Mine Than Bird, Woolley seems to be handling the pressure of the Triple Crown well.
“It’s been a whirlwind. At first, it was a little overwhelming and hard to get your head around. But now, I’m starting to relax,” he said. “You realize you got the Derby and you get to keep it and whatever happens after that is just gravy.”
(Chip Woolley will be available to the media at 8 a.m. on Thursday and Friday)
RACHEL ALEXANDRA – The Kentucky Oaks winner spent some time standing in the starting gate Wednesday in what was a quiet morning at Churchill Downs before being shipped to Baltimore. Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen, said the filly was fine before boarding a charter flight to Maryland for the 134th Preakness.
Rachel Alexandra was formally entered in the Preakness Wednesday morning. The ownership group of Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stable and Harold T. McCormick paid the $100,000 supplemental entry fee to make her eligible for the Triple Crown races. She will be the 53rd filly to run in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, the fifth in the last 70 years and the first since Excellent Meeting in 1999. Four fillies have won the Preakness: Flocarline in 1903; Whimsical, 1906; Rhine Maiden, 1915; and Nellie Morse, 1924.
BIG DRAMA – Trainer David Fawkes and owner Harold Queen didn’t succumb to Derby Fever, even in the aftermath of Big Drama’s track record-shattering first-place finish in the Swale Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park on March 28.
“We just kind of felt like it wasn’t the right thing to do,” said Fawkes, whose colt was disqualified from his short-lived sixth-straight victory for bumping after running seven furlongs in a dazzling 1:20.88.
The connections of Big Drama did develop a passion for the Preakness in the immediate aftermath of Mine That Bird’s stunning upset in the Kentucky Derby.
“When they crossed the wire, I was already on the phone to Mr. Queen and said, ‘I think we need to go to the Preakness,’’ said Fawkes, a Calder-based trainer. “Knowing the connections of the filly, I was fine with going to the Preakness. Now…..”
Rachel Alexandra, whose former owner was opposed to running fillies against colts in the Triple Crown, has made the Preakness a far more difficult assignment, said Fawkes. Big Drama, who stood in the starting gate and galloped a little more than a mile Wednesday, hasn’t been beaten to the finish line in six starts since setting the pace and fading to third in his debut at Calder last July.
“We liked him first time,” Fawkes said. “It was just too quick – a first-time starter going 6 ½ (furlongs), that’s a stretch for a first-time starter going 6 ½ at Calder.”
FLYING PRIVATE/LUV GOV – Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who has started many fillies against males in major races - including a victory in the Kentucky Derby with Winning Colors - said Wednesday that he supports the decision to run Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness. Rachel Alexandra has won five consecutive races and seven of her 10 career starts. In her last start, she won the Kentucky Oaks, by 20 ¼ lengths.
“Believe me, if I had Rachel Alexandra, she’d have been in the Derby,” Lukas said. “Are you kidding me? That would have been a no-brainer. I’d have led her over there and said, `Boys, just get in the gate, you’re in deep crap.’”
Lukas said she is a good fit for the race because she has dominated her races with fillies; has a running style that will keep her forwardly placed; has a pedigree for the distance; and the field doesn’t appear to include any superstars, like Triple Crown winners Secretariat or Seattle Slew.
“I don’t think she’ll get intimidated,” he said. “She’s not some little violet prancing around. When she gets off the van you’ll see.
“She’s got all the equipment to get the job done. She’s no little thing. She’s not going to be intimidated. She might be as big as any horse in the race. Not bigger than my two colts weight-wise, but she’s tall and rangy and scopey. The only thing wrong with the deal is that I don’t have her.”
Lukas had his Preakness horses, Flying Private and Luv Gov, jog around Pimlico early Wednesday morning. The pair shipped in from Churchill Downs Tuesday, a van ride that took about 12 hours.
“They’d been on that van for a long time, so I just jogged them today,” he said. “I’ll give them a good gallop tomorrow.”
Lukas said the colts handled the ship “remarkably well.”
“Their energy was excellent today,” he said, “in fact, better than I had even hoped.”
Flying Private has made four straight starts in stakes, including a last-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, but Luv Gov will be trying stakes competition for the first time. The homebred colt owned by Marylou Whitney and her husband John Hendrickson, broke his maiden on the Derby Day program on May 2 in the 10th start of his career.
“He’s one of those horses that we thought a lot of and then he made us wonder a little bit,” Lukas said. “He’s such a big, growthy horse. His pedigree is just screaming distance, and the light bulb kind of went on for him lately. That son of a gun is starting to do good. He ran a bang-up race to Summer Bird in Hot Springs and he came back on Derby day and his numbers for that race are pretty darn good in relation to ones who ran a little later in the Derby. A horse that is improving at this time of year is always dangerous.
“My ultimate goal for him, and I told John and Marylou that right from the get-go is the Belmont. I think he’s truly a mile-and-a-half horse. He could make a little noise here. We don’t have grandiose ideas that he’s going to jump up and beat all these horses, but he might figure in the superfecta.”
Flying Private will be ridden by Alan Garcia. Jamie Theriot has the mount on Luv Gov.
FRIESAN FIRE – After working five furlongs in a sharp 58 2/5 seconds Tuesday morning, Friesan Fire walked the shedrow of the Preakness Stakes Barn Wednesday.
“He ate up all his food and he’s feeling good this morning,” said groom Cory York, who has worked for trainer Larry Jones for nearly five years.
Although Friesan Fire suffered several cuts on his legs during a troubled trip that resulted in an 18th-place finish in the Derby, York said the son of A.P. Indy is a relatively fresh horse for the Preakness.
“The best thing (jockey) Gabe (Saez) could have done was coast him on home. He never really got tired in the Derby. Oh, he got a little tired, but not a typical mile-and-a-quarter winded, blowing tired,” the Louisville, Ky. native said.
GENERAL QUARTERS – Trainer/owner Tom McCarthy walked from nearby Barn D, where his colt has the living quarters all to himself, over to the racing office Wednesday morning to enter his one-horse stable in the Preakness. McCarthy sent the son of Sky Mesa out onto the track earlier, cooled him out and walked him in the shedrow before grabbing a small bite to eat outside the Preakness Stakes Barn.
“We just galloped a slow gallop, about a mile and three-eighths,” said the 75-year-old retired school teacher and principal. “I love that track; it’s the type of a sandy track that we had in Tampa. I could just tell by the way he was going that he enjoyed it.”
McCarthy arrived at Pimlico early Tuesday afternoon, but a missed turn by the van driver and a subsequent minor traffic accident delayed the colt’s arrival by more than an hour.
“I was a little concerned because he was in the accident yesterday, and I thought he might be just a little stiff today,” McCarthy said. “But there doesn’t seem to be any aftereffects whatsoever.”
McCarthy is hoping General Quarters gets the opportunity to show what he can do on a fast track Saturday. He didn’t care much for the surface at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, despite being on his home course. The Blue Grass (G1) winner finished 10th after encountering traffic and footing problems.
“That was horrible,” said McCarthy, who has lived in Louisville with his wife and family since 1962. “It was one of the worst Derby tracks I’ve seen in 20 years. He got slammed pretty good in there, too.”
General Quarters, a $20,000 claim by McCarthy off his debut race (a win at Churchill last May), is the most experienced runner in this year’s Preakness field. He has raced 12 times with three wins, three seconds and a third. His other stakes score came in the Sam Davis (G3) at Tampa, where he beat Musket Man by 6 ½ lengths.
MUSKET MAN – The only two-time derby winner (Illinois, Tampa Bay) in the Preakness field took “an easy hack (gallop)” around the track at Monmouth Park, where he will remain until race day.
“He’s out grazing right now, doing good,” trainer Derek Ryan said by phone shortly after 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Musket Man, who drew only $15,000 out of a Keeneland yearling sale, was subsequently purchased privately by Eric Fein and Vic Carlson. He didn’t make it to the races until October of his juvenile season, but the colt rewarded his connections for their patience by winning his first three races.
“That’s my method of training,” Ryan said. “Don’t rush them; horses will tell you when they’re ready to go. You’ve got to take your time. He’s never run a bad race.”
Musket Man started his 3-year-old campaign by winning an ungraded stake at Tampa Bay Downs on Jan. 17, but tasted defeat for the first time at the hands of Preakness opponent General Quarters in the Sam Davis a month later.
Ryan said he was bumped in that race, and when he came back to win the Tampa Bay Derby and Illinois Derby, he became a contender the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. Despite having trouble handling the sloppy track and encountering some bumping, Musket Man finished third in the Kentucky Derby.
Ryan said he was undeterred by the entrance of Kentucky Oaks winner in the Preakness field of 13.
“The more, the merrier,” he said. “I’m not worried about anybody else in the race.”
PAPA CLEM – Trainer Gary Stute, the subject of a daily diary in the New York Post, had his Arkansas Derby winner walk the shedrow Wednesday, the day after his final work. Stute planned to do little more than walk the colt again Thursday, but said he has changed plans and will take the Smart Strike sophomore out for a gallop.
“Usually I walk two days, but as slow as he worked yesterday (1:05 for five furlongs), I’ll take him to the track again tomorrow,” Stute said. “I heard them (media) all before the Derby, too. They said it was the worst work in Derby history (1:29 for seven furlongs). He didn’t finish, he was in distress. I’m not worried about it.”
Papa Clem ran a creditable fourth in the Derby. But Stute has had his eyes on this race for a long time, maybe more than two decades after his father, Mel, won the 1986 Preakness with Snow Chief.
“To win this race 23 years after my father won it would be pretty special,” Stute said. “I don’t know how many years I’ve got left with him and I’d like to do something (special) while he’s alive rather than later. Hopefully we can win this race and he’ll be here to see it. Pimlico is definitely a special place for the Stute family.”
Stute, who grew up in the business with his father and late uncle Warren in California, has been on the phone with his dad all week. Mel Stute and his wife will be here for the race.
“He was a little disappointed with the work, but I told him it wasn’t my fault,” said Stute, accompanied by an ever-present laugh and cigar.
Stute said he may also give his colt some schooling before Saturday.
“I at least want to stand him in the gate once,” he said. “He’s never been bad in the gate, but I think it’s always good for the handlers to see him once before the race.”
PIONEEROF THE NILE – Trainer Bob Baffert said Ahmed Zayat’s homebred colt Pioneerof the Nile stood in the starting gate and Churchill Downs and galloped Wednesday morning before boarding a charter flight to Maryland. Pioneerof the Nile, a son of Empire Maker, has won five of nine career starts. He had won four straight since being moved to Baffert’s barn late last year before his second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby on May 2. Two-time Eclipse Award winning jockey Garrett Gomez will ride Pioneerof the Nile in the Preakness.
TAKE THE POINTS – The Starlight Partners’ colt turned in a routine gallop at Belmont Park Wednesday. Trainer Todd Pletcher said Take the Points will he shipped from New York to Baltimore Saturday morning, with the van scheduled to leave at 2:30 a.m. Pletcher, who won his first Triple Crown race with the filly Rags to Riches beating males in the Belmont Stakes in 2007, said he is looking forward to seeing Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra face a similar test in the Preakness on Saturday.
“Obviously, she’s a filly of the highest quality and she brings a lot of pizzazz to the race,” Pletcher said. “I’ll find it very interesting to see how she handles a step up in class because this field is greatly different than the field she faced in the Oaks. I think it’s great for the sport and it’s going to be very exciting to see how she performs.”
Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado will ride Take the Points in the Preakness.
TERRAIN – Adele Dilschneider’s Terrain galloped 1 ½ miles at Churchill Downs Wednesday morning before boarding a charter flight bound for Baltimore in the early afternoon. Terrain, who will be ridden by Jeremy Rose, most recently finished fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface.
TONE IT DOWN – The only horse in the Preakness field with a race over the Pimlico track was jogged the wrong way and then galloped nine furlongs the right way at nearby Laurel Park Wednesday morning. Trainer Bill Komlo is hoping that race only two weeks ago is a bit of an advantage when he returns to the scene of his third-place finish in the Federico Tesio.
“I would think so (it’s an advantage),” the 73-year-old Komlo said. “Any time you can get over the track and nobody else has been there, it’s a step in the right direction.”
Komlo said he wasn’t as concerned about post positions for the Preakness as he is about getting his Medaglia d’Oro colt off the pace and back to his preferred style. To that end, he has enlisted the services of Kent Desormeaux to ride for the first time.
“I don’t think it matters too much,” he said of the draw. “We’re not going for the lead in this race. We have to come from off the pace; that’s our strong point. We’re going to change tactics a bit here.”
Komlo seemed comfortable with the added presence of Rachel Alexandra, who should help assure a better pace for Tone It Down and the other closers.
“It’s just a horse race and the best horse wins, that’s the way it is,” said Komlo, “We’re going to go in there hoping for the best, let our horse try to run his race and see what happens.”