The colts shipped to Pimlico from Churchill Downs Wednesday and Pletcher said they have settled into their new surroundings. Super Saver drew the No.8 post position for the 135th Preakness and is the 5-2 morning-line favorite, while Dogwood Stable’s Aikenite drew the No. 1 post.
“We took him out and gave him an easy jog once around the track,” Pletcher said. “The track was sloppy and we weren’t looking to do much, but I thought he handled everything really well. He had a good night; rested well and cleaned up his grain. His energy level is very good. It seems like he’s shipped in as well as we could have hoped.”
With his Derby victory, WinStar Farm’s colt is the center of attention. Pletcher said the son of Maria’s Mon has not been affected by all the activity around the barn.
“This horse has a great mindset,” he said. “He’s very relaxed and he shipped in very well and is taking everything in stride.”
More important, Pletcher said Super Saver looks like he’s handled the stress of running a mile and a quarter in the Derby and is ready for the second round of the Triple Crown on Saturday.
“Everything we’ve seen indicates he’s come out of it really well,” Pletcher said. “His energy level has been good and he’s bouncing back in good shape.”
Pletcher smiled when a reporter asked during the first wave of interviews of the morning whether any criticism of the colt was warranted.
“We’re pretty high on him,” Pletcher said, his smile widening. “After the Derby, we’re real high on him. I think he showed last year that he was one of the best 2-year-old colts in country. He solidified it this year by winning the most important race. If he can keep doing it and keep improving, I think he will quiet some of the critics.”
Pletcher said that the matchmaking that put jockey Calvin Borel on Super Saver last year turned out to be the right call.
“I think he’s a really, really good fit for this colt,” Pletcher said. “He’s got a light touch and it seems the colt relaxes well for him. I think there is a lot of good chemistry between the two of them.”
The Derby field contained several fast horses that hooked up early and produced a quick early tempo. With the defections of the speedy Hurricane Ike and A Little Warm, the Preakness may set up differently.
“I don’t anticipate quite as brisk a pace, but I think there will be an honest pace,” Pletcher said. “Basically, we’ll just let Calvin and Super Saver decide where they are comfortable in the early part. If that’s at or on the lead, we’re not going to have a problem with that. If it’s laying fourth or fifth, we’re not going to have a problem with that. It’s just going to be up to Calvin to judge the pace and see where the comfort zone for the horse is.”
Pletcher said the colt’s versatility is his greatest attribute and allows Borel the opportunity to find that optimal location in the race.
“A lot was made out of some of the trips that the horses got in the Derby. Obviously, there were some difficult trips,” Pletcher said. “The thing that he was able to do was put himself in all the right positions. He’s tactical enough that he’s got enough speed to put himself in the right spot. He’s become kind enough that he can settle off of a hot pace. He’s one of those horses that creates his own trip. He’s not at the mercy of the rest of the field. It’s always great to be in that position where you don’t have to worry if there is a slow pace or there is a really fast pace because he can put himself in the right spot.”
As a result, Pletcher said the loss of a couple of horses who have shown they like to run on the lead is not a major concern.
“I don’t think it really affects him too much,” Pletcher said. “It gives Calvin a lot of options. Sometimes you have to be a little careful when you start to over-analyze a race. When you think there is no speed in it, there are 11 other jockeys in there that are thinking the same thing and might change their tactics a little bit. I can see a horse like Paddy O’Prado – he was on the lead when he won on the grass at Gulfstream. If he’s ridden aggressively, he can be close. It’s one of those things that Calvin is going to have to decide. I think post 8 gives him all those options to kind of survey what’s going on inside and outside and find the colt’s comfort zone.”
While it’s certainly not unprecedented in a Triple Crown race, Pletcher is saddling the Derby winner and a stablemate who could upset Super Saver. Dogwood Stable is managed by Cot Campbell, who has been sending horses to Pletcher since he opened his own business in 1996. Aikenite has been considered a classics-caliber horse since he debuted at Saratoga last summer, but finished eighth in the Blue Grass Stakes and was not entered in the Kentucky Derby.
“We were very optimistic going into the Blue Grass,” Pletcher said. “The third in the Fountain of Youth was a good race. Obviously, some other horses, like Ice Box, came out of it and ran very well. We were disappointed by the Blue Grass and kind of stumped by his poor performance. When he came out of it well and we couldn’t find a physical reason, Mr. Campbell wanted to try the Derby Trial and we felt like we got him back on track there. It was a good race. He finished up well. The mile is probably a touch shorter than his best distance. A couple of days after he came out of the Derby Trial we talked about that we’d like to try the Preakness.
“Some people made an issue out of running a horse against the Derby winner, but that was decided before the Kentucky Derby was even run.”
Pletcher said it was Dogwood’s right to run in the Preakness against the Derby winner because the goal of the public partnership company is to buy and develop good horses to run in major races.
“It’s a situation as a public trainer that you’re going to be in on occasion,” Pletcher said. “In a perfect world, you’d never have to run any of them against each other, but we always try to do what’s best for each individual horse and each individual owner.”
Aikenite will be ridden by jockey Javier Castellano in the Preakness.
Pletcher said that his colts would go back to the track to gallop Friday morning: Aikenite at 6 a.m. and Super Saver at 6:30.
CARACORTADO – Donald Blahut, who owns Caracortado in a 50-50 partnership with trainer Michael Machowsky, paid a visit to the Preakness Stakes Barn Thursday morning, when the California-bred gelding took a jog over the Pimlico track for the first time. Blahut, whose Preakness hopeful seemed to have handled the cross-country flight that took him from Southern California to Baltimore on Wednesday, stood back as Machowsky took care of business with their horse.
“He’s very thorough. I’ve been told I’m a rare bird in this business because I let the trainer do his job,” said the 80-year-old retired businessman, for whom Machowsky has trained for nearly 20 years. “Mike is free to do what he does best.”
As far as Blahut is concerned, why tinker with an owner/trainer relationship that has produced great results?
“In my lifetime, I’ve dedicated a lot of time to owning horses. In your lifetime you’re only supposed to get one good horse,” he said. “He’s picked three for me, so I’m way above average; that’s why I’m happy.
Blahut owns a share in Kelly Leak, who captured the $900,000 Sunland Derby last year, finishing clear of fourth-place finisher Mine That Bird, who would go on to capture the Kentucky Derby and finish second in the Preakness. He also owned a 25-percent share of Southern Image, who captured the 2004 Pimlico Special, Santa Anita Handicap and Sunshine Millions.
Blahut, whose colors are always worn by the jockeys aboard horses he owns with Machowsky, was looking forward to watching Caracortado run in the Kentucky Derby until a troubled fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby failed to give him enough graded-stakes earnings to qualify for the 20-horse field.
“After watching it on TV and with the weather and everything, I wasn’t too disappointed. But it would have been nice to go to the Derby. We would have liked to have had enough points to get there, but it wasn’t to be,” said Blahut, whose gelding won the first five races of his career. “We’re really not devastated by it. I think this is the race we fit better in of the three races. I think if we have some racing luck, we’ll be all right.”
Paul Atkinson, who has been aboard for all seven of Caracortado’s races, will have the return mount Saturday.
DUBLIN/NORTHERN GIANT – As is his norm, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas had his Preakness runners, Dublin and Northern Giant, out of the barn and on the track to gallop at Pimlico shortly after it opened at 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning. Lukas said the absence of speed horses will affect how the Preakness is run.
“I looks like it’s more moderate speed and closers,” he said. “It may be a little bit bunchy on the turn.”
Lukas would prefer that jockey Garrett Gomez, who is replacing Terry Thompson, give Dublin a more patient ride. Dublin has run well in most of his races, usually hitting the board, but hasn’t won since taking the Hopeful at Saratoga last summer.
“In a perfect world, if we could change, we wouldn’t have moved quite so early in the last three races,” Lukas said. “In the Rebel, the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby, we were moving this horse too quick. He’s got a big drive and a serious drive, but I don’t think he can start it from the half-mile.”
Lukas said he will talk with Gomez about strategy for the Preakness.
“I want to get into the race; I don’t want to drop way out of it,” he said. “My horse has got pretty good tactical speed, if you use it. I just don’t want to make that move as early as we’ve been making it. He’s not Secretariat. Once in awhile you’ll get a horse that can make that half-mile run, but not very many of them. I’d like to be in contention in the race, be in position to make the run, but I hope that we don’t have to start at the half-mile pole.”
Dublin finished seventh in the Derby under some difficult conditions on the wet track.
“He was rolling pretty damn good in the Derby on the outside and he couldn’t see,” Lukas said. “When we pulled the blinkers off, two clods of mud as big as baseballs fell to the ground. He had no vision.”
JACKSON BEND – Trainer Nick Zito sent the Wood Memorial runner-up out to the track at Pimlico for the first time for a gallop the wrong way around the sealed surface and reported all systems are in order for the Preakness.
“He’s got to keep an eye on the race,” Zito said when asked about the potential pace scenario on Saturday. “The way he’s coming up to the race, he’s pretty sharp, so I’d like to see him close up.”
This will be the fifth start of the year for Jackson Bend, and he is still seeking his first victory. As a 2-year-old he was 5-for-6 with a second, including a sweep of the Florida Stallion Series at Calder for previous trainer Stanley Gold.
Robert LaPenta, who purchased a majority share in Jackson Bend from breeder Fred J. Brei, realized he had a Triple Crown-caliber colt and put him in Zito’s barn after his Oct. 17 victory in the $400,000 In Reality finale. After runner-up finishes in the Holy Bull, Fountain of Youth and Wood Memorial, Jackson Bend was a disappointing 12th in the Kentucky Derby.
“The Derby is sometimes a kind of funny race. You never know who runs 10th, 12th, 16th,” Zito said. “You never know who got the worst of it. Any time you run in a 20-horse race the stress factor is not recorded. Mentally, I don’t know (what the race took out of him); physically, not much.”
The official chart recorded that Jackson Bend was in eighth position near the mile mark of the Derby before being steadied and forced to alter course on the sloppy, sealed surface at Churchill Downs. It turned out to be the first time the son of Hear No Evil was ever worse than second.
Mike Smith has the return mount for the Preakness breaking from post position 6 at morning-line odds of 12-1.
LOOKIN AT LUCKY – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sent his Preakness colt out for an easy mile-and-three-eighths jog under exercise rider Dana Barnes at 8:30 a.m. Thursday. It was the first visit to the track at Pimlico for the beaten Kentucky Derby favorite, who is the 3-1 second choice on the Preakness morning line.
“He went nice. He just sort of got a feel for it,” Baffert said. “On a muddy track you can’t really get a good grip of it, but he looked good. That’s not the surface we’re going to be running on. He got a good look at the track around there. When there isn’t any horses training on it, it’s sort of weird for him, but he took in all the sights pretty good. He went easy around there. We don’t do much once we get here with him. He’s doing well.”
Baffert saddled two horses in the Kentucky Derby. Lookin At Lucky drew the rail, a tough assignment in a 20-horse field. He was twice knocked into the rail early on, effectively ending his chances of winning. He rallied to finish sixth. The speedy Conveyance set the pace for three-quarters of a mile before his energy was depleted.
After the Derby, Baffert decided to change jockeys on Lookin At Lucky, replacing Garrett Gomez, acknowledged as one of the premier riders in the country, with 25-year-old Martin Garcia, who is emerging as a star in California, where Baffert is based. It is an unusual situation for Gomez and his agent, Ron Anderson, to be dropped by any trainer.
“We just weren’t having any luck. That’s what it was,” Baffert said. “And they understood.”
Baffert said Gomez was not aggressive early in races, but acknowledged that having the colt wearing blinkers may have made him slow leaving the gate. Baffert removed the blinkers for the Derby.
“I think sometimes a horse and rider, they’re just not in sync,” Baffert said. “I’ve made switches for the good and for the worse. The thing about it is, if the jockey takes off your horse, it’s not a big deal.
“I just go with my instinct. I wanted to try to just change our mojo a little bit. Our mojo just wasn’t working. That’s what I basically told him (Gomez). Man, I’m just having bad luck. He’s just drawing horrible and this and that. It was just something different. If I’m going to come here, I want to do something different. He’s been in trouble; we’ve had bad luck three times in a row. That’s the only reason I did it.”
Baffert was pleased with the colt’s post position for the Preakness, No. 7.
PADDY O’PRADO, FIRST DUDE – After taking a morning jog at Pimlico Race Course, First Dude nibbled on a potted plant while being given a bath outside the Preakness Stakes Barn.
“He liked that Black-Eyed Susan…I don’t know,” said trainer Dale Romans, as though wondering if his colt was providing an omen of things to come. “As long as he’s happy, I’m happy.”
The Preakness will provide a showcase in which First Dude will finally have the chance to display his talent, said Romans, whose two Preakness entrants arrived at Pimlico Wednesday afternoon following a flight from Louisville..
“We wanted to run him in the Derby, but he was excluded because of earnings. I’ve always thought he was a special horse and that the extra distance of the classic races would help him,’ he said. “He just hasn’t had the opportunity to show what he can do.
“He’s just coming into his own, and we’re expecting a big breakthrough race from him sooner or later. If he’s going to have it, I’d like it to be in a classic.”
Paddy O’Prado, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, showed good energy during his jog around the Pimlico track Thursday morning.
“He bounced out of the Derby as though he never ran. That’s why we’re here. We normally wouldn’t wheel one back in two weeks,” Romans said.
Paddy O’Prado is one of eight horses purchased by Donegal Racing’s managing partner Jerry Crawford two years ago with the expressed goal to compete in the Triple Crown series.
“I had been in horse racing a long time. I started studying equine genetics pretty carefully with an eye toward figuring out a way to buy horses that could get a classic distance for the classic series. I thought I was a ways along in my ability to pick horses that had that potential,” said Crawford, an Iowa attorney and political strategist. “In 2008, I went to the yearling sales without any partners and bought eight colts for under $500,000 total. The year before, I would have paid that much for one or two of them, but the economy tanked and created a buying opportunity.”
The Derby Dreams 1 partnership, including eight Iowans and one Bostonian, was formed and has yielded great results.
“We’ve had a helluva good time,” Crawford said. “Four of the eight have run in graded stakes. One of my friends said, ‘Dude, you’ve spoiled them. You can’t replicate this.’”
Nevertheless, a Derby Dreams 2 partnership has been formed after Crawford purchased eight more horses, including a half-sister to Paddy O’Prado.
PLEASANT PRINCE – The morning after his arrival from Churchill Downs, owner Ken Ramsey led his colt onto the track for his first glimpse of Old Hilltop.
“All we did was jog him this morning,” said Ramsey, who was deputizing in the absence of trainer Wesley Ward (arriving Friday). The track was sealed. I talked to Wesley and at first he was going to gallop him. Then he decided we’ll just jog him. We don’t want to come up with a bruise or something on the eve of the deal. He looks good, acts good, cleaned up his feed tub and posed for pictures.”
Pleasant Prince is winless this year in six tries, the most starts of any of the 12 Preakness runners, but Ramsey and Ward believe his best race may be yet to come if the right pace scenario develops Saturday.
“There’s no really true speed horse in the race,” said Ramsey as he sat down for the Alibi Breakfast at Pimlico. “I don’t know who’s going to take the lead. We’re going to need to be a little closer than usual. We don’t need to be way back with the tight turns here. I’d see us probably lying fifth or sixth – in the middle of the pack.”
Ramsey almost had two runners in the Kentucky Derby field, but when Pleasant Prince came up as the first also-eligible on the graded-stakes earnings list, he opted to keep Dean’s Kitten in the field. The Mike Maker-trained colt finished 14th in Louisville.
“Wesley called me the morning of the Derby draw and said, ‘I’ve been told your destiny is in your hands as to which horse you want to run in the Derby,’ Ramsey recalled. “He was 21st and nobody else was coming out, so he asked me if I wanted to scratch Dean’s Kitten to give him a shot.”
Ramsey opted to wait for the Preakness for the frequently raced Pleasant Prince.
SCHOOLYARD DREAMS – Trainer Derek Ryan said from his barn at Monmouth Park Thursday that he will now bring the son of Stephen Got Even to Pimlico on Friday a day ahead of schedule.
“Change of plans,” Ryan said after jogging the colt “a couple miles” at Monmouth. “The track was terrible. We’re gonna ship early in the morning and we’re coming in with them both (including Ponzi Scheme for the $70,000 James W. Murphy Stakes).”
Ryan had originally planned to make the two-and-a-half-hour trip on Saturday, much as he did last year when Musket Man ran third in the Preakness off the van. He said he plans to exit the New Jersey track between 6:30 and 7 a.m.
Schoolyard Dreams has been running in two-turn races since his debut last October, his best outing coming when he lost a three-horse photo in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby – a race in which he finished ahead of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. That race was not lost in the opinion of Pimlico oddsmaker Frank Carulli, who made him 15-1 on the Preakness morning line.
“He’s a good horse,” Ryan said. “I think he fits here. It looks like all the speed’s are on my outside (post position 2), so I think I’ll be sitting in the second tier hopefully about five or six (lengths) off the early leaders. It looks like Super Saver might be the speed of the race. I think Lookin at Lucky will probably be up there and Nick Zito’s horse (Jackson Bend). There’s no mega-pace, at least it looks that way.”
Ryan added blinkers to Schoolyard Dreams’ equipment after his season-opening victory in a $75,000 optional claimer at Tampa Bay, but said there was nothing unusual or problematical.
“I never run 2-year-olds with blinkers,” he said. “He had already worked in them. I just want to give them an education slowly. I don’t want their first race to be their best. I knew eventually I was going to put them on.”
YAWANNA TWIST – Steel Your Face Stables’ lightly raced New York-bred colt was out on the Pimlico surface for the first time Thursday morning as assistant trainer Jose Collazo supervised barn activities until trainer Richard Dutrow’s arrival on Friday.
“He just galloped one time around the track,” Collazo said. “He shipped in good and everything went well. We just gave him a little exercise.”
The Preakness will be a significant step for the son of Yonaguska, but he has acquitted himself well in Grade 3 company with back-to-back runner-up finishes despite only three starts as a sophomore.
“We thought it was worth taking a shot,” managing partner Jim Riccio said. “He’s fresh and he moved forward when we tried him at two turns in the Gotham.”
Yawanna Twist was beaten less than two lengths in the Gotham by Awesome Act, then ran a good second to front-running American Lion in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne. He has been off since that race on April 3.
Edgar Prado, one of the all-time greats in Maryland racing before moving to New York, has the mount.