MINE THAT BIRD – Early morning rains did nothing to alter training plans for Mine That Bird, who galloped his customary two miles under exercise rider Charlie Figueroa Thursday at Pimlico in preparation for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.
“The track looks super to me,” trainer Chip Woolley said. “It looks like it could be a little laboring, but overall, it looks good to me. It looks like a little moisture is just the ticket for it.”
“It was the moves he made and the trip he got. Calvin just gave him a super, super trip. He never second-guessed himself and got through there at just the right time. That was probably the most amazing thing. I could watch it right now and it’s like it’s Derby Day,” said the New Mexico-based trainer, whose Derby winner is rated at 6-1 in the Preakness morning line, co-third choice with Friesan Fire behind Rachel Alexandra (8-5) and Pioneerof the Nile (5-1).
“When you look at it from the overhead (view) it’s even more astounding than it is watching it from the regular pan view.”
Calvin Borel will not produce a repeat performance aboard Mine That Bird, having chosen to stick with Rachel Alexandra, whom he rode to victory in the Kentucky Oaks on May 1 by more than 20 lengths.
“This is a business, and Calvin has to watch out for himself. It was his choice and I respect his choice. It was a hard choice for him to make and I appreciate the fact that he and his agent were really upfront with us from Day One, as soon as they knew the prospect was out there (to ride Rachel Alexandra). They came and told us and gave us the opportunity to get the best rider we could.”
Mike Smith will be aboard the son of Birdstone and will be given the same instructions to drop back early that Woolley had given Borel before the Derby.
“If he dropped back at Sunland, he’d have won them all,” said Woolley, whose gelding set the pace while finishing second in the Borderland Derby and made a premature move while finishing fourth in the Sunland Derby. “That’s the problem. He doesn’t need to be up there. He needs to drop back. That’s the only way to win races like these with him. He’s not as versatile as his form makes him look like he is.”
Although Borel has probably received more credit for the Derby victory than Mine That Bird, Woolley said he recognized a special quality when he joined his stable following his last-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita last fall.
“The main thing about him is that he’s so professional, goes out there and just does his work and comes back and rests, eats and comes back and does it again the next day. Right away you could see he was something special. I was really disappointed the way things worked at Sunland, but you could tell he was something special and had more than most to give you.”
RACHEL ALEXANDRA – Preakness morning-line favorite Rachel Alexandra had a very quiet day Thursday, walking the shedrow the morning after she was shipped to Pimlico from Kentucky.
“We got in late, about 3:30 p.m.” said trainer Steve Asmussen’s assistant, Scott Blasi. “She ate up great. The main thing is just keeping her happy. We’ll take her over to the paddock and that will be her exercise today. She’ll gallop tomorrow.”
Blasi said it is standard procedure in the Asmussen operation to have horses school in the paddock at a new track. Unless they ask to use the indoor paddock, Preakness horses are saddled on the turf course in front of the grandstand.
“It’s just for her to relax and be comfortable where she’s at,” Blasi said. “It’s something we always do with our horses. She’s shipped before and run. We don’t want her to be nervous or unaware of where she is.”
Blasi said that Rachel Alexandra’s new owners and trainers are pleased that jockey Calvin Borel decided to stay with the filly and will ride her in the Preakness.
“Calvin knows her as well as anybody and has been a big part of her success in her works up to her races and her development in Hot Springs this winter,” Blasi said. “We’re very comfortable.”
Borel made the highly unusual move of getting off the horse on which he won the Derby to ride the filly.
“That’s the regard he has for her, and we’ve all seen her races and have been awed by her,” Blasi said. “We’re glad to have him on board with the amount of respect that we have for her.”
BIG DRAMA – The Florida-bred colt has finished first in his last six races and would be seeking his seventh straight victory in the Preakness had it not been for a disqualification in his most recent start. Big Drama ran seven furlongs in a blistering 1:20.88 to win the Swale Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, but was placed second for bumping runner-up This One’s For Phil in the stretch. Owner/breeder Harold Queen, who visited his homebred in the Preakness Stakes Barn Thursday morning, said the DQ was not the fault of his horse.
“What happened was: the rider got his whip caught between the bridle and the blinkers. When he pulled it out quickly, the horse ducked out and hit the other horse,” said Queen, bemoaning the loss of Grade 2 victory on his colt’s resume. “Gulfstream Park sent me the picture with what exactly had happened.”
Big Drama jogged a mile and galloped a mile under exercise rider Celia Fawkes, wife of trainer David Fawkes, after the renovation break at Pimlico Thursday morning. The son of Montbrook, who drew the No. 1 post position, has demonstrated brilliant speed in his seven races, but his owner said all the 1’s on his past performances were not registered by a headstrong, one-dimensional colt.
“He has always been laid back. A lot of horses have talent, but the unfortunate thing is they don’t take care of themselves in the stall,” Queen said. “They self-destruct. From Day One, from when he was weaned, he was always laid back, took care of himself.”
FLYING PRIVATE/LOV GUV – Trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ Preakness horses, Flying Private and Luv Gov, galloped over the Pimlico track early Thursday morning. Lukas said the colts have made a smooth transition to their temporary new homes in Pimlico’s Preakness Barn.
“It’s good. We really have settled in good,” he said. “No problems at all. We’re very content where we’re at.”
Though much has been made about Preakness favorite Rachel Alexandra drawing the outside post in the field of 13, Lukas said it’s an ideal spot for the standout filly.
“The best horse in the race drew the best,” he said. “Everything has kind of fallen in line for her. The rest of them, I don’t think it made a lot of difference, but it did with her. She was the one who needed to draw good and she did.”
Lukas said leaving from post 13 will help the filly avoid trouble.
“If you ask these trainers and they bared their souls,” he said, “they’ll tell you what they’d like to see is her have some pressure, have horses around her, dirt in her face, something like that. Now she’s out there and can kind of cruise out there and maybe go right to the lead.”
Lukas has a record-tying 13 victories in Triple Crown races, but hasn’t been a prominent player in the last few years. The 73-year-old Hall of Fame trainer isn’t fading into retirement, though, currently training 87 horses in New York and Kentucky and thinks he has some great young talent in the system.
“People are just starting to realize that Bill Young and Bob Lewis had passed away,” he said. “When I lost those two, that was a giant hole in our program and we hadn’t been in the sale ring. Our program has always been predicated on being in the sale ring and buying quality horses. That’s how Baffert and I have survived. I didn’t get into the sale ring for about two years and, consequently, I just had some of the homebreds from Marylou Whitney.
“But our business has just gone bananas here in the last year. People are calling from everywhere and we’ve been pleasantly surprised. The bottom line is we got in the sale ring last fall and bought some serious race horses. Our 2-year-olds are awesome – maybe as good as I’ve had since the mid-80s – and lots of them. We’re deep.”
FRIESAN FIRE – Trainer Larry Jones sang the praises of his colt’s recuperative powers that heeled the cuts he suffered to his legs in his troubled 18th-place Kentucky Derby finish as the beaten favorite.
“You’ll have this situation two out of 10 times when a horse heals up this fast out of it. The other times you keep working and doctoring and hoping,” said Jones after galloping Friesan Fire a mile at Pimlico Thursday morning. “Everything went well for him. I think it was just a sign of how well he is doing physically and health-wise. I think it was just that he’s extremely healthy that got him to heal up this fast.”
Jones reported that the healing process was aided by Eclipse, a cream that was created for diabetic patients with wounds that are slow to heal.
Friesan Fire, who had swept all three Kentucky Derby preps at Fair Grounds prior to his Derby disappointment, has encouraged his trainer by his spirited behavior in recent days.
“Hopefully, he’s going to rebound. He wasn’t the Derby favorite for no reason,” Jones said. “Hopefully, he had the credentials to earn that spot. Hopefully, he’s going to live up to it and do what he’s supposed to do.”
GENERAL QUARTERS – Owner/trainer Tom McCarthy dropped in on Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas at the Preakness Stakes Barn Thursday morning to borrow an exercise rider for General Quarters’ morning gallop. Despite the recent success of his Blue Grass winner, there’s still not a lot of pomp and circumstance in the former high school principal’s operation. The one-horse stable operates primarily with McCarthy doing most of the hands-on work. He’s been getting a little help from part-time groom Billy Bass and former student Jerry Hills, a retired chemist who latched onto his former mentor after the Blue Grass and has been hanging around the barn ever since.
“I know I probably won’t have another one like him,” the 75-year-old McCarthy said of the son of Sky Mesa, whose $460,000 purse in the Keeneland stake more than doubled the earnings of all McCarthy’s previous winners combined. “This is a pretty special time for me, and I’m enjoying it.”
McCarthy claimed General Quarters for $20,000 nearly a year ago and he’s already earned $641,735. But this isn’t about money, as McCarthy is quick to point out. In fact, he turned down a number of seven-figure offers for the colt before the Kentucky Derby. General Quarters ran 10th on a sloppy track he disliked and was pinballed around more than once.
“He loves this track; it’s just like Tampa,” McCarthy said after General Quarters galloped 1 3/8 miles over a damp Pimlico surface Thursday as light rain fell. “He just skipped over it. To see him gallop here and having watched him gallop at Churchill on the cuppy track there, you don’t get hold of it very well without some type of a toe grab. They limit us now, so you have no toe grabs more than a quarter of an inch there. On a track like that, especially in mud, you can’t get a hold of it.”
McCarthy said he’s tossing out the Derby performance, in which his colt was banged a couple times before the first turn and later came back with a sizeable clog of mud under an eyelid and a blockage in one nostril.
“My goodness, it was terrible,” McCarthy said before heading back to the barn to cool out his star.
Track oddsmaker Frank Carulli made him 20-1 for the Preakness from post No. 8. He was sent off at 10-1 in the Derby, the first time jockey Julien Leparoux was aboard. Leparoux will have the mount again on Saturday.
MUSKET MAN – The son of Yonaguska galloped a mile and a half at Monmouth Park Thursday morning and appears to be on edge for another solid performance, according to trainer Derek Ryan.
“He’s doing great,” said Ryan, who plans to ship to Pimlico early Saturday for the race. “We’ll leave around 2-2:30. It should take two and a half or three hours.”
The procedure will be a little different from his Derby routine, where Musket Man was sent to Churchill Downs shortly after his victory in the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne. The colt had a pair of workouts in Louisville before the Run for the Roses.
“First one to the Derby, last one to the Preakness,” Ryan said. “I’ll be following the van in my car.”
Musket Man drew post 3 for the Preakness and was listed at odds of 8-1, which was somewhat of a surprise to Ryan despite his third-place finish in the Derby.
“I’m good with it (the post),” he said. “There’s good speed to the inside (Big Drama) and good speed to the outside. We’ll just let them go, drop over to the rail, sit chilly and wait. I thought we’d be higher, 10 or 12-1. It doesn’t matter, whatever it takes to get it done. That’s the bottom line.”
Musket Man has never been worse than third in seven career starts, five of them victories. His only defeat other than in the Derby came in the Sam Davis at Tampa Bay on March 14, when he was third to Preakness opponent General Quarters.
PAPA CLEM – Not unlike his father before him, trainer Gary Stute plans to send his first Preakness runner out for a final tune-up the morning before the big race.
“We’ll probably blow him out an eighth of a mile, let him gallop to the eighth-pole and then let him roll,” said Stute, hoping to get a better reaction than the 1:05 five-furlong work on Tuesday. “The other day he was a little lackadaisical down the lane. I want him to know when he hits that eighth-pole it means business.”
Stute said exercise rider Emundo Cedeno will be aboard, unless jockey Rafael Bejarano arrives in time. Papa Clem galloped 1 ½ miles Thursday morning.
“I’ve had a lot of morning glories in my life,” Stute said. “This is the first horse that’s just the opposite. He runs 10 times better than he works. Every once in a while he’ll put in a good work, but usually if there isn’t a horse in front of him he just loses interest. In the afternoon he always surprises me.”
Stute said father Mel worked Snow Chief twice between the Kentucky Derby and his winning Preakness in 1986. Gary hadn’t planned on it, but he was simply never comfortable after this week’s move over the Pimlico strip. Mel Stute was due to arrive later Thursday from California with his wife and will be at the barn on Friday with his son’s first Triple Crown runner.
“He would send him three-eighths and let him roll,” Gary said, recalling that Snow Chief blew out in “33 and change” the morning before his convincing Preakness victory. Gary Stute, 52, was working as an assistant when his father won the Preakness with his first and only starter. As for this edition, Stute believes he has a solid chance with the colt named for the late racing icon Clement Hirsch, bred and owned by his son, Bo.
“I see it just about the same as the Derby,” Stute said. “I think maybe Big Drama and her (Rachel Alexandra) will go out and, hopefully, I’ll be laying third or fourth.”
Stute said he’s committed to completing the Triple Crown series as long as all goes well on Saturday.
“Even if I run second to her (Rachel Alexandra) and win the Belmont – that’s the good thing about her being a filly – I should still get 3-year-old of the year, 3-year-old colt.”
PIONEEROF THE NILE – After a five-year absence, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert returns to Pimlico with his ninth Preakness starter, Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, bred and owned by Ahmed Zayat. Baffert has won the race four times, Silver Charm in 1997; Real Quiet, 1998; Point Given, 2000 and War Emblem, 2002.
“I love coming here because in the stakes barn everybody is relaxed. The Derby is over,” Baffert said. “You get to see everybody and then you get to get a good look at the horse that beat you.”
This year, that is Mine That Bird, the New Mexico-based gelding who finished nearly seven lengths in front of Pioneerof the Nile. Baffert served up a play-by-play of his reaction as jockey Garrett Gomez was moving Pioneerof the Nile to the lead at the top of the stretch in the Derby.
“He sets him down, he’s coming,” Baffert said. “I’m starting to get excited about it, I’m starting to feel it and I go, `this is mine…That Bird.’ It took the air right out of us.”
Pioneerof the Nile was shipped from Louisville to Pimlico Wednesday afternoon. Baffert sent him out to gallop over the track Thursday morning. The colt was scheduled to school in the paddock before the first race.
“The horse went well today,” Baffert said. “The track is nice. We’ve got to keep the weather. I still want to see what my horse does on dirt. I’ve seen him on sticky mud. I want to see what he does on dirt. He went well today. He looked good out there.”
A few days before the Derby, Baffert said he had prepared the colt to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown. He said Thursday that Pioneerof the Nile has handled the demands of running 1 ¼ miles in the Derby and is ready for the Preakness.
“He’s really bounced out of it well. I’ve had horses that I’ve run there that you can tell it really took a lot out of them, and I really didn’t want to bring them. But I sort of had to bring them to take another shot at it. He came back like the ones that won it. He’s going to run a big race.”
Baffert said that Mine That Bird deserves respect and his losses in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and in two races at Sunland Park are not indicative of his ability.
“I think he’s a good horse,” Baffert said. “He was the Canadian champ. He went to Santa Anita and just didn’t run. He went to Sunland Park, which is a speed-biased track; you’ve got to be up close. I think he’s rounding back into form. A lot of people don’t give (trainer Chip Woolley) credit for getting him back to form. He wants to be ridden a certain way and Calvin was a perfect fit for him. He’s the only one who could have won it for him, the way he rode that horse. He rode him with confidence. He rode him to get a piece of the pie and he got the whole pie. A bad horse does not win the Kentucky Derby.”
Baffert said it makes sense that Rachel Alexandra’s new owners are planning to start the star filly in the Preakness.
“I would have taken a shot at the Derby with her,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of speed in there. I saw her work the Monday before the Derby – incredible. I watched all the Derby horses work and I said, `man, I’m glad she’s not in the Derby.’ She’s a tremendous athlete. I would have taken a shot.”
Baffert has run some of his standout fillies against males and understands the decision to enter Rachel Alexandra.
“She’s a good filly,” he said. “These classics are huge. There’s not a lot of money to run for with fillies. There is a lot of prestige to win the Triple Crown of the fillies, but numbers-wise and everything else, she fits with these boys. I don’t blame them for taking a shot.”
TAKE THE POINTS – The Preakness entries show that Starlight Partners’ colt will have an equipment change – blinkers on – for the seventh start of his career.
“In the Santa Anita Derby, Alex Solis felt like he was a little bit intimidated by horses surrounding him,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We took that into consideration; put some blinkers on him in one of his breezes; and we thought we saw a little bit of improvement. Maybe that’s all we need, just a little bit of improvement. We felt like there were no negative parts to it. He wasn’t too rank or anything like that, so we felt like it could possibly help us.”
Take the Point had enough graded stakes earnings for a spot in the Kentucky Derby field, but Pletcher and the owners decided to skip the Derby with the fourth-place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby and wait for the Preakness. The Preakness has drawn what appears to be a strong, deep field of 13 runners, but Pletcher said that the composition is not out of the ordinary.
“You expect the winner to come back and sometimes the horses that are second, third and fourth take a pass and wait for the Belmont,” he said. “Other times they run back. So I can’t say it’s dramatically different, but I’m still happy. With the little bit of extra time I think our horse has improved. The Santa Anita Derby form held up pretty well for the Derby itself and now we’re catching those horses back on two weeks rest when we’ve had six weeks rest. That could swing the pendulum in our favor and we’re trying to pick up a couple of lengths on those horses. Hopefully, the blinkers will contribute to that and hopefully the additional time between races and catching those horses on short rest will be in our favor.
Take the Points galloped at Belmont Park Thursday morning. He will be shipped to Baltimore early Saturday morning. Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado has the mount in the Preakness.
TERRAIN – Trainer Al Stall Jr. was happy with Terrain’s 1 ½-mile gallop Thursday morning, but no happier than his Preakness contender was to sink his feet into the traditional dirt track at Pimlico.
“The most important thing for him is that he’s getting back on a preferred surface. He’s the tale of two horses, if you look at his “Poly” (form) and if you look at his dirt (form),” said Stall, whose gelding finished a deep-closing fourth in the Blue Grass over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface last time out. “It’s unbelievable. He’s last, second last (early) in every “Poly” race and on the dirt, he’s in the bridle wanting to rock, so we’re looking forward to getting him back on his preferred surface.”
Jeremy Rose will ride Terrain for the first time in the Preakness.
“I’ve met him, but I don’t know much about him except – like everyone else, being a degenerate watching races all day long – that I know he rides a very good race,” Stall said. “You’ve got to be confident, he’s got a lot of wins at this race meet and he’s won this race. He rides for (trainer) Graham Motion, and that’s good enough for me. Graham ships him around the country. He won a stake for Graham on Oaks Day.”
TONE IT DOWN – Trainer Bill Komlo decided not to put a work into the show finisher from the Federico Tesio before the Preakness, while scheduling a 1 ½ mile gallop and a visit to the starting gate Thursday morning at Laurel Park.
“We had a request from (Pimlico and Laurel starter) Bruce Wagner to bring the horse over to the gate and stand him,” Komlo said. “I guess that’s a prerequisite for all the horses running in the Preakness, so we galloped around one time and went over and stood him in the gate and then took him back to the barn.”
Tone It Down was one of three Preakness runners listed at odds of 50-1 in the morning line, but Komlo is confident he will be able to outrun the prognostication with new rider Kent Desormeaux in the saddle. Mario Pino had been aboard for the Medaglia d’Oro colt’s first six starts, but Komlo felt he was too close to the pace in the Tesio at Pimlico on May 2.
“I haven’t talked to him (Desormeaux) yet, but we’ve got four horses in tomorrow,” Komlo said. “He rides a horse for us in the third race (Riddles and Rhymes), so I’ll try to get over to the jocks’ room before we run.”
Desormeaux has won the Preakness twice, including last year’s edition with Big Brown. The former Maryland riding champion also took the 1998 Preakness with Real Quiet.
Tone It Down was a $100,000 purchase by Komlo’s daughter Deborah and son-in-law Michael Horning at Timonium’s 2-year-old in training sale last May.