By Ray Paulick
I can't imagine anyone will have any alibis after Saturday's 135th Preakness Stakes is run at Old Hilltop, otherwise known as Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Md. The forecast is for sunny skies and comfortable temperatures in the 70s, the top horses received favorable post positions, and all systems appear to be “go” for the 12 entrants.
But what would horse racing be without alibis, so in keeping with a tradition that goes back to the 1930s, the Maryland Jockey Club held the Alibi Breakfast on Thursday morning to give the trainers of the Preakness starters a chance to make some excuses in advance.
I'll have no excuses if my top pick in the race, Lookin At Lucky, doesn't win and get a measure of redemption for his troubled sixth place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He drew the seven post for the Triple Crown's middle jewel after getting the disadvantageous rail for the Derby. Isn't there something lucky about number seven?
Last year's 2-year-old champion took a leisurely jog around the Pimlico oval under Dana Barnes on Thursday morning, pausing at the finish to gaze out into an infield filled with tents, port-a-johns and concession stands that figure to be jam-packed on Saturday with revelers anxious to, as the new marketing slogan says, “Get Their Preak On.” At $20 all you can drink beer prices, that's going to be a lot of Preak.
To fortify ourselves for the grueling Preakness weekend, we arrived early for the Alibi Breakfast, and I was amazed at how much Maryland Fried Chicken associate publisher Brad Cummings could put away in 15 minutes. I wasn't aware there was a contest going on, but I declared him the winner.
At any rate, I'll be live-blogging the breakfast, trying to bring all the excuses to our readers so they can be prepared to explain to their children why they won't be getting any new shoes for awhile after their Preakness selections ran up the track.
10:15 a.m. … After an invocation and a brief tribute to the late Chick Lang, aka Mr. Preakness, who died earlier this year, the Alibi Breakfast began with media awards. The first winner, Tom Pedulla of USA Today, was winning his second consecutive David F. Woods Memorial Award, for a story on Calvin Borel in 2009. Pedulla said he has two responsibilities with USA Today, the NFL and horse racing. “Covering the NFL is a privilege,” he said. “Covering Thoroughbred racing is a joy.”
Old Hilltop Awards recognizing distinction in coverage went to NBC's Tom Hammond and Scott Wykoff, of WBAL radio in Baltimore. “Next to the Olympics, there are more stories in Thoroughbred racing than any other sport I cover,” said Hammond, who is one of the stars of NBC Sports telecasts covering a wide array of events around the world.
10:25 a.m. … Scott Serio of Eclipse Sportswire won the Jerry Frutkoff Preakness Photography Award, sponsored by Nikon. Frutkoff, the longtime Maryland Jockey Club track photographer who died in 2003 at the age of 81, was one of the many good guys of Maryland racing. Serio paid tribute to him, saying that Frutkoff helped him get started some years ago when he first began taking racing pictures at Pimlico, which he described as his home track.
10:30 a.m. … Reflecting back on the invocation by the Most Reverend William Newman, it just dawned on me that it might be the first time someone openly prayed for the media. It wasn't a prayer that we keep our jobs (in an era of incredibly shrinking media, I think we need more than prayers), but that we get through our work safely. Nice of him to think of us, when the real dangerous jobs in this sport belong to the horses, jockeys, grooms, exercise riders and trainers.
On with the show….
10:35 a.m. … Todd Pletcher on Aikenite. “We got back on the Derby Trial..and we're hoping for another good effort.” I think he's saving his best material for Super Saver.
On to Super Saver. Pletcher said: “It's been a great couple of weeks. We're looking forward to the race on Saturday. He seems to enjoy the cameras and action. He's such a cool horse to be around. He takes all things in stride.”
And then the obvious question about winning his first Derby…”Tremendously rewarding, exciting. I can't describe how good it feels.”
Bill Casner was asked what it's like to have a Derby winner. “It's been humbling. All of us are identified through the horses we have in this industry. It's very special to be identified by this horse. He's a homebred, and that's one of the things that make this so special. There are many people on our team that have been part of this. … To have one of these horses, to be able to participate in these races is something very, very special, and something everybody dreams of. … The team is everything. There are hundreds of people that are involved in the process, and each and every one of them has such a special part. I can't say enough for the job Todd and his team have done. And Calvin, he's a team in himself. He's figured out how to win this race. I tell everybody he's got a PhD in mathematics at Churchill Downs, and he's also got it at Pimlico.”
10:40 a.m. … Schoolyard Dreams. None of the connections were at the breakfast. Too bad. The Maryland chicken was quite good.
10: 40 a.m. … Pleasant Prince. Ken and Sarah Ramsey own the Florida Derby runner-up, and good ol' Ken asked in the food line if this was “Southern fried chicken.” He was admonished by a server, who said, “No sir, this is MARYLAND fried chicken.” He didn't predict victory in Maryland.
10:43 a.m. … D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Northern Giant and Dublin, was asked about his first Preakness in 1980, when he trained Codex, the winner whose victory over Genuine Risk caused an inquiry and an appeal when stewards ruled the colt did not interfere with the filly. “It took two weeks to decide it but he didn't bump her. I had to win that race three times, once on the track, once with the stewards and once with the (racing) commission,” he recalled. He then was asked about getting Garrett Gomez, who had been riding Bob Baffert-trained Lookin At Lucky. “Bob knows I'm getting down in years and said if you want my rider you can take him. If Gomez is going to help you out with one of your last runs, go ahead and take him.” Lukas doesn't like the 12 post for Dublin. “I don't think anyone wants the 1 or 12,” he said. “The Derby is so intense and such a great event, but then we come to Baltimore the warmth and hospitality is second to none. Bob and I were talking over dinner a couple of nights ago, even if you don't have a great contender you like to come anyway.” That's not a good omen, I guess, for Lukas' horses or for Lookin At Lucky. “Maybe we'll get Lucky,” he said, then correcting himself, said, “No, that's a bad choice of words. Maybe we'll get fortunate.”
10:46 a.m. … Yawanna Twist. Connections AWOL.
10: 50 a.m. … Nick Zito's assistant stood in for him at the breakfast, which is unusual. Usually, if there are cameras and microphones around, Zito is, too.
10:52 a.m. … Lookin At Lucky and trainer Bob Baffert. “I think the Preakness is the race for the guys that got beat, ‘What if,” said Baffert. “It's good to be back here. Win, lose or draw, we always have a good experience here. We just enjoy it here. Everyone is nice, you don't have to fight for anything. It's not like Churchill Downs where you have to fight for every little thing. … If it was a boxing match I would been done in the first round,” he said of Lookin At Lucky's Derby run.” On jockey Martin Garcia, who takes over: “He knows the horse really well. He's worked him more times than Garrett's been on his back. But he's young. It's his first Preakness, I'm sure he'll get butterflies. But if we're going to beat Super Saver, we've got to make something happen. He's a deserving Derby winner.” Other contenders. “You can never throw out Wayne Lukas. Just when you think he's gone…he's like a bad cold, you just can't shake him. … I just want to be able to see Lookin At Luck come around there and see what he can do. Just get a clean trip.” Baffert said win or lose he “probably” won't run Lookin at Lucky in the Belmont Stakes, final leg of the Triple Crown.
10:55 a.m. … Caracortado. Breeder, trainer, and co-owner Mike Machowsky reminded the crowd that Caracortado also had a rough trip in the Santa Anita Derby, where Lookin At Lucky got stopped on the rail. He talked about his loyalty to jockey Paul Atkinson, who was coming back from an injury last summer when he promised to give him a good mount when he came. “He hasn't done anything wrong,” Machowsky said of the little known Atkinson. “If I won the Preakness and won with Rafael Bejarano, I'd feel like crap because Paul wasn't on him.” That's loyalty.
11:00 a.m. … Paddy O'Prado. “Paddy's doing great,” said Joe Savage, one of the co-owners of the Kentucky Derby third-place finisher. “I'm the one from Boston,” he said. “The rest are from Iowa.” He also joked a little about Kent Desormeaux's post-Derby trip to Bermuda, when he did a now-famous radio interview where he might have been celebrating a bit while away from the track … “No matter what surface we put him on, he just keeps stepping up,” Crawford said of Paddy O'Prado. “It's real exciting for folks all over the place. Great names, great bloodlines.”
Dale Romans, who trains Paddo O'Prado and First Dude, said Paddy O'Prado seemed to get ahold of the Pimlico racetrack pretty well. This is his first Preakness starter, though he said he came to Pimlico a few years and was disqualifed from a win in the Black-Eyed Susan. “They put Ramon (Dominguez) up, so I'm not taking any chances this time.” Dominguez is riding First Dude.
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