Improbable, the 5-2 morning-line favorite for Saturday's 144th Preakness Stakes (G1), made his first visit to the track at Pimlico Race Course Thursday morning under exercise rider Humberto Gomez. The chestnut colt trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert had shipped to Baltimore from Louisville, Ky. Wednesday.
Owned by the triumvirate of WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and Starlight Racing, principals in the ownership group of 2018 Preakness winner and Triple Crown champion Justify, Improbable drew Post 4 in a field of 13. Improbable finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby but was moved to fourth when the first-place finisher, Maximum Security, was disqualified and placed 17th
Baffert is scheduled to arrive in Baltimore on Thursday afternoon and his longtime assistant Jimmy Barnes oversaw the trip to the track.
“He looked beautiful on the track this morning,” Barnes said. “He had high energy and it was nice to train on a dry track. There was no rain and I think the forecast is going to be good for us. We're looking real good.”
Barnes had Gomez give Improbable plenty of time to look around and get familiar with the surroundings before they galloped 1½ miles.
“He's one that makes the transition to each racetrack very easily,” Barnes said. “That doesn't seem to be a problem. I loved the way he looked on the track this morning.”
Baffert also started Game Winner and Roadster in the Derby. Improbable, who went off as the 4-1 favorite in the field of 19 at Churchill Downs, had the best finish and of the three and was judged by Baffert and his staff to be the one best suited to run in the Preakness.
“He came out of it surprisingly well, very well, because that race will tend to get to the bottom of one,” Barnes said. “He came back in fine shape.”
After winning his seventh Preakness with Justify last year, Baffert pulled into a tie with 19th Century trainer Robert Wyndham Walden for most wins in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. He will try to break the tie with Improbable, who will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who rode Justify last year.
ALWAYSMINING – Runnymede Racing's Alwaysmining became the last of 13 Preakness contenders to arrive at Pimlico Race Course early Thursday afternoon, stepping off a Cooper Horse Transportation van and taking up residence in Barn D adjacent to the main stakes barn.
A winner of six straight races, five of them in stakes, Alwaysmining shared the ride with fellow Preakness entrant Win Win Win, the first horse off the van, for the 80-minute drive from Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md.
Alwaysmining trained at Fair Hill Thursday morning prior to shipping and Friday morning he will get his first tour of Pimlico's main track, which is open for training from 5 to 8:30 a.m. Post time for Friday's 14-race Black-Eyed Susan Day program is 11:30 a.m.
“He galloped this morning on the dirt track at Fair Hill. He looked very good. We haven't really changed anything with him,” trainer Kelly Rubley said. “I haven't settled on what time, but he's going to jog in the morning. I have a pony coming to go with him.”
Alwaysmining earned an automatic berth in the Preakness for his 11 ½-length romp in the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio April 20 at Laurel Park. A perfect three-for-three this year, he is attempting to become the first Maryland-bred to win the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown since Deputed Testamony in 1983.
Rubley is just the 16th female trainer to run a horse in the Preakness and first since Linda Rice was eighth with City Zip in 2014. No female trainer has ever won a Triple Crown race.
“We're just here to have fun with our horse,” Rubley said. “I think ours is a great story. There's been a lot of negative press in the racing world of late and this is kind of a hometown horse that proved to be pretty special.”
Regular rider Daniel Centeno, aboard throughout the streak, will make his Triple Crown race debut in the Preakness.
ANOTHERTWISTAFATE – Peter Redekop B.C. Ltd.'s colt Anothertwistafate has settled in nicely at Pimlico Race Course, trainer Blaine Wright said Thursday, and is prepping well for Saturday's 144th Preakness Stakes.
“Everything seems to be going just fine,” Wright said. “He had just a routine gallop that we normally give him. Tomorrow will be pretty much the same other than we'll probably stand him in the gate and maybe school him after the track closes.
“I couldn't be happier with where we're at,” he added. “He's eating up. It's time to race.”
After training hours, Wright attended the annual Alibi Breakfast and took his family for a visit to downtown Baltimore. Anothertwistafate is Wright's first Triple Crown starter. The colt qualified for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown by winning the El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 16 at Wright's home base of Golden Gate Fields. He subsequently finished second by a neck in the Sunland Derby (G3) and second by 1¾ lengths in the Lexington (G3) at Keeneland.
Redekop is a real estate developer in Vancouver, B.C. and has been a Thoroughbred owner since the 1960s. He currently has 50 horses in training with trainers in Canada and the U.S. Wright has 15 horses for Redekop, including Anothertwistafate, a son of Scat Daddy who was purchased as a 2-year-old for $360,000.
The colt was named after the song 'Simple Twist of Fate' from Bob Dylan's 1975 album Blood on the Tracks. Redekop's racing manager Brian Anderson, his wife Carol and their daughter Victoria collaborate on the naming of the horses in the stable. Anderson said that Simple Twist of Fate was a name already registered with The Jockey Club. Since Redekop prefers that his horses have names that start with the letter “A”, making them easier to find on the workout lists, the Anderson team developed a variation to Simple Twist of Fate.
Anderson and his family are representing Redekop at Pimlico this week. Redekop will miss the Preakness in order to attend the wedding of his granddaughter in Calgary.
BODEXPRESS – Top Racing LLC, Global Thoroughbred and GDS Racing Stable's Bodexpress galloped at Pimlico Race Course on his second day of training since arriving from Churchill Downs Tuesday for a start in Saturday's Preakness Stakes (G1).
“He went really good today, really good,” trainer Gustavo Delgado said.
Bodexpress finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, in which he was placed 13th after being taken up sharply in traffic caused when Maximum Security, the eventual first-place finisher who was disqualified and placed 17th, drifted out on the turn into the homestretch.
Rated at 20-1 for the Preakness, Bodexpress will have the opportunity to become the first maiden to win the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown since Refund prevailed over three rivals in 1888.
Although the son of 2012 Preakness runner-up Bodemeister will be a longshot to make modern history, he will be a favorite of the racing fans in Delgado's homeland, Venezuela.
“It's a great country, but now it is very difficult for my people. The people have no diversion – only horses,” said Delgado, the all-time winningest trainer in Venezuela who ventured to South Florida five years ago. “People love the racing; people love the horse. Problems, problems, problems, but when you talk about horses, they don't remember the problems. They don't remember the hunger; they don't remember the insecurity. It's an escape.”
Hall of Famer John Velazquez is slated to ride the Florida Derby (G1) runner-up for the first time Saturday.
BOURBON WAR – Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable's Bourbon War galloped with enthusiasm Thursday on the morning after arriving at Pimlico Race Course by van from Belmont Park.
“He galloped great. It looked like he got over the track well,” trainer Mark Hennig said.
Bourbon War is coming off a fourth-place finish in the March 30 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream that left him short of qualifying points to be included in the Kentucky Derby (G1) field.
“I wasn't overly disappointed. There are a lot bigger disappointments. There are a lot of bad things that can happen,” Hennig said. “Having a healthy horse and coming back to Pimlico is a nice consolation.”
Bourbon War won his career debut by 2 ¼ lengths in a one-turn mile at Aqueduct Nov. 14 and finished fourth in the 1 1/8-mile Remsen (G2) at Aqueduct Dec. 1. The son of Tapit captured his 3-year-old debut with a dominating 2 ¼-length victory in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park Jan. 18. He closed with a six-wide rally from ninth to finish second to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream March 2 before finishing fourth behind victorious Maximum Security in the Florida Derby.
Hennig isn't concerned with the seven-week gap between the Florida Derby and Saturday's Preakness Stakes (G1), for which Bourbon War is rated at 12-1 in the morning-line.
“He's not a large-framed horse, He should be fine,” Hennig said. “We had seven weeks between the Remsen and the allowance win at Gulfstream. We kind of followed a similar pattern.”
Reigning Eclipse champion Irad Ortiz Jr. has the return mount.
EVERFAST – Calumet Farms' Everfast, a last-minute entrant into the $1.65 million Preakness Stakes (G1), arrived at Pimlico Race Course early Thursday morning, settling right into his stall while taking a nap with his head resting on the hay rack.
The bay son of Take Charge Indy has been tabbed at 50-1 on the morning line, the longest shot in the 13-horse field.
“You don't like to be 50-1, but as long as the horse is happy and doing well – and it's a wide-open race – why not enter?” said trainer Dale Romans, who is expected to arrive in Baltimore sometime Friday afternoon. Assistant and exercise rider Tammy Fox left Louisville Thursday afternoon bound for Pimlico, said Romans.
Romans, who won the Preakness in 2011 with Shackleford and finished second in 2016 and 2010 with Cherry Wine and First Dude, respectively, has pulled off more than a handful of upsets in big races. Two that come to mind are when he saddled Court Vision ($131.60) to win the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) in 2011 and Dawn of War ($74.60) to take the Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland.
Even Shackleford's victory in the Preakness was something of an upset as he returned $27.20, the 12th largest in Preakness history, in defeating Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom.
And then, of course, there was Keen Ice, who was 12-1 when he handed Triple Crown winner American Pharoah his only career loss in the 2015 Travers (G1) at Saratoga Race Course.
“Those last two are misleading a bit because they weren't the longest shots on the board,” said Romans. “Like I said, I think it's anybody's race and it's worth taking a shot.”
LAUGHING FOX – Alex and JoAnn Lieblong's Oaklawn Invitational winner Laughing Fox got introduced to the Pimlico racetrack Thursday morning, walking with the pony onto the track and around the far turn to the backstretch before turning around and galloping under exercise rider Brooke Stillion. Trainer Steve Asmussen said Laughing Fox will go to the starting gate Friday morning to stand and later will school in the paddock.
“He's got a great attitude, nice laid-back horse,” Asmussen said. “He checked out the surroundings, and I thought he went really well over the racetrack.”
Asmussen has won the Preakness (G1) twice with two-time Horse of the Year Curlin in 2007 and with Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra in 2009. He was a close third last year with Tenfold, who runs in Friday's Pimlico Special.
Laughing Fox will break from Post 11 in the field of 13, a starting spot that last produced the Preakness winner with Point Given in 2001. (Afleet Alex won from Post 12 in 2005 and Rachel Alexandra Post 13 in the intervening years.)
“He won the Oaklawn Invitational from the '10,'” Asmussen said of Laughing Fox. “If anything, I think it will keep him a little closer early, with not all the kick back and stuff. I was watching some of his previous races and what I felt were good draws for him, he probably got himself too far back early. Maybe this allows him to stay a little cleaner early and get a little better position by the time they get down to the turn.”
While there are a number of horses who have raced near the front in recent races, Asmussen said it's hard to gauge how much true speed is in the field. While four horses (Improbable, War of Will, Win Win Win and Bodexpress) came out of the Kentucky Derby, the other nine horses made their last starts in Gulfstream Park's Florida Derby (GI), Keeneland's Blue Grass (G2) or Lexington, Laurel's Federico Tesio, the Oaklawn Invitational, Churchill Downs' Pat Day Mile (G3) or an Oaklawn allowance race.
“I don't think there's enough established pace,” Asmussen said. “The horses who have been on the lead in five- and six-horse fields, when you put them together, it usually doesn't end up being as much speed as you think it looks like on paper. Like they were close, but because you were behind two and only in front of two doesn't mean you have pace. It's a very different field. “
Asmussen speculates that Oaklawn allowance winner Warrior's Charge, the front-running winner of his last two starts in Oaklawn Park maiden and allowance races, will be the early leader.
“He's got really good [speed] numbers,” Asmussen said. “But [Warrior's Charge's jockey] Javier [Castellano] is not a fool…. One horse that's quick in the race doesn't make pace. The pacemaker isn't the important one. The one who presses the pace is.”
MARKET KING – Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas was in a familiar position with his Preakness runner, Market King, Thursday morning – first on the track at Pimlico Race Course at 6 a.m. when it opened for training.
Lukas, 83, borrowed exercise rider Humberto Gomez from his buddy Bob Baffert to ride Market King for what Lukas called a routine gallop. Lukas also schooled the Into Mischief colt in the paddock, where he will be saddled Saturday prior to the 144th running of the Preakness Stakes (G1).
Robert Baker and William Mack's Market King drew Post 6 in the 13-horse Preakness and is 30-1 on the morning line. Jon Court, 58, will ride Lukas' record 44th Preakness runner.
“I was glad to be from the '6' in,” Lukas said. “I said “4-5-6” before they drew it. I don't think it's a big deal with my horse. I've got to move up a little bit. He's just got to step up.”
OWENDALE, WARRIOR'S CHARGE – Trainer Brad Cox, in his first Triple Crown race and with two starters, was delighted with how Keeneland's Lexington (G3) winner Owendale and Oaklawn allowance winner Warrior's Charge galloped their first morning at Pimlico after flying from Louisville on Wednesday afternoon.
“They both galloped extremely well,” he said. “I think sometimes the first day at a racetrack for a horse, it picks their head up a little bit.”
Cox has run only three horses at Pimlico in the past. Carve was seventh in the 2014 Pimlico Special (G3), Dazzling Gem was third in the 2016 Sir Barton and Good Move was sixth in last year's Miss Preakness (G3).
“We've not had that much luck yet,” Cox said. “Hopefully we get that turned around tomorrow.”
Cox has four horses running at Pimlico Friday: Ulele in the featured $250,000 Xpressbet Black-Eyed Susan (GI2), Mylady Curlin in the $150,000 Caplan Brothers Glass Allaire duPont Distaff (G3), Covfefe in the $150,000 Adena Springs Miss Preakness (G3) and Maybe Wicked in the $100,000 Fidelity First & Blackwell Real Estate Skipat. Owendale and Warrior's Charge are his only Pimlico horses running Saturday.
“They're ready,” Cox said. “I feel like with both horses that we've crossed every 't' and dotted every 'i.' It's going to be up to the trip – that's out of my hands. We've got a couple of days left, the schooling in the paddock tomorrow, another day of training left, [but] I feel we've pretty much jumped all the hurdles we have to jump to get here. We have maybe one left, got to get them in the gate and start the show.”
With Warrior's Charge having developed a front-running style going long and Owendale a confirmed closer, Cox noted that his two complement each other.
“They shouldn't get in each other's way,” he said. “Owendale, I thought last time he might lay a little closer to the pace. They did not go that fast in the Lexington. He closed into what I thought was a very average pace, which I think made his race even more impressive. We'll see what happens with him. He's sharp. I think his work last week [five-eighths of a mile in 59.20 seconds at Churchill Downs] showed he was sharp. He was on his toes this morning, feeling good.”
Owendale is named for a farming community in Michigan's Huron County where owner Jim Rupp's father was born. Its population was 241 as of the 2010 census. The village consists of a total of seven-tenths of a square mile.
Rupp, 64, lives in Bay City, Mich., and is retired from his family's distribution business. His dad was a big racing fan who would take his young son to the races at Hazel Park and Detroit Race Course. But it was son-in-law John Wentworth who encouraged Rupp to get in the business about four years ago. Wentworth talked to various trainers before immediately hitting it off with Cox.
In late 2014, Wentworth was part of a partnership that claimed Chocolate Ride, who went on to win four graded stakes in 2015-16 to help put Cox on the map.
“I always had an affinity for the horses,” Rupp said. “My father owned a few, nothing that ever did anything along the way. But my son-in-law used to train and race standardbreds. He claimed Chocolate Ride, who won four graded-stakes races in New Orleans. We talked about doing something together. He claimed another horse, Almasty [winner of Churchill Downs' Commonwealth Turf (G3) in 2015] with another partner we have. That's the only other graded-stakes horse I've been involved in.”
Rupp asked prominent bloodstock agent Mike Ryan to help him find a horse. The result was Owendale, a $200,000 Keeneland yearling purchase now in the Preakness Stakes.
“It's unbelievable,” Rupp said.
Owendale won a Fair Grounds allowance but he got tripped up when eighth in the Risen Star (G2) in his stakes debut.
“Brad called me a couple of weeks after the Risen Star and suggested we push the reset button with him,” Rupp said. “They gave him a little break and asked me what I thought about running him in the Lexington. Brad made a lot of sense, and of course he won that. He's really matured physically and mentally. He's just doing so well.”
As it turned out, Owendale [or another horse] could have run in the Kentucky Derby had they entered as an “also eligible,” because two horses scratched after entering.
“I think this is just the right move, right here,” Rupp said. “He would have been running back a little early. And you look back at the race [and] he would have been in the 20 hole. But it really didn't cross my mind.”
SIGNALMAN – There's no way trainer Ken McPeek isn't optimistic about his chances of winning the 144th edition of the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday.
And why wouldn't he have high hopes for Signalman, a 30-1 morning-line long shot in a field of 13 for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown?
It was McPeek who won the 2002 Belmont with Sarava at 70-1 – the longest shot in Belmont Stakes (G1) history. His Senior Investment ran third in the 2017 Preakness at odds of 31-1, and he sent out Golden Ticket to finish in a dead heat with Alpha to win the 2012 Travers (G1) at 33-1.
Signalman did not have enough qualifying points to make the Kentucky Derby (G1), so McPeek now looks at the Preakness as the start of a two-race series that includes the Belmont.
“I think you're going to find if a horse can win this race and the Belmont they go right to the forefront of possible champion 3-year-old,” McPeek said. “I like the fact my horse is fresh and I plan on making a two-race series out of it – here and the Belmont.”
With McPeek's assistant trainer and exercise rider Danny Ramsey aboard, Signalman went to the track about 6:30 a.m., for his usual routine.
“After the mile jog, we turned him around and went for a 1 ½-mile gallop,'' said McPeek. “Danny stretched him out in the lane a little extra today to stretch his legs. And then he got a bath. Very uncomplicated.”
Signalman drew the No. 8 post and will be ridden by Brian Hernandez, Jr. Owned by Tommie Lewis, Steve Crabtree, Dean Demaree, David Bernsen, Jim Chambers and Magdalena Racing, Signalman comes into the Preakness off a third-place finish in the Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland back on April 6, missing second place by a nose that kept him from making the Derby.
The son of General Quarters has a record of 2-2-2 from seven starts and earnings of $335,600.
WAR OF WILL – Gary Barber's War of Will, caught up in the melee when disqualified first-place finisher Maximum Security veered into his path far on the second turn of the Kentucky Derby, jogged around the track to the finish line before galloping 1 1/4 miles at Pimlico under exercise rider Kim Carroll Thursday morning. The double graded-stakes winner schooled in the paddock after training hours.
“I thought he went great,” said trainer Mark Casse of War of Will, who was moved up from eighth to seventh in the Derby after losing by only a total of 4 1/2 lengths. “He's got good energy. We went ahead and schooled him in the paddock. He was good. He's not really crazy about enclosed places, so I think we'll probably saddle him out [on the turf course].
Many of the horses in the field have a similar style of racing fairly close to the lead, including War of Will.
“It's going to be interesting, because there definitely are some horses there who have been racing on the lead,” Casse said. “Now they haven't necessarily faced the caliber of horses as War of Will and Improbable. so I don't know how that will stack up. But on paper it looks like there should be a significant amount of speed.”
As in the Derby, War of Will will break on the rail. However, the Derby start and the Preakness starts are two different animals. The Derby field, usually 20 horses or close to it, must jockey for position out of two starting gates positioned in the mile-and-quarter chute at Churchill Downs. Because of the far turn, there is no inner rail for the critical first few strides.
The announced game plan in the Derby was for War of Will to go to the lead to avoid a potential onslaught of traffic coming out of the gate.
“He wasn't fast enough,” Casse said. “We tried it. We're going to employ a little bit different strategy. Hopefully he breaks well. And if he breaks well and he's on the lead, so be it. But we're not going to drive him away from there. We're going to try to let him settle. We kind of rode him away from there [in the Derby]. We thought we needed to, and it got him a little fired up in the middle part of the race. Tyler [Gaffalione] did a tremendous job of keeping him under control, but I'd still like to see him relax a little better. I will say, Tyler is an extremely strong rider, and he needed to be. Because WOW was wanting to go, no question about that.
“So we'll probably try to let him relax a little bit more early and see,” he added. “I still believe that puts him fairly close to the pace, if not on it. The break will play a big role…. There's a lot less pressure to be so close (as in the Derby). If you don't come away running in the Kentucky Derby, everybody is going to come down on top of you. I don't think that's going to happen here.”
WIN WIN WIN – When Michael Trombetta was a teenager growing up in Perry Hall, Maryland, he got his first taste of horse racing when his father bought into a couple of Thoroughbreds. A couple of visits to the track later, Trombetta knew he had found his calling.
“I was sitting there thinking that 35 years ago, I was a groom working on the backstretch here at Pimlico [Race Course],” the trainer said Thursday morning while awaiting the arrival of Win Win Win, his contender for Saturday's Preakness (G1) who arrived van from Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. shortly after noon Thursday. “There were horse farms not far from where we lived, but my exposure was with the track. I fell in love with the sport, the horses, and the people.”
Win Win Win is one of four veterans of the 2019 Kentucky Derby (G1) to have been entered the Preakness, along with War of Will (eighth), Improbable (fifth), and Bodexpress (14th), who were all bumped up a spot through the disqualification of Maximum Security. The Live Oak Plantation color-bearer crossed the finish line 10th over the sloppy Churchill Downs track, and Trombetta thinks it was the going, rather than the competition, that played into his lackluster effort.
“I'm hoping he wasn't fond of the surface,” said Trombetta, who saddled Sweetnorthernsaint for a runner-up finish in the 2006 Preakness. “He came back from the race really well.”
The Derby was the first time Win Win Win finished off the board in seven career starts. In three other races this year, he won the Pasco at Tampa Bay Downs, setting a track record for seven furlongs; finished third in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2); and second in the Blue Grass (G2), all with powerful closing kicks.
Under Julian Pimentel, Win Win Win will break from Post 13, which since 1909 has produced exactly one winner – the filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
“I haven't even thought about [the post],” said Trombetta, who has had a successful career in the Mid-Atlantic since saddling his first winner back in 1989. “I just hope it goes well. He hasn't been the luckiest of horses, but he's always shown up. It would mean a lot for us to win here.”
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