Count me among the skeptics thinking Bob Baffert would not run Dortmund in the Preakness immediately after stablemate American Pharoah's hard-fought win over Firing Line and Dortmund in the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby.
Why would a trainer risk winning racing's most cherished prize, the Triple Crown, by running an extremely talented horse like Dortmund against the Derby winner?
Well, because they aren't Baffert's horses.
American Pharoah races for Ahmed Zayat's Zayat Stables and Dortmund is owned by Kaleem Shah. Both owners are in the game to win big races. The Preakness, the Triple Crown's middle jewel, is a big race.
Some historical perspective reminded me it's not that unusual for a Derby-winning trainer to run a second horse in the Preakness. In fact, 20 years ago, trainer D. Wayne Lukas was in exactly the same position with Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch when he entered and won the Preakness with a second horse, Timber Country. Both horses had different, high-profile owners, just like American Pharoah and Dortmund do. Thunder Gulch carried the blue and orange silks of Michael Tabor and Timber Country raced for the partnership of Graham Beck, William T. Young and Bob and Beverly Lewis.
Timber Country went off favored in the Preakness under Pat Day, beating longshot local horse Oliver's Twist by a half length. Thunder Gulch, the Derby winner under Gary Stevens, finished third.
“I've done the correct political and diplomatic thing,” Lukas was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying following the Preakness. “I've got some very good owners and I made one of them very happy in Kentucky, and now I've made (four of them) very happy here.
“There was no pressure on me because of this situation,” he continued. “I just trained both horses as hard as I could. Then I told both jockeys that they were on their own. Both horses had legitimate shots at the eighth pole, when they were heads apart, and both riders were down on their bellies, trying to win. I'm excited about turning both of these horses loose again in the Belmont.”
Timber Country was the favorite to win the Belmont but scratched on the eve of the race because of a fever. Thunder Gulch won, giving Lukas his own personal Triple Crown (and his fifth consecutive win in a Triple Crown race following Tabasco Cat's Preakness-Belmont victories in 1994).
Four years later, Lukas was faced with the same situation after longshot Charismatic won the Kentucky Derby. He ran eventual Breeders' Cup Classic winner Cat Thief, owned by William T. Young, against Charismatic (owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis) in the Preakness. Charismatic won.
Four years ago, after his breakthrough Kentucky Derby victory with Super Saver, Todd Pletcher ran a second horse against him in the Preakness, longshot Aikenite, owned by Dogwood Stables. In that case, neither horse won.
The same scenario happened with the late Lazaro Barrera in 1976. Bold Forbes won the Kentucky Derby for E. Rodriguez Tizol while a stablemate, Harbor View Farm's Life's Hope, was winning the Illinois Derby. They ran as a heavily favored entry in the Preakness, but longshot Elocutionist upset them both.
Two years later, Barrera and Harbor View teamed up to win the 1978 Triple Crown with Affirmed. No one has done it since.
Immediately after American Pharoah crossed the wire at Churchill Downs on May 2, the speculation began: Is this son of Pioneerof the Nile the next Triple Crown winner?
The answer, of course, is that he's the only one with a chance.
And American Pharoah's chances are lessened if the once-beaten Dortmund is in the starting line-up.
As much as some in racing crave a Triple Crown winner, no one wants to see it given to a horse. It must be earned, and while American Pharoah handed Dortmund his first loss in the Kentucky Derby, the margin and manner of victory did not make the winner look invincible.
Keeping owners happy is one of the biggest challenges for a successful trainer like Baffert. Let's not forget that Preakness contender Firing Line, who ran a game second in the Derby, is owned by Arnold Zetcher, whose greatest successes over a five-year period, from 2009-13, were with horses trained by Baffert. Firing Line, however, is trained by Simon Callaghan.
So while Baffert was successful in keeping Dortmund and American Pharoah separated on the road to the Kentucky Derby (Dortmund stayed in California while American Pharoah made two trips to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas), there's no ducking in the big races.
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