A daily update on all things Preakness from Mike Gathagan of the Maryland Jockey Club:
FRIESAN FIRE SIGNALS HIS READINESS WITH 5F. BULLET; MINE THAT BIRD, 3 OTHERS, HIT THE ROAD TO PIMLICO
MINE THAT BIRD – Trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley got behind the wheel of his Ford F-450 Lariat and drove through Gate 6 at Churchill Downs Tuesday shortly after 9 a.m. with a van carrying his Kentucky Derby winner in tow.
“I think he is ready,” Woolley said. “If we make the trip up there good and he eats good, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Mine That Bird, who closed from last to score by nearly seven lengths in the Derby, was expected to arrive at Pimlico 10 or 11 hours later in the day.
“I have about 115 gallons and hauling the trailer I get about 8 ½ miles a gallon,” said Woolley before hitting the road. “This will be about like our first day coming here when we went from El Paso to Lone Star Park (in suburban Dallas). We won’t need to stop for gas. When we stop to eat, I’ll open the top of the window and let him look out and take things in. He’s a good shipper. Nothing bothers him.”
Woolley, a New Mexico-based trainer who’ll be making his first visit to Pimlico, is obviously enjoying his first Triple Crown experience.
“It’s getting exciting; things are starting to build and I am eager to run again,” Woolley said. “I came here as the underdog with no pressure. Things have changed slightly.”
Calvin Borel, who gave Mine That Bird a thrilling rail-skimming ride to victory at 50-1 at Churchill Downs, has committed to ride Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, leaving the mount aboard the Kentucky Derby winner to Mike Smith.
RACHEL ALEXANDRA – The Medaglia d’Oro filly, owned by Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stable and Harold McCormick, returned to the track Tuesday morning and galloped once around Churchill Downs under exercise rider Dominic Terry. The Kentucky Oaks winner worked four furlongs in 48 2/5 seconds Sunday morning and walked the shedrow at trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn Monday morning.
“She came out of her work in good shape,” said Asmussen’s assistant Scott Blasi.
Rachel Alexandra was purchased last week and transferred to Asmussen from trainer Hal Wiggins’ barn. Blasi said the transition has been pretty easy.
“I think we’re all getting used to each other, but it’s been really smooth so far,” he said. “We’re just trying to keep her happy and she’s responding to everything that we’re doing.”
Blasi and one of Wiggins’ assistants, Brett McClellan, are very good friends and that connection has helped shorten the adjustment period.
“Mr. Hal and the whole team has been very cooperative,” Blasi said. “They want nothing but the best for the filly and have been very supportive and helpful.”
According to Blasi, Rachel Alexandra has reacted well to the barn change.
“It’s like being around a great horse,” he said. “She’s just very classy and kind of takes in whatever you want to do with her.”
And for a horse who clearly relishes getting out for her exercise, that includes accepting the standard day away from the track following a work.
“It was her walk day yesterday,” Blasi said. “She felt good but she wasn’t out of hand or anything. She walked, went in the house and went to sleep like she always does.”
Rachel Alexandra, who will carry a five-race winning streak into the Preakness, is scheduled to stand in the starting gate and gallop Wednesday morning before being flown from Louisville, Ky. to Baltimore. She will be ridden in the Preakness by her regular jockey Calvin Borel.
BIG DRAMA – After working five furlongs in 1:02 3/5 at Pimlico the day before, Big Drama jogged a mile and galloped a mile Tuesday morning.
“He came out of the work great. He galloped really well,” said trainer David Fawkes, whose wife, Celia, was aboard for the morning exercise.
Big Drama has blossomed since arriving at Pimlico last week, said Fawkes, an Illinois native who has been training in South Florida for 11 years.
“It does a lot for them. It helps to build their blood up. They get sharp and happy. They like that climate change. I’ve had a lot of luck shipping out of Calder,” he said. “It’s 90 (degrees) in Florida right now and 48 (degrees) here. You move a horse out of that into cool weather and it makes a huge difference.”
Big Drama, who will be ridden for the first time by John Velazquez, has finished first in his last six starts but was disqualified and placed second after running a brilliant seven furlongs in 1:20.88 in the Swale Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park last time out.
FLYING PRIVATE/LUV GOV – Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said jockey Jamie Theriot will ride Luv Gov in the 134th Preakness Saturday at Pimlico. Theriot, who replaces Miguel Mena, has ridden the Ten Most Wanted colt three times. Flying Private and Luv Gov were loaded on a van at Churchill Downs early Tuesday morning for the trip to Pimlico. Lukas said they were scheduled to arrive at approximately 4 p.m.
FRIESAN FIRE – Showing no ill effects from his troubled journey in the Kentucky Derby, Friesan Fire fired a “bullet” at Pimlico Tuesday morning. The beaten favorite in the Run for the Roses prepped for the Preakness with a sensational five-furlong workout in 58 2/5 seconds under jockey Gabriel Saez.
“All went well. He warmed up really good for it; he broke off very relaxed as far as not trying to send him away from there; but anytime you put the blinkers on him, he gets focused and wants to start rolling; he finished up well,” said trainer Larry Jones, whose colt worked shortly after the track reopened from the renovation break at 8 a.m.
Friesan Fire had turned in a blistering five-furlong workout in 57 4/5 seconds a few days before the Kentucky Derby.
“We really meant to work him well that day, and he did,” said Jones, whose colt had a six-week layoff between the Louisiana Derby and the Derby. “This one here was just to let him stretch his legs and see if he came out of the Derby well. I know when I galloped him the last two days, he sure seemed like he was doing well. We’re very happy, very pleased. He’s cooling out good, so all’s well. Right now we will push on and run Saturday.”
Saez echoed Jones’ satisfaction with the workout.
“I think this work was kind of better than the last time,” he said. “The main thing is: the horse is sound and handled the track really well.”
Friesan Fire had suffered cuts all over his legs, particularly in his left front foot, during his eventful run in the Derby, in which he was bumped around at the start and raced in heavy traffic before fading to 18th.
“We wound up having to walk him four days, but one of the days was a ship day. Then we went back and jogged a little bit. We couldn’t do a lot with that foot; we had to keep a patch on him while we were training him to prevent him from irritating it,” Jones said. “Today (Tuesday) is the first day we’ve been able to go and not have to put a patch on it, and he came back really well. I’m very pleased with the way it’s healed up. You sure couldn’t feel anything when I rode him the last couple days. If you didn’t know he’d had an issue, you wouldn’t know it.”
When Jones had a chance to examine Friesan Fire following the Derby, he discovered strips of bandages lodged between the hoof and the shoe of the left front foot.
“When we first saw it, we thought it was part of his hoof that had peeled up in there,” he said. “But when we got to checking it, we could see that it was some kind of material. So we took a couple nails out of his shoe where we could get it pried out, and it was a bandaging material.”
The mystery of where the bandage came from was solved the next morning at the nearby Cracker Barrel, where he bumped into Bennie “Chip” Woolley, trainer of Derby winner Mine That Bird, and Bob Baffert, who saddled Pioneerof the Nile for a runner-up finish in the Run for the Roses. While they traded war stories of Derby 135, Baffert mentioned that one of Pioneer of the Nile’s bandages had a round piece missing after the race.
“I asked him, ‘You didn’t have on black bandages, did you?’ He said, ‘Well, yes, I did.’ I said, ‘Well, I know where it is,’” Jones recalled. “So, apparently, we got close to Pioneerof the Nile someplace, sometime.”
GENERAL QUARTERS – The one-horse stable of 75-year-old owner/trainer/groom/hot walker Tom McCarthy left the friendly confines of Churchill Downs around 5 a.m. Tuesday for the long van ride to Pimlico.
The son of Sky Mesa, who was claimed by McCarthy for $20,000 less than a year ago, worked four furlongs in 50 1/5 seconds on Monday before leaving Louisville Tuesday.
McCarthy was a long-time teacher and principal in the Louisville school system before retiring in 1990 to return to the horse business. A native of Connecticut, McCarthy spent several years around New England tracks before serving in the Army during the Korean War. He attended college in Kentucky and settled there after the war.
MUSKET MAN – The third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby worked a bullet four furlongs in 46 3/5 seconds Tuesday morning at Monmouth Park under exercise rider Daniel Centeno, one of the top jockeys at the current meeting at Oceanport, N.J. Eibar Coa, who was aboard for Musket Man’s last two starts, will ride him in the Preakness.
“It went perfect, just what I wanted,” said Ryan, who will ship his colt on race day. “I haven’t run any horses at Pimlico in quite a while, but it’s a similar track to Monmouth. I’ve won a couple stakes there.’’
Musket Man went to Kentucky off back-to-back derby wins at Hawthorne and Tampa Bay Downs, but Ryan said he wasn’t as sharp on the sloppy, sealed surface at Churchill Downs.
“All that rain and it never dried out,” said Ryan, who will saddle his first Preakness runner. “He’s got a good turn of foot, but on a sloppy track you don’t have that turn of foot you would have on a dry track.”
Still, Musket Man missed second money by only a nose.
The weather forecast for the Baltimore area is much more promising the rest of the week than it was Derby week in Louisville, with only a chance of scattered showers on race day.
Musket Man, overlooked at 19-1 in the Derby, has won three of his five starts as a 3-year-old. The son of Yonaguska was 2-for-2 at age 2.
PAPA CLEM – The fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby worked a leisurely five furlongs in 1:05 under exercise rider Emundo Cedeno shortly after 7 a.m. over a fast Pimlico main track Tuesday morning in his final breeze for the Preakness.
“I was hoping for a faster time, but I’m not worried about it,’’ said affable trainer Gary Stute after watching the move from the clubhouse box area. “The track may have been a little slow if you look at the earlier works. All his workouts before the Derby were bad except for the last one. Coming back from the Derby in two weeks, I just mainly wanted him to get a feel for the track.”
The Kentucky-bred colt’s first quarter-mile was accomplished in 25 seconds with a half-mile in 51 4/5 seconds. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:22 3/5. The son of Smart Strike bred and owned by Bo Hirsch has only run once on a fast dirt surface when he upset Old Fashioned in the Arkansas Derby (G2) in his final Derby prep.
“I never really thought of him as Derby horse because he never really trained like one, but every time he’s run, he’s run a lot better than he trained,” said Stute, who will walk the colt Wednesday and possibly get him a visit to the gate Thursday or Friday. “He’s always kind of shocked me how good he ran off the way he worked.”
Stute was here with his dad, Mel, 23 years ago to witness his Preakness victory with Snow Chief, when the beaten Kentucky Derby favorite took the measure of Ferdinand, Broad Brush, speedball Groovy and the favored D. Wayne Lukas entry of Badger Land and Clear Choice.
“I can remember about four jumps from the wire and he was about four (lengths) in front and I jumped on my dad and said, ‘we did it,’ ” Stute recalled. “It was the maddest I’ve ever seen him, and I’ve done a lot of things to make him mad. He looked at me like we haven’t crossed the finish line yet. Two seconds later he crossed the wire and it was all better. He’s pretty superstitious.’’
Stute said his father and mother will be coming to Baltimore to see if their son can match his father’s feat of winning with his first Preakness starter.
“Originally, he was trying not to come, but I kind of insisted,” Gary Stute said. “I thought I was going to win, but that was before the filly (Rachel Alexandra) entered. I still wanted him here just in case.”
Stute said that he has mixed feelings about the new shooter on the Triple Crown scene.
“Personally, for me, I think it’s a little disappointing, but for racing I think it’s great,” he said. “I figure it should bring 20-30,000 extra fans here on Saturday. And when the husbands are watching the race at home, the wives will be watching, too. It’s going to be great for racing. Racing is in kind of a downward spiral right now, and this can only help it in the long run.”
PIONEEROF THE NILE – Newly elected Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said that he was impressed with the appearance of Mine That Bird as the Kentucky Derby winner was loaded on the van Tuesday morning for the trip from Churchill Downs to Pimlico.
“He looked great,” Baffert said. “He’s going to be tough, that horse. He looks good. It looks like the Derby didn’t take a lot out of him.”
Baffert said the expected entry of the standout filly Rachel Alexandra adds to a deep Preakness field that is likely to have 13 starters.
“There is going to be a lot of excitement with that filly in there,” Baffert said. “She’s a wonderful filly. She’s an incredible athlete. She’s got the right style. She’s going to be forwardly placed, so she’ll be out of the way. She’s got a beautiful fluid stride and a great turn of foot. She’s dangerous.
“But Mine That Bird is a good horse. Big Drama is a good horse. Any time a horse has got a lot of ones in the win column, that’s a good horse. Traffic is going to be a huge factor with 13 horses in there.”
Big Drama has finished first in his last six starts.
Rachel Alexandra will be the first filly to start in the Preakness since the Baffert-trained Excellent Meeting competed in 1999. Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks in her last start and will be facing males for the first time.
“If she’s in there, she’s in there,” Baffert said. “I’ve done it. I’ve run fillies there before. She’s a good filly. She’s so popular, she’ll probably go off as the favorite. She really brings a lot to the race. It’s good for Pimlico.”
Pioneerof the Nile walked the shedrow at Baffert’s barn at Churchill Downs Tuesday morning. The Kentucky Derby runner-up, who breezed a half-mile in 47 3/5 seconds Monday, will be flown to Baltimore Wednesday. He will be ridden in the Preakness by Garrett Gomez.
TAKE THE POINTS – The Starlight Partners’ colt will be trainer Todd Pletcher’s fourth Preakness starter. Pletcher made his Preakness debut in 2000 with Impeachment, who finished third. In 2007, Pletcher saddled Circular Quay, who finished fifth, and King of the Roxy, the sixth-place horse. Take the Points, a son of Even the Score, remains at Pletcher’s barn at Belmont Park. He brings a record of 2-2-0 from six starts into the Preakness, where he will compete in blinkers for the first time. In his last start, Take the Points finished fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, 2 ¾ lengths behind the winner, Pioneerof the Nile.
TERRAIN – Trainer Al Stall Jr. sent Terrain to the track at Churchill Downs Tuesday morning, when the son of Sky Mesa jogged a half-mile and galloped a mile under exercise rider Jimmy Valdez. Stall is looking forward to running Terrain over the dirt track at Pimlico after watching him struggle over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland during his fourth-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes. Terrain won his first two career starts on the dirt surfaces at Churchill Downs and Mountaineer Park last year and finished a solid third at Fair Grounds while coming off a long layoff in the Louisiana Derby. He ran respectably in his four synthetic-track appearances, but he runs far more aggressively on dirt.
“He gets into his races on dirt,” Stall said. “He wants no part of ‘Poly.’ On ‘Poly’ he drops back under absolutely no resistance.”
Terrain, who’ll be ridden by Jeremy Rose Saturday, is scheduled to accompany likely favorite Rachel Alexandra and Pioneerof the Nile on a 1 p.m. Baltimore-bound flight from Louisville on Wednesday.
TONE IT DOWN – The lightly tested son of Medaglia d’Oro galloped 1 ½ miles at Laurel Park Tuesday for trainer Bill Komlo, who indicated he may give the colt a three-eighths breeze on Wednesday morning.
“He seems to be right on target,” Komlo said. “We went pretty good today. We’ll just see how he’s feeling tomorrow.”
Kent Desormeaux will be aboard the third-place finisher in the Federico Tesio for the first time, and he may not see the horse until Saturday when Komlo vans him in.
“He’s an experienced rider,” Komlo said. “I would certainly like to have him get on the horse, but it’s going to be what it is. I can’t do much about it.”