From Mike Gathagan and the Maryland Jockey Club, a comprehensive update on all things Preakness for the day…
MINE THAT BIRD WORKS UNEXPECTEDLY IN KENTUCKY; RACHEL ALEXANDRA NOW LIKELY FOR HISTORIC START; HULL OPTS OUT OF RACE
MINE THAT BIRD – Trainer Bennie “Chip” Woolley altered Mine That Bird’s training schedule at Churchill Downs Monday morning, when he sent his Kentucky Derby winner to the track for an impromptu half-mile workout in preparation for a start in Saturday’s 134th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
“The horse looked good. I hadn’t planned to work him, but he was getting pretty high. He bounced back from the Derby a little quicker than I thought he would,” Woolley said. “He was getting a little rattled, he was feeling so good. We just wanted to let him stretch his legs.”
Calvin Borel, who rode Mine That Bird to a 6 ¾-length victory in the Kentucky Derby, was aboard for the breeze that was timed in 49.20 seconds, ranked 17th of 48 workouts at the distance. The 50-1 bomb galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.80. Barring any surprises before entries are taken Wednesday for the Preakness – which was expected Monday to attract a field of 13 – Borel will not be aboard Mine That Bird for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
Borel has committed to ride Rachel Alexandra, the Kentucky Oaks-winning filly who will only be able to run in the Preakness if no more than 13 Triple Crown nominees are entered and her owners pay a $100,000 supplemental fee to make her eligible for the series. On Sunday, Mine That Bird’s owner Mark Allen had indicated an intention to enter maiden Indy Express in the Preakness, a move that potentially could have excluded Rachel Alexandra from the field, but he scrapped that plan later in the day.
“Calvin will have the call on my horse right up to the time entries are taken. If the filly is entered, then Mike Smith will have the mount,” Woolley said. “We’ve had talks with Mike and we decided it was the best move to have Mike on our horse if the mare is in the race.”
Smith, a New Mexico native, will fit the stretch-running Mine That Bird, said Woolley.
“Mike watched the Derby. He saw how the horse ran and knows the kind of running style he has,” the New Mexico-based trainer said. “We’re confident that he’d do his job well.”
Woolley, who vanned Mine That Bird during a 21-hour trip from New Mexico to Kentucky, said he plans to get behind the wheel again at 9 a.m. Tuesday for a 10-hour trip from Churchill Downs to Pimlico.
RACHEL ALEXANDRA – After breezing on Sunday, Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra had a quiet Monday morning while walking the shedrow at trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn at Churchill Downs.
The Kentucky Oaks winner tuned up for her planned debut in the Triple Crown series with a half-mile breeze in 48.40 seconds.
“She came out of her work in good order,” said Scott Blasi, a top assistant to trainer Asmussen. “Physically she looks beautiful.”
Rachel Alexandra is now poised to be officially entered in the Preakness Wednesday morning and would be the first Kentucky Oaks winner to compete in Maryland’s signature race. Sunday evening, the owners of the top two Derby finishers – Mark Allen, who co-owns the winner Mine That Bird, and Ahmed Zayat, breeder and owner of Pioneerof the Nile – said they had nixed plans to enter additional horses in the Preakness. Those decisions created an opening in the field and the announcement Monday that Hull would not be entered added yet another position in the starting gate. The filly’s new owner, Jess Jackson, said he intends to pay the supplemental fee of $100,000 to enter her in the race.
Blasi said the filly, who has won five consecutive races, is scheduled to be shipped from Louisville to Baltimore Wednesday on a charter flight.
If Rachel Alexandra is entered in the Preakness, she will be ridden by Calvin Borel, who has decided to give up the mount on Derby winner Mine That Bird. Borel is scheduled to appear on the NBC program Tonight with Jay Leno on Tuesday.
BIG DRAMA – Jockey John Velazquez and Big Drama got acquainted at Pimlico Monday morning during a four-furlong workout that was timed in 50 seconds. The pair galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.60 in preparation for the Preakness Stakes.
Although the clocking wasn’t eye-catching, Velazquez was suitably impressed with the son of Montbrook.
“He did everything very, very easy. I just wanted to get a little feel for him. He was going to the pole a little bit strong, so I wanted to be a little cautious with him. The race is pretty close right now,” the New York-based jockey said.
“The reason I started slow was because he was going strong to the (half-mile) pole. I didn’t want him to do too much. If I let him go too fast the first part, I’d have no control of him. I wanted to have control of him to have him do what I wanted him to do, not him controlling me,” added Velazquez, who inherited his Preakness mount when Eibar Coa opted to stick with Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Musket Man.
Big Drama, who made a little jump over a spot in the track at the top of the stretch that had different harrow marks than the rest of the track, otherwise appeared to move well over the Pimlico racing surface.
“He didn’t want to leave his race on the track. I’d rather have (50 seconds) than
go out there and go 46 (seconds) and get sick to your stomach,” trainer David Fawkes said. “He galloped out good. He’s fit. It was just maintenance.”
Velazquez said he was “shocked’ that Calvin Borel made a commitment to ride Rachel Alexandra instead of Mine That Bird in the Preakness, but that he could identify with him. Velazquez made a switch to Rags to Riches before her historic victory in the 2007 Belmont Stakes.
“I know the feeling that he has,” said Velazquez. “I jumped off another horse to ride her, because of the quality of horse that she was. So I already did it once. I didn’t win on that horse before, but I was committed to another horse. I just think he knows the filly has the quality to win this race. She’s showing the potential to do what Rags to Riches did.”
FLYING PRIVATE/LUV GOV – Trainer D. Wayne Lukas said any number of superlatives could be used to describe his reaction to Flying Private’s half-mile breeze Monday morning at Churchill Downs.
Working in company with stablemate Sea Admiral, Flying Private breezed a half-mile with jockey Jamie Theriot up in 48.20 seconds. The fractions were 12.80; 24.80 and 36.20 seconds while finishing about seven lengths in front of his workmate.
Flying Private, who finished last in the Kentucky Derby, will be ridden by jockey Alan Garcia.
Lukas said Marylou Whitney’s colt Luv Gov was still on course for the Preakness. However, Lukas said the colt will not be entered if his presence would have an impact on Rachel Alexandra being able to compete in the race. He said it was never his intention to enter a second horse to block the filly from being in the field.
“Let me make this crystal clear, there is no controversy,” Lukas said. “We entered and I told Coley Blind, the stakes coordinator, that we would enter only if there was no controversy with the filly and we did not exclude her. If in any way, shape or form she is excluded because of our entry, then we will not enter. We are not trying to keep the filly out.
“We’re only entering if there is a hole open in the 14th gate. We are not trying to keep the filly from running. If she is excluded by Luv Gov, he will not run. Marylou Whitney, with her status in racing and what she has meant to the industry, has no interest in causing a controversy in the Preakness.
“If we make the 14th horse, we’ll enter. If for some reason between now and Wednesday’s draw, if somebody else enters and it eliminates the filly, we will not enter.”
Luv Gov walked the shedrow Monday, the morning after he worked a half-mile.
“He had a nice breeze Sunday, probably one of the best of the spring for him,” Lukas said.
No rider has been named for Luv Gov. Lukas’s two Preakness horses and three other horses pointed toward Pimlico races are scheduled to be shipped from Churchill Downs on Tuesday.
FRIESAN FIRE – Friesan Fire arrived by van at Pimlico Monday shortly before 2 p.m. The Louisiana Derby winner was accompanied by his groom, Cory York, who reported that all went well during the short van ride from trainer Larry Jones’ Delaware Park barn.
Friesan Fire, who suffered cuts in his left front leg while finishing 18th as the Kentucky Derby favorite, is slated to work out at Pimlico with jockey Gabriel Saez aboard Tuesday morning.
GENERAL QUARTERS – The Blue Grass Stakes winner put in his final work at Churchill Downs Monday morning for owner Tom McCarthy, who said he got exactly what he was looking for from the son of Sky Mesa.
Clockers caught the 10th-place Kentucky Derby finisher in 50.20 seconds for a half-mile with exercise rider Justin Court aboard. The breeze ranked 28th of 48 recorded at the distance. He galloped out five furlongs in 1:04.60.
“Perfect,” said McCarthy, the retired school principal-turned-trainer. “He started off a little slow, but he finished up better than he started. That was pretty much what we wanted.”
McCarthy, who claimed General Quarters for $20,000 out of his winning maiden debut, plans to load the gray colt onto a van Tuesday morning at around 6 a.m. for the trip north to Pimlico. He is expected to arrive around 2 p.m.
“It was the first time I had worked the horse, and I was impressed with him,” Court said. “I had a lot of horse, and I think he will do well over there (Pimlico).”
General Quarters has already earned $641,735 for McCarthy’s meager investment. The only horse in McCarthy’s stable also won the Sam Davis (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs en route to the Kentucky Derby.
HULL – The connections of the least-experienced prospect for the Preakness decided on Monday to withdraw the son of Holy Bull from the Preakness field.
“When I committed to run in the race, I liked the way it was setting up,” said co-owner Barry Irwin of Team Valor International. “I think the pace is going to be too hot. I don’t like the way it’s shaping up for our horse. It’s going to be our horse’s first time around two turns, and I just think there’s too much speed in there and I’m not comfortable.”
The unbeaten son of Holy Bull won the Derby Trial in his last start, only the third of his career. Irwin said they would run Hull in the Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard on June 6.
“I’d like to be able to run him in the Preakness, but I don’t want to screw the horse up,” Irwin said. “He’s only run three times, so I don’t want to mess him up.”
MUSKET MAN – Trainer Derek Ryan sent out the Illinois Derby (G2) for a 1 ¾-mile gallop Monday morning at Monmouth Park, where he’ll get a final half-mile workout on Tuesday morning.
“He’s doing fine,” said Ryan, a native of Ireland and a former assistant to Joe Orseno. “He seems to be doing pretty good since the Derby (third behind Mine That Bird and Pioneerof the Nile).’’
Eibar Coa has been aboard for Musket Man’s last two starts, which included the victory at Hawthorne that preceded the Kentucky Derby. Coa elected to ride Musket Man in the Preakness over Big Drama.
“He’s ridden a lot for us in New York and we’ve had a lot of success with him,” Ryan said. “He decided to go to Illinois with us and he gave him a great ride there.”
Coa was the fourth rider for Musket Man in seven career starts, five of them victories. The son of Yonaguska won his first three career starts before finishing third in the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay, his only other defeat besides the Derby.
Musket Man, a $15,000 yearling who sold for considerably more at 2 when he was purchased privately by Eric Fein and Vic Carlson, will remain in New Jersey until race day and van in for the Preakness.
PAPA CLEM – The Arkansas Derby (G2) winner, one of only two Preakness candidates in the Pimlico Stakes Barn, galloped over the track for the first time Monday and will be sent out for a five-furlong breeze on Tuesday.
Trainer Gary Stute will try to duplicate the feat accomplished by his father, Mel, who won the Middle Jewel with his first starter (Snow Chief, 1986). When asked if he and any of his colleagues should be concerned about the now-likely prospect of running against superstar filly Rachel Alexandra, Stute didn’t hesitate.
“There should be 13 of us (concerned) to be exact,” Stute said. “She changes the whole race in my opinion. She’s an exceptional filly. I’ve kind of been following her around and she’s impressed me a lot. If I could change places in the race, I probably would.”
Papa Clem, a son of Smart Strike who ran fourth in the Kentucky Derby, might have deserved a better fate in his first Grade 1 outing.
“I thought I was a little unlucky not to finish second,” Stute said. “Bob’s (Baffert) horse (Pioneerof the Nile) came out and bumped me. In a normal race there might have been an inquiry, but I’ve heard the Kentucky Derby is like Game 7 in the NBA finals. They’re gonna let them play. They better mug you before they call a foul. I was real proud of him.”
Stute also had high praise for the ride of Calvin Borel aboard Derby long shot winner Mine that Bird.
“He’s the new ‘Iceman,’ ’’ Stute said. “He was 50-1, but (Borel) also rode the Derby favorite (Street Sense) that way. He made it look like we were all standing still.’’
PIONEEROF THE NILE – Following the colt’s solid four-furlong work in 47.60 seconds at Churchill Downs Monday, trainer Bob Baffert confirmed that the Derby runner-up will compete in the Preakness.
Under rider Joe Steiner, Pioneerof the Nile turned in consistent split times of 12:20, 24.40 and 36.20 seconds, then galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.20 and six furlongs on 1:14.80.
“He worked great and went over the track really well,” Baffert said. “We finally got a nice track. He bounced out of the race great and I don’t see any effects from the Derby; he looks strong. It looks like he’s sitting on another great performance.”
Pioneerof the Nile is scheduled to be shipped to Pimlico on Wednesday. Garrett Gomez, the leading rider in the U.S., will ride the colt in the Preakness.
TAKE THE POINTS – The Starlight Partners’ colt jogged a mile Monday morning at Belmont Park, a day after he completed a five-furlong breeze in 1:00.09.
“We were very happy with his breeze,” said Jonathan Thomas, an assistant to trainer Todd Pletcher. “It was a standard breeze and he appeared to come out of it pretty well.”
Shipping plans from New York to Baltimore have not been finalized. Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado will ride the speedy colt, who will compete in blinkers for the first time.
TERRAIN – The connections of Terrain decided Monday to offer Jeremy Rose the Preakness mount on the son of Sky Mesa. Trainer Al Stall Jr. said he was looking for some “local knowledge” while zeroing in on Rose, who has enjoyed considerable success on the Maryland circuit and visited the Pimlico winner’s circle with Afleet Alex following his victory in the 2005 Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown..
“Jeremy rides well and he’s won the race,” Stall said.
Terrain walked the shedrow at Churchill Downs Monday morning after working five furlongs in 1:02.60 the day before.
The Kentucky-bred colt didn’t make a start this year until March 14, when he finished third behind Friesan Fire and Papa Clem in the Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds. Terrain finished fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes over Keeneland’s Polytrack surface in his most recent start.
“He’s set up for a good effort,” Stall said. “He’s fit now and he’s fresh.”
Terrain is scheduled to gallop at Churchill Downs for the next couple of days before a scheduled flight from Louisville, Ky. to Baltimore on Wednesday.
TONE IT DOWN – The son of Medaglia d’Oro galloped 1 ½ miles at trainer Bill Komlo’s home base at Laurel Park. Komlo said he is mulling the possibility of a final workout Tuesday or Wednesday.
“He’s perfect right now,” said Komlo, whose daughter Deborah and son-in-law Michael Horning own the colt under the name of M and D Stable. They purchased him at Timonium as a 2-year-old for $100,000.
Komlo is a native of Pennsylvania, but has spent most of his adult life in Maryland. This is his second go-round as a horse trainer beginning in the 1960s. He left racing for several years to coach his sons in football and returned nearly a decade ago. This is Komlo’s first Triple Crown entrant.
“I guess it would be the epitome of happiness, being in the horse business and having an opportunity to run in it (Preakness)” he said. “We’re Maryland people, excited about it. It would be a great thing.”
Tone It Down’s only prior stakes experience came in the Federico Tesio (G3) here at Pimlico two weeks ago, when he finished third in a field of eight.