BALTIMORE – Led by the winner, American Pharoah, the top three finishers in the Kentucky Derby (G1) are headed to historic Pimlico Race Course for the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes (G1) on Saturday, May 16.
Zayat Stables’ American Pharoah won the Derby by one length over Firing Line, who finished two lengths in front of pacesetter Dortmund, owned by Kaleem Shah. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said Sunday morning that American Pharoah and Dortmund were both candidates for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
The last time that the top three from the Kentucky Derby went to the gate in the Preakness was 2009: Mine That Bird, Pioneerof the Nile – sire of American Pharoah – and Musket Man.
Two other horses with Derby connections are possible for the Preakness. Mark Casse, trainer of fifth-place finisher Danzig Moon, said Sunday that he and owner John Oxley would take a look at the race this week. Ken Ramsey, owner of International Star, scratched the morning of the Derby with a minor foot problem, said he expects the injury will be fully healed and the colt will be able to run at Pimlico.
A third, Todd Pletcher trainee Stanford, was scratched from the Derby on Thursday. Pletcher said Sunday that he has not made plans for the colt.
Two new shooters on the list of possible runners are Lexington Stakes (G3) winner Divining Rod and Federico Tesio winner Bodhisattva.
Baffert confirmed his intention to run American Pharoah in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown during a Sunday morning phone call with Maryland Jockey Club Vice President and General Manager Sal Sinatra and other Preakness officials. Pimlico traditionally calls the winner of the Kentucky Derby to extend a formal invitation to come to Baltimore.
With five victories in the Preakness – including a perfect record with his three previous Derby winners – Baffert and his team have had plenty of success getting their runners ready during the two weeks between the Triple Crown races.
“The Preakness is the easiest race of the legs,” Baffert said. “To me, the Derby is the hardest. The Preakness is the easiest. If you run well in the Derby that means your horses are in top shape. You need a good horse and the Preakness to me has always been easier. Then after that, the Belmont, you see that it wears on them.”
American Pharoah dominated the competition in his four consecutive wins before the Derby. There was some question about how he would react when he faced the first really demanding test of his career. He answered with a gritty drive through the second turn and in the stretch to overtake and dismiss Dortmund and Firing Line.
“He finally had a hard work,” Baffert said. “He had a stiff race and he hadn’t had a stiff race. Everybody says they have to have one stiff race. Now that he’s had one from here on he should really move forward.”
Baffert has been competing at the top level of the sport for more than 20 years and won the Derby with Silver Charm in 1997, Real Quiet in 1998 and War Emblem 2002. He said he felt pressure this year saddling the top two choices on the morning line, American Pharoah and Dortmund, who had a combined 11 wins in 12 starts.
“It’s fun to come here, but I think this win was different than my other ones,” Baffert said. “I needed to get it done. I needed to win it. Something was building that something good was going to happen. And it did. It was a big sigh of relief. I was like ‘mission accomplished.’ That’s the feeling I have at this time.”
Following the race, Baffert said his children were very excited and that his youngest son, Bode, said, ‘Thanks Daddy for fulfilling my Derby dream.’ As American Pharoah reached the wire, Zayat Stables’ racing manager Justin Zayat, the son of owner Ahmed Zayat, was so overcome with emotion that he was sick to his stomach.
“It just goes to show you how much it meant to them,” Baffert said.
“It was for them. It wasn’t for Bob Baffert. Getting the fourth Derby means nothing to me. It means that they gave me a really good horse and I didn’t screw it up. I had the talent. Anybody could have trained this horse and won it. I don’t feel like I did anything special.”
While some trainers might not run one of their other horses against the stable’s Derby winner, Baffert said his owners understand that they could be facing stablemates in major races. Dortmund, who was unbeaten before the Derby, is a Preakness candidate.
“My job is to get my people there,” he said. “If the horse is doing well do we run him there or wait for the Belmont? I don’t know. “It’s one of those things where I will sit down and discuss it with Kaleem Shah. I’m sure he’s going to want a little revenge. His horse ran a really good race. If ‘Pharoah’ is that good he’s going to have to run hard. Right now I would say if all’s well (he would run); and Dortmund looked good.”
Firing Line’s owner, Arnold Zetcher, and the colt’s 32-year-old trainer Simon Callaghan, said they were serious about going on to the Preakness.
“You’d have to think if all is well that he’s earned that right,” Callaghan said. “We were glad we finally got to best Dortmund after he’d beaten us twice. And we believe we can be right there with American Pharoah. We’ll walk him here for the next three or four days and monitor him. We’ll then train him with the Preakness in mind. Maybe we’ll breeze him, or maybe we’ll just gallop him. We’ll let the horse tell us. If we go, we’ll probably ship up there at some point next week.”
Firing Line has two wins and four seconds from six career starts. A pair of those seconds came in photo finishes to Dortmund.
Though the $1 million Queen’s Plate at Woodbine in Toronto is the primary goal for the Ontario-bred Danzig Moon, trainer Mark Casse said the Preakness might be up next.
“We’ll take a look at the Preakness. The Queen’s Plate is not until July 5. We probably won’t talk about it for a day or two,” Casse said.
Danzig Moon was fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and ran second to Carpe Diem in the Blue Grass (G1). Casse was so impressed with the way the Malibu Moon colt came out of the race that he decided to go into the Derby. The colt trained well at Churchill Downs and ran well despite a troubled trip.
Trainer Arnaud Delacour said the Preakness would be next after Divining Rod took the Lexington at Keeneland on April 11. Divining Rod, bred and owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stables, is stakes tested. He was second in the Sam F. Davis (G3) before finishing third in the Tampa Bay Derby.
Divining Rod is by the top sire Tapit and is out of the multiple Grade 1-winning mare Precious Kitten.
Bodhisattva, a son of Student Council trained by owner Jose Corrales, was second in the Private Terms at Laurel Park and won the Federico Tesio at Pimlico on April 18.