BALTIMORE, MD – With Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert on the scene, Improbable worked an easy half-mile in 51.80 seconds on a chilly Monday morning at Churchill Downs in preparation for Saturday’s 144th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
“He worked really easy, an easy half around there,” Baffert said. “I didn’t want to do too much with him. I just wanted to make sure that he still has a lot of energy.”
Improbable was 3-for-3 last year but is 0-for-3 this year, finishing second in Oaklawn Park’s Rebel (G2) and Arkansas Derby (G1) prior to a fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1) that was upgraded to a fourth upon the disqualification of first-place finisher Maximum Security.
“He’s going over the ground really well, looks really healthy,” Baffert said. “He’s really held his weight really well, especially for a horse who shipped twice to Arkansas and then came back here to run in the Derby. That’s what you want to see this time of the year. It looks like he’s enjoying himself out there, so I don’t see anything that would make me want to change my mind [about running]. We want to go up there and make sure he’s hitting on all cylinders. We don’t want to go up there and embarrass ourselves. So we were looking good today.”
Baffert has saddled a record-tying seven Preakness winners: Justify (2018), American Pharoah (2015), both of whom went on the sweep the Triple Crown, Lookin At Lucky (2010), War Emblem (2002), Point Given (2001), Real Quiet (1998) and Silver Charm (1997). All five of Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winners – War Emblem, Real Quiet and Silver Charm, as well as Justify and American Pharoah – prevailed two weeks later in the Preakness. In Improbable, Baffert will be trying to win the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown for the third time with a horse who lost the Derby, following champions Point Given in 2001 and Lookin At Lucky in 2010.
“Point Given was a beast,” Baffert said. “This horse has run some big races, hasn’t run a bad one, always shows up. That’s what I like about that horse. The way the field is shaping up, it looks like it’s going to be a big field. It’s still a pretty even bunch. As we saw in the Derby, they’re all right there. That’s why there was so much traffic. They all have the same style, so you still have to get lucky.”
There is a strong possibility that Improbable will go to post Saturday as the favorite.
“I just inherited it, I think. But I wouldn’t say he’s a heavy, heavy favorite. It’s still wide open. Improbable still needs to get away [from the gate]. For some reason, the first 100 yards, he scrambles a little bit. For a horse with as much natural speed as he has, it takes him a while to get going. In the Derby, he was right behind those horses and when Maximum Security slowed it down down the backside, everybody was bottled up behind. It was one of those things where he was fifth and stayed fifth the whole way, there was no moving. I think post position and the break are still very important for him.”
Baffert said he thinks the Preakness’ 1 3/16-mile distance could help Improbable.
“A mile and a quarter might be stretching it,” he said. “The thing about his mechanics, he’s really light on his feet, so he doesn’t really struggle. We’ll see how he handles Pimlico. He looked great today.”
Improbable will be one of four Preakness contenders who raced in the Derby, along with War of Will, Win Win Win and Bodexpress.
“We won’t have any of the Derby winners in there,” quipped Baffert, referring to disqualified first-place finisher Maximum Security and adjudged winner Country House. “It’s still going to be an exciting race. To me, it’s still an important race. I really enjoy going to these races. I like the Preakness. I really enjoy it; it’s a lot of fun. The pressure is off. We go in there and have a good time.
“All the Classics are really enjoyable. It’s just a different type of race. It’s all about the 3-year-olds,” he added. “The Breeders’ Cup is like the Olympics, different divisions. These Classics are all about the same 3-year-olds. There are a lot of new shooters in here that look tough. There’s a hometown horse [Alwaysmining] that’s really good. That horse from Golden Gate, Anothertwistafate, he’s a really good horse, too. So it’s not a gimme. I’m not going in there feeling like I know I have the heavy muscle. I think I have a really good horse, but it’s a pretty tough race.”
Improbable is owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and Starlight Racing, basically the same partnership that campaigned the Baffert-trained 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify. Mike Smith, who rode Justify, picks up the mount for the Preakness.
Laughing Fox Works 4F for Middle Jewel of Triple Crown
Laughing Fox, who earned an automatic entry in Saturday’s Preakness (G1) at Pimlico by winning Oaklawn Park’s $300,000 Oaklawn Invitational May 4, cruised through a leisurely half-mile work in 51.60 seconds under exercise rider Wilson Fabian Monday at Churchill Downs. The breeze was a typical move for a Steve Asmussen-trained horse the week of a race.
“Obviously he ran nine days ago – a quick turnaround for him, which we’ve had some success [running back] in two weeks,” said Asmussen, who won the 2007 Preakness with two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and the 2009 Preakness with Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Rachel Alexandra. “He’s got a great attitude. Nice cool morning, he felt very good. I thought he went over the racetrack very well. I think in the past we’ve been very happy with how horses who have run at Oaklawn have run at Pimlico, so I feel good about that going up there.”
Ricardo Santana Jr., Asmussen’s go-to rider, has the mount on Laughing Fox, who flies to Baltimore on Wednesday.
Asmussen finished third in last year’s foggy Preakness with Tenfold, who runs in Friday’s Pimlico Special.
Equipment Change for Bourbon War in Preakness
Bourbon Lane Stable and Lake Star Stable’s Bourbon War will be sporting new attire when he goes to post in Saturday’s 144th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico with regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard.
“We’re adding some short-cup blinkers to the mix this time. It’s nice to keep the rider atop just so he has a feel for what he thinks about the equipment change,” trainer Mark Hennig said.
Bourbon War, who came up short on qualifying points to make the Kentucky Derby field, most recently finished fourth behind disqualified first-place Derby finisher Maximum Security in the March 30 Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream. The son of Tapit, who closed from ninth in the Florida Derby, had previously rallied from far off the pace to finish a half-length behind victorious Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream.
Bourbon War, who recorded a five-furlong bullet workout Thursday, jogged over the sloppy going at Belmont Park Monday.
“He’s doing great. He’s been in the mud the last couple days,” Hennig said. “Everything’s fine. All is well.”
Bourbon War is among eight Preakness candidates who did not compete in the Kentucky Derby. Four scheduled starters, Improbable, War of Will, Win Win Win and Bodexpress, ran in the Derby.
“Improbable is the horse to beat. He didn’t get beat far in the Derby. He should be the favorite. Rightfully, so,” Hennig said. “There are new shooters that are bringing great credentials to the table, too. I guess we’ll find out if the new shooters can be competitive with those horses that ran in the Derby. We have confidence in our horse based on his form in Florida, but he still has to reproduce that on the track.”
Bourbon War is scheduled to ship to Pimlico after training at Belmont Wednesday.
Alwaysmining ‘in a Very Good Place’
Runnymede Racing’s multiple stakes winner Alwaysmining galloped Monday morning at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. as he continues preparations for his graded debut in Saturday’s 144th Preakness (G1) at Pimlico.
Regular exercise rider Felix Astudillo was aboard for the exercise, which came over Fair Hill’s seven-furlong Tapeta synthetic surface.
“He’s doing very well,” trainer Kelly Rubley said. “He galloped this morning and looked wonderful.”
At Fair Hill, Rubley has the option of using both the synthetic surface and its surrounding one-mile all-weather dirt track. Alwaysmining had his final breeze for the Preakness May 10, going a half-mile in 48.20 seconds, fastest of 13 horses, on the synthetic surface.
“He jogs on the dirt and he generally gallops on the dirt, when it’s not sealed,” Rubley said. “He seems to be in a very good place.”
Alwaysmining takes a six-race win streak into the Preakness. Five of those victories have come in stakes, none more impressive than his 11 ¼-length romp in the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio April 20 at Laurel Park, which earned him an automatic berth in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
A son of Stay Thirsty, winner of the 1 ¼-mile Travers (G1) in 2011, Alwaysmining is attempting to become the ninth Maryland-bred to win the Preakness and first since Deputed Testamony in 1983. Magic Weisner finished second in 2002.
“Sure, to have him be kind of the hometown hero would be kind of neat. But, we’ve got to get it done first,” Rubley said. “He seems to be in a very good place.”
Alwaysmining, who will be ridden by regular jockey Daniel Centeno, will maintain his typical exercise schedule at Fair Hill before arriving late Thursday morning at Pimlico. He will get his first tour of Old Hilltop on Friday.
“We’re just going to keep his normal routine. He’ll gallop tomorrow and Thursday and ship to Pimlico after training here on Thursday,” Rubley said. “I’m undecided what we’ll do, gallop or jog, but we’ll decide that Friday morning.”
D. Wayne Lukas: Preakness ‘Baffert’s Race to Lose’
Market King, the newest candidate for Saturday’s Preakness (G1) at Pimlico, went out for a routine jog Monday at Churchill Downs as he resumed training following Saturday morning’s five-furlong workout in 1:00.40. That move, on top of one in 1:00.20 four days earlier, encouraged trainer D. Wayne Lukas to put Market King into the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, a race the Hall of Famer has captured six times, most recently in 2013 with Oxbow.
Jon Court, who, at 58, became the oldest jockey to ever ride in the Kentucky Derby (G1) when aboard Long Range Toddy, has the mount on the colt owned by Robert Baker and William Mack.
“He’s fresh and he’s doing well,” Lukas said of Market King. “Looking at the field, I think it’s a real competitive field, but I think it’s a doable deal. They’re only 3 once; they only get that opportunity one time. If you pass it up, the hill gets steeper in the fall without a doubt. If you like your horse, you give them a shot when they’re 3. But I think there’s about seven or eight of them in there taking a shot.”
Lukas, of course, has padded his Hall of Fame career by winning major races with horses that defy their odds.
“Last year we waltzed into town with a horse, I don’t know what they put him in the morning line, I think it was about 30-1,” he said of Bravazo, who went off at 15-1 odds and finished a half-length behind eventual Triple Crown winner Justify in the Preakness. “And Bravazo was one jump from beating Justify. It’s a horse race. You treat it like a horse race. It’s [trainer Bob] Baffert’s race to lose without a doubt [with Improbable], but he’s coming off a tough Derby and back in two weeks. But I saw him [Sunday] and he looked terrific, so I don’t think we’re going to get any breaks. He’s a very solid horse, but you can’t mail it in. You’ve got to go around there.”
Market King finished third in a division of Oaklawn Park’s Rebel Stakes (G2) won by Omaha Beach, the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby until being sidelined by a breathing obstruction. Market King subsequently finished 11th in Keeneland’s Blue Grass (GII).
“He struggled with the racetrack that day, I thought, and that was back quick for him,” Lukas said. “It was a quick turnaround for him with a van trip and a new track. It probably wasn’t a very good trainer’s decision on my part. But he trains so well here (at Churchill Downs), and I think this track plays more like Pimlico than Keeneland does by a long way. You always question one who hasn’t gone a mile and a quarter whether he’ll go a mile and three-sixteenths. But like I told Mr. Mack and Mr. Baker, if we’re going to find out, Pimlico is the place to find out, because horses do have a tendency to stay a little longer there.”
Lukas said Market King will van to Baltimore Tuesday, leaving Churchill Downs about 5 a.m.
Bodexpress Lands Velazquez for Preakness
Trainer Gustavo Delgado, on hand to watch Florida Derby runner-up Bodexpress train Monday at Churchill Downs, said Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will ride the Bodemeister colt in Saturday’s Preakness (G1) at Pimlico. For all of his achievements, Velazquez has never won the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
“I feel good. We’ve got Johnny V,” said Delgado, whose son, Gustavo Delgado Jr. oversaw Bodexpress’ training while the trainer returned to his Gulfstream Park West base. “I’m happy with him. My son says he’s been training well. ”
Bodexpress was among the horses that got caught up in the far-turn melee when front-running Maximum Security drifted into the path of War of Will. Bodexpress wound up 14th and was placed 13th through Maximum Security’s disqualification.
“We think in the Derby, with getting bumped and checked and everything, he could have run better than he did,” Delgado said. “I think a better result was possible, because he came back to the barn and he wasn’t even tired.”
Delgado Jr. noted that jockey Chris Landeros also had to use Bodexpress more than desirable in the early stages to secure a position heading into the first turn after breaking from Post 19. Bodexpress drew into the Kentucky Derby field from the also-eligible list with the defection of program favorite Omaha Beach. A subsequent scratch of Haikal made the Derby a 19-horse race. Because the No. 1 starting-gate stall was kept open to alleviate congestion inside, Bodexpress still broke from the 20th stall though it is considered Post 19.
“Probably going straight to the Preakness from the Florida Derby would have been the right thing to do, especially since we were going to have to start from the outside post,” the younger Delgado said, adding with a laugh, “But how can you tell an owner to skip the race, to skip the Derby?”
Instead, he said cheerfully, they’re viewing the Derby as a workout to set Bodexpress up for the Preakness.
Bodexpress will train Tuesday morning before vanning to the Lexington airport for a 1:30 p.m. departure of the Texas Sutton equine charter to Baltimore, Delgado Jr. said.
Signalman Giving All Right Signals for Preakness
The Kenny McPeek-trained Signalman, third in Keeneland’s Blue Grass (G2) in his last start, galloped 1 ½ miles under exercise rider Danny Ramsey at Churchill Downs Monday. The son of General Quarters is scheduled to van to Lexington for Tuesday’s Tex Sutton flight to Baltimore.
“He’s doing beautiful,” Ramsey said. “He’s training good; he’s eating good. He’s just got to run good now. We’ve got no excuse. He’s doing extremely well. It’s up to the jock now. We did our part.”
Signalman, who was third in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and went on to take the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill, will have regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. in the saddle.
Also at Churchill Downs, the Brad Cox-trained duo of Keeneland’s Lexington (G3) winner Owendale and Oaklawn allowance winner Warrior’s Charge galloped 1 ½ miles. They are expected to do the same Tuesday before flying to Baltimore from Louisville Wednesday afternoon.
The Mark Casse-trained War of Will, who finished eighth in the Derby and was placed seventh, got the morning off before his scheduled Monday afternoon departure on a van ride from Churchill to Pimlico.
Anothertwistafate, who earned an automatic entry into the Preakness with his victory in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields, is scheduled to fly from Oakland to Baltimore/Washington International airport Tuesday.
Win Win Win, who finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby and was placed ninth, is scheduled to ship from Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md. to Pimlico Thursday.