Courtesy of Maryland Jockey Club:
Although several other horses that prepped at Fair Grounds ran well in the Kentucky Derby, trainer Al Stall has no regrets about having Departing skip the race to run fresh in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 18.
Graduates of the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby at Stall’s hometown track in New Orleans finished in the five spots behind Orb in the Derby, run over a sloppy sealed track at Churchill Downs.
“With those conditions, I was happy that the horse was sitting back in a nice comfortable stall instead of in a mile-and-a-quarter war on a tough racetrack,” Stall said Monday in his office at Churchill Downs. “I didn’t think about that. We were committed to what we were going to do and we don’t look back.”
Departing, bred and owned by Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider, was a Derby candidate, but was taken off the trail when he finished third in the Louisiana Derby. Following that race, Stall and the owners changed their approach and scrapped plans for Kentucky, deciding to focus on the Preakness. Departing was sent to Hawthorne Park on April 20 to run in the Illinois Derby and he cruised to a 3 ¼-length victory from an outside post.
With four wins in five career starts, the War Front gelding heads the list of new shooters headed to Pimlico for the 138th Preakness. Stall said that the Illinois Derby route was good for Departing.
“The timing was perfect,” Stall said. “He’s not that big of a horse. The race was a prep for the Preakness. That’s what Hawthorne designed it as and we’re going to follow it that way.”
Although Departing finished a competitive third in the Louisiana Derby behind Revolutionary and Mylute – who were third and fifth, respectively in the Kentucky Derby – his connections decided to change course.
“The Louisiana Derby was only his fourth race,” Stall said. “He ran well, but we just thought that he was lacking in seasoning. He might have gotten in a little bit of trouble and it looked like the holes were moving a little bit faster than he was.”
Stall said Departing showed talent, but that he won his first three races so easily that he really needed more experience before stepping onto the big stage of the Triple Crown. The Louisiana Derby clearly picked him up quite a bit and he showed a lot of seasoning and a little guts in the Illinois Derby. It’s apples and oranges. The way he trains every day. He’s more into it. He just has more life to him. That last little piece of seasoning he got was the Louisiana Derby.”
Stall plans to gallop Departing at Churchill Down the rest of the week and is planning to give him a breeze over the weekend before shipping to Maryland on Wednesday, May 15. The veteran trainer was impressed with the Shug McGaughey-trained Orb’s performance in the Derby.
“He was the best horse that day,” Stall said. “He seems to be a horse going in the right direction. He’s got all the pedigree in the world, all the connections. He’s strictly the horse to beat. I have no idea whether we can beat him or not. We’re happy with our horse and are going to take a chance.”
The Kentucky Derby winner, who flew from Louisville to New York on Sunday, has settled in nicely at trainer Shug McGaughey’s Belmont Park barn.
“He shipped real well. This morning he walked around here great and ate his lunch right up,” McGaughey said. “He seems to be as bright as can be.”
The media demands for his time commenced yesterday with interviews with CNN, NBC Sports and radio, but McGaughey regards the attention as a small price to pay for adding the Kentucky Derby to his Hall of Fame resume.
“I’m prepared. I’ve read about it and watched other people go through it,” McGaughey said. “I was ready for it to happen to me.”
Orb, who has won five straight races, is expected to train for the Preakness at Belmont before shipping to Pimlico early next week.
A couple of Derby participants, Normandy Invasion (4th) and Vyjack (18th) were added Monday to the list of candidates for the Preakness.
Trainer Chad Brown said Monday that Normandy Invasion, who finished fourth in the Derby after leading in the stretch, is a possibility for the Preakness.
“Originally, I threw the Preakness out,” Brown said, “but he’s come out of the race so well that I’m at least going to remain neutral on the topic until I can see the horse go back to the track and get a gauge on his energy level and his soundness.”
Brown said the colt was scheduled to fly from Kentucky to New York on Monday and that a decision on the Preakness would likely be made by this weekend.
Vyjack, who had a wild trip in the Derby and finished 18th, might join the Preakness field, trainer Rudy Rodriguez said Monday morning. Rodriguez said he will take a close look at the Into Mischief gelding when he returns to his barn at Aqueduct on Tuesday. The Derby was a disappointment because Vyjack lost his composure and dragged jockey Garrett Gomez close to a torrid early pace.
“Garrett told me that the horse ran off for the first five or six furlongs and that he just eased him up. He said he had no control of the horse in the beginning,” Rodriguez said. “He said the horse broke well, but he shied away from the crowd and when he took hold of him the horse just took off. He was never able to relax.”
Rodriguez said Vyjack came out of the race in very good physical shape.
Other Derby starters confirmed for the Preakness are Goldencents (17th) and the D. Wayne Lukas-trained duo of Oxbow (6th) and Will Take Charge (8th).
Goldencents, who captured the Grade I Santa Anita Derby prior to his Derby disappointment, is scheduled to fly from Louisville to New York Monday afternoon before vanning to Pimlico Monday night. Goldencents is trained by Doug O’Neill, who saddled I’ll Have Another for victories in last year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.
Oxbow and Will Take Charge are scheduled to walk the shedrow at Churchill Downs tomorrow and Wednesday before likely returning to the track on Thursday.
Itsmyluckyday, who finished 15th in the Derby, is scheduled to van from Churchill Downs to Monmouth Park Tuesday afternoon. If all goes well in his training at the New Jersey track, the Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained colt is likely to return in the Preakness.
Assistant trainer Frankie Perez, who used to work for trainer Frank Brothers, learned long ago that a disappointing finish in the Derby shouldn’t eliminate a horse from Preakness consideration. Brothers saddled Hansel for a victory in the 1991 Preakness and Belmont Stakes following a 10th-place finish in the Derby.
“He didn’t run any good in the Derby and he ran back (in the Preakness) and won,” said Perez, who has worked for Plesa for 20 years.
Mylute, who finished fifth in the Derby, remained a possibility for the Preakness, trainer Tom Amoss said.
“No decision has been made about the Preakness,” Amoss said. “He is doing well, has good energy and probably will go back to the track Wednesday and have a very light day.”
Bob Baffert-trained Govenor Charlie, the Sunland Park Derby winner, and Bellarmine, one of three winners on the Kentucky Derby Day undercard for trainer Ken McPeek are also under consideration for the 1 3/16-mile Preakness.
Fear the Kitten is no longer considered a Preakness contender.