Archive for May, 2015

Conquest Curlinate to bypass Belmont Stakes; McPeek thinking upset with The Truth Or Else

Conquest Curlinate, second in the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes last time out, will bypass the Belmont Stakes next Saturday and instead point for the Queen’s Plate at Woodbine on July 5, his connections confirmed Thursday morning.

Owned by Conquest Stables and trained by Mark Casse, Conquest Curlinate was not Triple Crown nominated and would have had to be supplemented for $75,000 into the final leg of the Triple Crown. The son of Curlin put himself into the classic discussion when he finished a length behind winner Madefromlucky in the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 9, but Casse said the gray colt hasn’t sparkled enough in his training to merit trying to derail Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero American Pharoah’s Triple Crown bid in the 1 1/2-miles test.

“Our feeling is he had to be at his very best to have any shot and we don’t think he’s bounced out of it that well,” Casse said. “We talked about it and instead we’ll head to Woodbine with him in a couple weeks for the Queen’s Plate.”

“We wanted to send a horse (to Belmont) that was doing extremely well,” added Norman Casse, assistant to his father. “We were a big longshot to begin with. And he’s just not doing as good as we would like so we’re going to have to back off him a bit. There is no soundness issue.”

Conquest Curlinate had most recently worked five furlongs in 59.80 at Churchill Downs on May 22. He scored his lone win from five career starts when he broke his maiden at Oaklawn Park second time out on January 31.  Prior to his Peter Pan outing, Conquest Curlinate finished second in the Grade III Illinois Derby.

Hours after Conquest Curlinate was declared out of the Belmont running,  trainer Kenny McPeek confirmed his plans to start graded stakes placed The Truth Or Else in the 12-furlong classic.

The Truth Or Else sports two wins from 12 career starts with both of those triumphs coming over the Belmont main track. The son of Yes It’s True broke his maiden over the surface last September 12 and most recently captured a 1 1/16-miles allowance race there on May 22.

The Truth Or Else is 2-for-4 at Belmont including a third place finish over a sloppy track in the Grade I Champagne Stakes last October.

“We’ve always known that he likes Belmont,” said McPeek, who memorably upset War Emblem’s bid for the Triple Crown in 2002 when he won the Belmont with 70-to-1 shot Sarava. “I’ve struggled trying to find the right surface for him and, dry Belmont, he’s 2-for-2 over it.”

The Truth Or Else has been soundly beaten twice by American Pharoah, finishing fourth behind the champion colt in the Grade II Rebel Stakes and seventh in the Grade I Arkansas Derby. McPeek said he has had the Belmont penciled in since Arkansas, however, and started him on that path by running him in the Pat Day Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard where he finished fifth.

“We basically used two one-turn races to set him up for this,” McPeek said. “I know it’s unconventional, but I’m unconventional. American Pharoah might crush us all, but weird things happen over that racetrack.”

Edgar Prado, a two-time winner of the Belmont Stakes including piloting Sarava, will have the mount on The Truth Or Else.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

American Pharoah smooth as ever in pre-Belmont Stakes work

LOUISVILLE – The praise came from all corners Tuesday morning and, in this case, it wasn’t just a case of typical trainer speak.

All those who saw the breeze dual classic winner American Pharoah put in over the Churchill Downs track didn’t need his Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert or jockey Martin Garcia to state the obvious. If one was looking for signs that the toll of trying to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 was weighing on the champion colt, they needed to avert their gaze from the effortless display he put forth as he covered four furlongs in :48 flat Tuesday, his first major move since winning the Preakness Stakes by seven lengths on May 16.

Having brought three prior horses to this stage before, Baffert has stated that this is the point where one would usually start noticing the fatigue of the five-week Triple Crown grind setting in. Both Baffert’s body language and that of his Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning charge Tuesday signaled that was not the case right now as American Pharoah cruised along in what looked to be a high gallop under Garcia, ears pricked the entire way around after breaking off minutes after the track reopened at 8:30 a.m.

Garcia barely moved on American Pharoah throughout, letting the son of Pioneerof the Nile roll as he pleased through splits of :24  and :35.80 en route to clocking five furlongs in 1:00.40 and galloping out six furlongs in 1:13.20.

“I like the way he went today, he showed a lot of energy going to the pole,” said Baffert, who flew in from California for the work. “He took off from the 4 ½ furlong pole and was going really easily. I kept telling Martin just keep going and he ended up going five-eighths in a minute and change. Just the way he did it was the right way, he’s moving like his fluid self and came back the right way. That’s Pharoah. When he’s on his game, that’s the way he looks.”

American Pharoah has been a fantastic work horse throughout his seven-race career and, coming off the track Tuesday, there was little evidence to suggest his latest breeze was anything other than another example of how he keeps making challenges look routine. Garcia, who took off his mounts at Santa Anita Park Sunday to fly in for the work, beamed as he described how the Zayat Stables’ homebred was feeling in preparation for the 1 1/2-miles Belmont Stakes on June 6.

“He’s not going to get beat. He’s going to win,” said Garcia, who regularly works American Pharoah for Baffert. “He’s super good. Really, really good. He was just galloping, I’m really happy with what he did. He come back like (it was) nothing, he loves to run.”

Baffert said he would likely return to Louisville this Saturday evening and planned to work American Pharoah once more either Sunday or Monday, depending on the weather, before shipping to Belmont Park this coming Tuesday.

The only charge of his Baffert says he can recall actually gaining weight throughout the Triple Crown series was 2001 Belmont Stakes winner and eventual Horse of the Year, Point Given. To that end, American Pharoah’s bay frame continues to lend encouragement as Baffert says the colt currently weights 1,178 pounds and has been holding at around that weight since his outing in the Grade I Arkansas Derby on April 11.

“What I saw today was pretty good, he was pretty spectacular out there,” Baffert said. “I think most important thing is not (regular jockey) Victor (Espinoza) or me, it’s the horse staying healthy. That’s the key. If he’s not, Victor can’t get him to win. If his horse gets beat, it’s because we didn’t have the prep right for the race. There is more pressure on us than American Pharoah. As for what I saw today, I don’t see any regression.

The list of potential challengers for American Pharoah in the Belmont Stakes shrunk by one Tuesday. Owner Ron Paolucci said that War Story, 16th in the Kentucky Derby, would bypass the final leg of the Triple Crown and instead be pointed to the $500,000 Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 20.

Paolucci was initially bullish on the concept of running War Story in the Belmont Stakes, even though trainer Tom Amoss clearly preferred to take a different path with the gelding son of Northern Afleet. Amoss said at Churchill Downs Tuesday morning that ‘a couple of conversations’ still needed to take place before War Story’s status for the Belmont was official and, after talking with Paolucci, the decision to point for the softer spot was made.

“You know after talking to Tom, I can only run in one of two races and he made me choose,” said Paolucci, an Ohio native. “He said ‘Listen, in the best interest of the horse, I can tell you if you run in the Belmont, you’re not going to be able to run in the Ohio Derby’ and that’s a race I’ve always wanted to win. I guess I’d rather be 8-to-5 in the Ohio Derby then be in the Belmont race just to be part of history. I can’t have both unfortunately.

“He’s a gelding and as much I want to run in the Belmont and try and win that race, I guess it just really had to sink to me that there is really no intrinsic value other than winning the race itself. And when it came down to it…the chances of winning the race were 50 to 60-to-1.”

The possible 10-horse Belmont Stakes lineup (with jockey and trainer) currently is:  American Pharoah (Victor Espinoza, Bob Baffert); Blue Grass Stakes winner and Kentucky Derby 10th Carpe Diem (undecided, Todd Pletcher); Peter Pan runner-up Conquest Curlinate (Shaun Bridgmohan, Mark Casse); Blue Grass fourth and Kentucky Derby 11th Frammento (Mike Smith, Nick Zito); Wood Memorial winner and Kentucky Derby 4th Frosted (Joel Rosario, Kiaran McLaughlin); Louisiana Derby 4th and Kentucky Derby 7th Keen Ice (Kent Desormeaux, Dale Romans); Peter Pan winner Madefromlucky (undecided, Todd Pletcher); Florida Derby winner and Kentucky Derby 6th Materiality (undecided, Todd Pletcher); UAE Derby winner and Kentucky Derby 8th Mubtaahij-IRE (Irad Ortiz Jr., Mike de Kock); and Preakness runner-up Tale of Verve (Gary Stevens, Dallas Stewart).



Alvarez says it’s same old American Pharoah in first post-Preakness gallop

LOUISVILLE – Jorge Alvarez was ready to feel something a little different beneath him Friday morning. Instead, the longtime exercise rider for trainer Bob Baffert said that if fatigue is setting in for dual classic winner American Pharoah, it’s news to his hands.

In his second day back to the track and first gallop since his seven-length victory in the Preakness Stakes last Saturday, champion and Triple Crown aspirant American Pharoah went about 1 3/16 miles  under Alvarez at Churchill Downs as he prepares for his shot at history in the Belmont Stakes on June 6.

Alvarez is the regular morning pilot for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero and said the bay colt felt very much the same these last two mornings as he did coming out of his Derby triumph.

“He went nice. He didn’t feel like he was tired,” said Alvarez, who has been with Baffert for the last seven years, having previously worked with the late Hall of Famer, Bobby Frankel. “He galloped around good. I’m surprised this horse didn’t seem to change anything. He was pretty much the same (as after the Derby).”

“That’s pretty much him,” Alvarez continued. “You walk him a few days after a race and when he comes back he can get a little fresh. You have to be careful not to let him do too much.

Add Alvarez to the list of those who say American Pharoah has had that ‘It’ quality since he first came in contact with him – and he has as unique and learned a perspective as any. Alvarez used to get on Pioneerof the Nile and Empire Maker – the sire and grandsire, respectively for American Pharoah – when those two Grade I winners were having their morning outings.

“The difference between this horse and other horses is he covers a lot of ground,” said Alvarez, a native of Mexico. “The stride he has is very difference than other horses. From the first day I galloped him, I said…this horse makes you look like you’re going fast, but he’s just covering so much ground. Sometimes I get in trouble with my boss because he thinks I’m going too fast, but I say ‘He’s doing it easy’.”

American Pharoah is set to work at Churchill Downs, potentially next Sunday or Monday, before shipping to Belmont Park either Tuesday or Wednesday for his expected start in the 1 1/2 miles classic. The Zayat Stables homebred is attempting to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 and 12th all time to sweep the Triple Crown.

Among those who will try and take down the smooth-moving juvenile champion is Conquest Stables’ Conquest Curlinate. The son of Curlin, second in the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont on May 9, worked five furlongs in :59.80 in company at Churchill Downs Friday morning.

“That’s about as good as you can work at Churchill,” said Norman Casse, assistant to his father, trainer Mark Casse. “More importantly, he’s had a race over the Belmont track and ran really well. We think 1 1/2-miles is just right up his alley.”

Conquest Curlinate finished fifth running over the Polytrack at Woodbine in his career debut last November but has not been worse than third in four starts since. Prior to his runner-up finish in the Peter Pan, the gray colt was second in Grade III Illinois Derby on April 18.

“If you’ve seen the horse, physically he just looks like…he’s huge, he’s got this long stride, not like a lot of the other ones,” Norman Casse said.






Champion American Pharoah to Coolmore Stud upon retirement

The breeding rights for dual classic winner American Pharoah have been sold to Coolmore Stud and the son of Pioneerof the Nile will stand at the operation’s Kentucky-based Ashford Stud upon his retirement, owner/breeder Ahmed Zayat confirmed Wednesday morning.



Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Zayat said in an interview with the Herald-Leader that his Zayat Stables retains 100 percent of the colt’s racing rights and that he will also retain an interest in his stallion rights.



“Nothing will change right now. The horse is mine 100 percent,” Zayat said of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner. “He races under my management, I make all decisions. He races under our silks.



“When he retires, like any other horse, he will go to a farm and this farm will be Ashford. The Coolmore people are some of the greatest people in the world, they make stallions worldwide. They are some of the best in the business. They enjoy and love racing, they are the best partners I can possibly think of. They gave me a fabulous offer and I am very happy.”



On the heels of his Kentucky Derby and Preakness triumphs, American Pharoah is attempting to become the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to sweep the Triple Crown. Zayat maintains that even if the bay colt pulls off the task in the Belmont Stakes on June 6, he plans to keep American Pharoah in training through the remainder of his 3-year-old season.



“He is not going to retire (after the Belmont) I can tell you that,” Zayat said. “I am not depriving myself and fans from continuing to see him race. He will race at least until this end of this year. I don’t know if he will race at 4 or not, I presume not because I don’t think any stud farm would like that. It would be very hard (to race at 4) because of his value.”

Zayat did not disclose how much an interest he is retaining in American Pharoah’s stud rights but added “just to give you a sense of magnitude, depending on how attached I am to a horse, some stallions I have I stayed in for 75 percent, some I stayed for 50 percent, some I stayed for 25 percent. As you know, American Pharoah himself is a homebred.”



American Pharoah has won six of seven career starts, including five Grade I victories, and was named the champion 2-year-old male for 2014. His lone defeat came in his career debut at Del Mar last August 9 when he finished fifth.



Including American Pharoah, Coolmore Stud will have made stud deals for five of the last six horses to be named champion juvenile male including Lookin At Lucky (2009), Uncle Mo (2010), Hansen (2011) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Shared Belief, the champion 2-year-old male of 2013, is a gelding. Coolmore stood Hansen his first season and then sold him to South Korea in October 2013.


American Pharoah’s sire, Pioneerof the Nile, currently stands at WinStar Farm for an advertised fee of $60,000.



American Pharoah brings the thunder with flawless Preakness Stakes triumph

BALTIMORE – First came the ominous winds, the menacing strikes of lightning and a deluge that sent all those who could ducking for protection against the overwhelming front that had overtaken Pimlico Race Course and threatened the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes.


What followed next was the thunder in all its bay splendor, shaking the record crowd of 131,680 to its core and stirring up the kind of emotions only transcendent types usually evoke.

It cut right through the mud, the pelting rain and the heat that futile types tried to inflict. It rumbled through the area leaving casual destruction in its wake and a sense that this could finally be the year the big one hits the sport of Thoroughbred racing.


The rain storm that descended moments before the field of eight for the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes  loaded into the gate is nothing compared to the squall headed toward New York in three weeks.  For the third time in the last four years, a chance at kicking down the door to Triple Crown glory hangs in the balance as Kentucky Derby hero American Pharoah tucked away the second leg of the classic series in condescending manner, winning the 1 3/16-miles Preakness Stakes by seven lengths in a front-running clinic.


The list of immortals who have swept the Derby, Preakness and 1 1/2-miles Belmont Stakes has sat at 11 since Affirmed last pulled off the feat in 1978. Racing has been had its collective hearts dragged through the mud since as 13 have come into the marathon Belmont with a shot at getting past the velvet rope only to have injury or circumstance derail such acclaim – with California Chrome’s failed bid last year the most recent crusher.


Since the day he has had a saddle on his back, those around American Pharoah have insisted he is simply different – better, faster, more fluid than those who try and equal his stride.


Indeed, Zayat Stables’ homebred juvenile champion bore no resemblance to his seven challengers Saturday. Where others spun wheels over the rain-drenched sloppy track and gave all they could just to keep contact with him through fractions of 22.90 and 46.49, the son of Pioneerof the Nile merely threw his ears up and cantered home like an ebullient child splashing through puddles.


“I’ve never been through anything like that. I thought with the thunder….how is he going to react,” said trainer Bob Baffert, who celebrated his sixth career Preakness win and will now bring a horse into the Belmont with a shot at the Triple Crown for a fourth time in his Hall of Fame career. “I was thinking all these different things. But once (jockey) Victor (Espinoza) had him in the bit and was turning down the backside, when I saw those ears go up I thought ‘Oh yeah’.

“He’s just an amazing horse. Everyone talks about the greatness and it’s just starting to show now. To me, they have to prove it. Today the way he did it, he just ran so fast. It was like poetry in motion.”

There would have been excuses for American Pharoah if the aspirations of his connections had flattened out over the soggy Pimlico surface. The now five-time Grade I winner had to break from the rail, right alongside stablemate Dortmund, and had Kentucky Derby runner-up Firing Line to his outside in post No. 8, the perfect spot to take aim at the target on his flank.

Superior horses have a knack for leaving the business of regrets to others. And much like his win in the Grade II Rebel Stakes on March 14 over a sloppy Oaklawn Park surface, American Pharoah never flinched while others floundered.

After breaking slightly towards Dortmund, American Pharoah faced maiden winner Mr. Z at his neck as those two opened up a handful of lengths on the rest of the field going into the first turn.

While his challenger was trying to put the screws to him early, American Pharoah responded by hammering all those behind him. Espinoza guided him through honest fractions, gave him a slight breather down the backside, and then let the colt deliver his signature soul-crushing move when he spurted away on the final turn as Mr. Z, Dortmund, and eventual third-place finisher Divining Rod tried to challenge.

“Today was an amazing race for him. Every race I learn something new, and it surprised me the way he runs,” said Espinoza, who has twice had a chance at the Triple Crown, most recently aboard California Chrome. “I couldn’t really see how far I was in front because there was so much water in my eyes.

“I didn’t even worry about track conditions, I just worried about American Pharoah, the way he was traveling. He was traveling super in there.”

As Espinoza guided the 4-to-5 favorite across the wire in a final time of 1:58.46, a morale victory was won by trainer Dallas Stewart. Tale of Verve, the maiden winner who failed to draw into the Derby field after being entered as the second also-eligible, closed from last to get second one length ahead of Divining Rod.

“I think this validated what he is. He’s an improving horse. It was a wonderful run,” Stewart said. “Congratulations to the winner. We will see him at Belmont.”
Firing Line, sent off as the 3-to-1 second choice, stumbled at the break en route to coming home seventh.

“He never got hold of the track, obviously he didn’t like the track,” trainer Simon Callaghan said. “Nothing went right, what with all that rain coming.”

Other than a loss in his career debut at Del Mar last August, everything has gone just as those around him predicted for American Pharoah.

Owner Ahmed Zayat joked that he didn’t want to give in to hyping his horse beforehand, preferring to let brilliance speak on its own behalf. With a place in racing annals now in his grasp, Zayat emotions overwhelmed him Saturday in the same way his colt made a mockery of supposed adverse conditions.

“The sign of a good horse is whatever is thrown in his face, he finds a way to win,” Zayat said. “I tweeted a couple days ago the real Pharoah will show up and, indeed, he put on a show today. No one could come close to him.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Baffert expecting better from American Pharoah in 140th Preakness Stakes

BALTIMORE – The thing about the Kentucky Derby is it is supposed to be unforgiving. Facing the largest field of their lives going the longest distance their 3-year-old legs have traveled, a horse is not supposed to be able to have  anything other than the best day of its life and still be feted with roses and draped in history at the conclusion of the first leg of the Triple Crown.

Upon reviewing the 141st running of the classic, trainer Bob Baffert is among those not convinced the bay colt that crossed the wire one length in front actually delivered his top effort that day.

If American Pharoah can win the hardest race of his career on back class, it stands to reason his seven challengers in Saturday’s 140th Preakness Stakes are up against a force more dynamic than even his championship resume gives credit to.

There are multiple cases that can be made for a colt other than the Kentucky Derby hero to end up in that winner’s circle Pimlico Race Course reserves for the victor of the second leg of the Triple Crown. Derby runner-up Firing Line has looked every bit the dynamo during training hours. Previously unbeaten Dortmund stands to improve off his third-place effort two weeks ago. And, small field or not, the No. 1 post position American Pharoah is set to break from isn’t anyone’s idea of ideal.

A common refrain suggests that while the best horse doesn’t always win the Kentucky Derby, the top 3-year-old usually prevails in the 1 3/16-miles Preakness Stakes – backed up by the fact that 12 of the race’s last 15 winners went on to take divisional honors. Even though American Pharoah reportedly didn’t relish the tiring Churchill Downs surface on the first Saturday in May, the son of Pioneerof the Nile still overpowered all with his effortless motion and has been skipping over the Pimlico surface since arriving on the grounds Wednesday.

“I don’t really think Dortmund brought his ‘A’ game, Pharoah probably didn’t bring his super ‘A’ game (in the Derby),” said Baffert, who conditions both colts for Kaleem Shah and Zayat Stables, respectively. “It looked like they came out of the race really well. American Pharoah hadn’t had a hard race. That was a good, stiff, hard race for him and it looks like he handled it pretty well. He’s a very exciting horse to watch and the way he moves over the track, he just floats.”

Unlike many horsemen, Baffert – a five-time winner of the Preakness – doesn’t fear the two-week turnaround from the Derby to the Preakness, and conditions his horses to stand up to the demand. Thus, if those who American Pharoah vanquished are giving off positive vibes, it speaks to what the reigning juvenile champion is capable of by association.

The four-time Grade I winner had to swing out five wide turning for home in the Derby, but still wore down Firing Line – whom jockey Gary Stevens maintains was so fresh after the race he needed help being pulled up.

“He’s training really well and we’re expecting a better performance (in the Preakness),” said Justin Zayat, racing and stallion manager for Zayat Stables. “He wasn’t tested in the Rebel, he jogged in the Arkansas Derby. His workouts were stronger than those races were. So to get the 1 ¼ miles race under his belt, he needed that.”

Though American Pharoah will have to work out a trip in a Preakness field that figures to have at least three others battling for front-end positioning, his stablemate Dortmund could actually provide an ideal target breaking alongside him out of post No. 2.

“(The one hole) is not that big a deal. (American Pharoah) is a very good horse…I don’t think that’s  a big compromise,” said Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who will saddle longshot Mr. Z in the Preakness. “If everybody clears him and drops down, that’s going to compromise him, but I don’t think that will happen.

“I think Bob will send Dortmund and make sure there is some place to go with the other horse. I’d be really surprised if that doesn’t happen.”

Firing Line has the benefit out of post No. 8 of allowing Stevens to see what his main challengers do and react in kind. Danzig Moon, fifth in the Kentucky Derby, also figures to have a bird’s-eye view of the early pace setup out of post No. 4.

“If Dortmund goes, you’re going to have Stevens (on Firing Line) licking his chops because he’s going to keep American Pharoah down in there,” said Mark Casse, trainer of Danzig Moon. “If Victor Espinoza (on American Pharoah) yells to Martin Garcia (on Dortmund) ‘I’m here,’ will Garcia come off the rail and let American Pharoah go? And us, we just sit back and hope it all happens.”

Divining Rod, winner of the Grade III Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, is the most dangerous of the three “new shooters”, though only six horses since 1980 have won the Preakness without running in the Derby, one of those being champion filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009 who captured the Kentucky Oaks.

The big concern for Derby-winning connections usually centers on if their horse can maintain form off a career-best effort. American Pharoah’s freakish reputation now hinges on his ability to keep improving on a standard that none of his peers have touched.

“I think he won the Derby without bringing his A game and he still won on class,” Lukas said. “He is the best horse. It’s hard to deny him.  But I don’t think he can run his Derby race again here and win. I think he has to run a little better.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

1-2 punch: American Pharoah, Dortmund draw inside for Preakness Stakes for Baffert

BALTIMORE – There are some obvious luxuries that come with conditioning a race horse whose skill set operates on a different level than that their peers.

In theory, if you have the best horse, obstacles that thwart other runners should be minor inconveniences rather than harbingers of doom. While his Kentucky Derby triumph saw American Pharoah deliver on every piece of hype  lauded upon him, trainer Bob Baffert said in the aftermath of Wednesday’s post position draw that Saturday’s 140th Preakness Stakes will be the spot when he finds out how superior the colt truly is.

Baffert’s nightmare draw scenario played out inside Pimlico Race Course as 4-to-5 morning line favorite American Pharoah landed in post No. 1 in the eight-horse field with his Grade I-winning stablemate, Dortmund, alongside in post No. 2 for their respective tries in the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Drawing the inside in an eight-horse field is a far more manageable challenge than had American Pharoah been forced to break from such a spot in the 18-horse Derby lineup. And given the ample speed the son of Pioneerof the Nile possesses, getting the bay colt into a dictating position out of the gate shouldn’t be in question for jockey Victor Espinoza.

As much as Baffert loathes the inside starting point, however, seeing both of his horses land there while Derby runner-up Firing Line got the catbird seat of post No. 8 was enough to elicit laments from the man who has never lost the Preakness in the three prior times he has come in with the Kentucky Derby winner.

“I can’t believe I drew the 1-2 of all draws. But I’m just glad I didn’t draw that for the Derby,” said Baffert, who has five Preakness victories total. “Sometimes you have to give a little. It’s a short field, eight horses, so (American Pharoah) still has to break well.

“We have it (the post), we can’t do it over. If he’s the best horse, we’ll find out.”

The last Preakness winner to come out of the No. 1 post position was Tabasco Cat in 1994, and he was the first to do since Bally Ache in 1960. Snow Chief in 1986 was the last Preakness victor to emerge from the No. 2 slot.

Both Zayat Stables’ American Pharoah and Kaleem Shah’s Dortmund possess early speed, with the latter setting the pace in the Kentucky Derby before finishing third.

From a strategy standpoint, Baffert says there simply aren’t many options now for his duo. What he does feel is an absolute is that the two have to get away from the gate well and avoid the fate their stablemate Bayern suffered during his ninth-place finish here a year ago when he got creamed at the break by Ria Antonia.

“In the Derby, my horses never felt the other horses, they were out there rolling,” Baffert said. “When you are in the down in the inside the break is so important. There are really not a lot of tactics here when you’re on the inside.”

American Pharoah has won from the rail before, taking the Grade I Del Mar Futurity against eight others in his second career start last September 3.

Despite finishing two lengths in front of Dortmund in the Kentucky Derby, Firing Line was deemed the 4-to-1 third choice on the morning line for the Preakness with the former the second choice at 7-to-2 odds.

Trainer Simon Callaghan and jockey Gary Stevens were  bordering on giddy in the aftermath, though, as Firing Line’s outside position will give Stevens the ability to watch what the big two do at the start and also see if longshot Mr. Z will further force their hands by sending out of post No. 3.

“I think it’s a perfect scenario. It definitely makes it tougher for American Pharoah on the inside,” Callaghan said. “That’s kind of what we wanted, it definitely gives us options. Now we have to run the race.”


The inclusion of Mr. Z, 13th in the Kentucky Derby, in the Preakness field was a bit of a surprise as Calumet Farm struck a deal Wednesday to buy the colt from Zayat Stables and run him back in the $1.5 million race.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas joked he has made a living “running where he didn’t belong” with regards to Mr. Z’s chances. The six-time Preakness winning conditioner then offered a comforting thought to his old comrade Baffert.

“I don’t care what gate you get. When you’ve got the best horse you’ve got to feel good,” Lukas said. “He’ll be alright. (American Pharoah) has got good tactical speed. He’s a very good horse. We could see history made.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676.  Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

Mr. Z to run in Preakness Stakes under Calumet colors

A deal by Calumet Farm to purchase graded stakes placed Mr. Z, the 13th place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, from Zayat Stables is in the process of being finalized, according to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The move will likely lead to the colt running in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.

Mr. Z has been the subject of drama and debate in recent days. Owner Ahmed Zayat, who also owns Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah, has said repeatedly that he did not want to run Mr. Z in the second leg of the Triple Crown. Lukas kept pushing the matter and brought the son of Malibu Moon on the van from Churchill Downs to Pimlico Race Course Tuesday afternoon saying at the time that Zayat was “working out some partnership issues” and that the colt “would run in the Preakness or he wouldn’t run (at Pimlico) at all.”

Mr. Z was indeed among the eight horses entered in the Preakness Stakes field Wednesday with Calumet Farm listed as owner. Jockey Corey Nakatani will have the mount.

“It (the sale) hasn’t been finalized yet but it’s in the process,” Lukas said Wednesday afternoon. “If the deal goes through and it’s all signed and delivered then yes (he will run in the Preakness). As we speak now it’s probably all finalized but until you see it, who knows.  I’ve been on the phone negotiating and doing the dialogue. I’m just the messenger in this case.”

Mr. Z has lost 12 straight races since breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs last June with his best placings since being a runner-up finish in the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last October and a third place effort in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity in December.

Despite the chestnut colt’s losing skid, Lukas has maintained that Mr. Z is training as well now as he has at any point.

“I don’t know that I pushed the sale,” Lukas said. “The sale just came through conversation and dialogue. Mr. Z is a pretty well-bred horse. He might be the best bred horse in the Preakness if you look at it real critically. Brad flat asked me, ‘Would you run him,’ and I said if I owned him, I’d run him.”

The tandem of Lukas and Calumet have had recent success in the 1 3/16-miles Preakness Stakes, winning the 2013 edition of the race with current Calumet stallion Oxbow.

Danzig Moon confirmed for Preakness run

John Oxley’s Danzig Moon, the fifth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, will move on to Baltimore for an expected start in the Preakness Stakes on May 16, assistant trainer Norman Casse confirmed from Churchill Downs Saturday morning.

Danzig Moon joins Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah, runner-up Firing Line, and third place finisher Dortmund thus far among the horses coming back out of the Derby to take a swing at the middle leg of the Triple Crown.

Trained by Mark Casse, Danzig Moon has been on the upswing with his form in the last month. The son of Malibu Moon rebounded from a fourth place finish in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby to run second in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 4.

“He’s training just as good as he was before the Derby,” said Norman Casse, assistant to his father Mark. “He’s an improving and we think he’s still improving with each and every start. We think he’s going to improve off the Derby as well so we think he deserves another chance.”

Danzig Moon’s fifth place Derby finish was all the more admirable considering he took the worst of the bumping while sitting close up between horses going into the first turn, having to steady multiple times under jockey Julien Leparoux.

“Most horses I think would have spit the bit and called it a day when he got smashed like that,” Norman Casse said of Danzig Moon’s early troubles. “He showed he has some guts. He continued running a really respectful race in the Derby. We haven’t seen his best yet, he’s just now figuring out what his job is. He’s just getting better every start.”

Casse added that Leparoux will remain aboard the bay colt for the Preakness Stakes.

Lexington Stakes winner Divining Rod, who had been ridden previously by Leparoux, is among the horses also confirmed to be Preakness bound while Federico Tesio victor Bodhisattva is probable for the 1 3/16-miles race.

Horses that remain under consideration for the Preakness are Mr. Z, 13th in the Kentucky Derby, maiden winner Tale of Verve,  and Todd Pletcher trainees Materiality, Carpe Diem and Stanford.


Jacksons looking forward to new chapter in Preakness Stakes

     Feature courtesy of Maryland Jockey Club:
       BALTIMORE – Nine years after the Barbaro heartbreak, Gretchen and Roy Jackson are returning to Pimlico for the 140th Preakness Stakes on May 16 with another homebred colt – Divining Rod – who will run in the colors of their Lael Stables.

            Divining Rod, winner of the Grade III Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 11, will be the 27th Lael starter at Pimlico Race Course and first Preakness contender since Barbaro suffered catastrophic leg injuries early in the running of the second leg of the Triple Crown on May 20, 2006.

            Barbaro, the decisive winner of the Kentucky Derby, was rushed from Pimlico to the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa. where Dr. Dean Richardson and his team repaired the fractures in his right hind leg. However, the colt developed the hoof disease laminitis during his recovery and was euthanized on Jan. 29, 2007 after veterinarians determined that he could not be saved.

            The Jacksons said Thursday they have no misgivings about running Divining Rod in the Preakness.

            “We’ve moved on from Barbaro,” Gretchen Jackson said. “Barbaro was deeply loved. I’ll never go through a day probably when I don’t think about him, but this is a new horse, new chapter, new everything. So, I don’t approach it with worry.”

            Roy Jackson agreed that he and his wife could not be prisoners to history.

            “From my standpoint, and I think Gretchen feels the same way, we were very lucky to have him,” he said. “There were two roads you take. You could sort of sit there and dwell on it and go over and over the thing, or you could go on with life, to better things and happier days. I think we chose to look at the positive and go on with our lives and really haven’t spent a whole lot of time dwelling on the subject.”

            Two weeks after Barbaro provided the Jacksons with their greatest success in racing, they were central figures in what became an international story about the valiant effort to save the colt.

             “It was incredibly stressful because you second-guessed yourself every morning when you got up or when you saw him,” Gretchen Jackson said. “One day, he was great, and two weeks later, you were considering putting him down. It was a real roller-coaster ride. It was very stressful, being in constant contact with press and people you didn’t know and being asked to deal with facts and deal with emotions all the time. It was hard.”

            The Jacksons had nothing but kind words for everyone involved with Barbaro, from those who rushed to his aid at the track to the staff at New Bolton.

            “They were fantastic. We wouldn’t do anything different than what was done,” Roy Jackson said.

            Due to their many years as breeders and owners, the Jacksons understood that racing’s highs and lows can come in quick succession and were better equipped to face the tragedy.

            “We’ve been in it so long, thank God, and we’ve lived with horses on the farm so long that we were somehow baptized into dealing with it,” Gretchen Jackson said. “Not dealing with all the amount of press and attention it got – that was really new for us. But dealing with horses and tragedies, we had some experience with that.”

            Roy Jackson said they have fond memories of the public support that flowed to them for Barbaro.

            “Going through it, there was so much positive,” he said. “The number of people we heard from – I think we heard from people in every state in the country and 14 foreign countries, and the amount of kids who sent us things was unbelievable. An awful lot of positives came out of the whole thing.”

            While Barbaro had a regal air about him, Divining Rod is a character.

            “He’s a high-energy horse. If he was a person, you would say he is boisterous,” Gretchen Jackson said. “He puts a lot into everything he does. And he’s very, very high on himself. He likes himself a lot. When he comes out of the gate he just wants to zoom and do everything.”

            That need-the-lead running style did not serve him well at Tampa Bay Downs, where he tired to finish second in the Grade III Sam F. Davis  and third in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby for trainer Arnaud Delacour.  Without warning, a different more tractable Divining Rod showed up at Keeneland and beat favored Donworth by three lengths.

            “The transition that was made in the Lexington was that he didn’t come out of the gate and have to be on the front end, streaking around the racetrack,” she said.  “He was able to be brought back and kept close to the pace, but then he ran on and he showed tactical speed. He showed relaxation and a certain maturity. He stunned us all.”

            As it turned out, Divining Rod did have enough qualifying points to make the Derby field from the also-eligible list. However, the Jacksons and Delacour had already decided not to run the colt back three weeks after the Lexington triumph and pointed him to the Preakness. The son of Tapit, out of multiple Grade I winner Precious Kitten, has been getting ready for the Preakness at the pastoral Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md.

            Rachel Alexandra in 2009 is the most recent new shooter to win the Preakness after bypassing the Derby, though the champion filly was coming off a win in the Kentucky Oaks. Gretchen Jackson acknowledged that her colt faces a difficult assignment, but noted that American Pharoah had to work to defeat Firing Line and Dortmund in the Derby.

           ”It’s a good group. It’s tough,” Roy Jackson concurred, “but I think Divining Rod deserves a chance to see if he can compete or not.”

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