With beautiful weather today and projected for Saturday, the Preakness contenders finished up getting ready for the final leg of the 2020 Triple Crown.
AUTHENTIC / THOUSAND WORDS - Both of Bob Baffert’s Preakness colts galloped on the track Friday morning.
While Kentucky Derby winner Authentic is the 9-5 program favorite, Baffert said his other starter should not be overlooked.
“Thousand Words has been very good here. I expect him to run a big race, too,” Baffert said Friday morning.
Thousand Words is a son of Baffert-trained Pioneerof the Nile, who sired Baffert-trained 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Symbolic of a difficult year on many fronts, he was scratched from the Derby after rearing and falling while being saddled in the paddock.
A lackluster work at Churchill Downs on Sept. 19 put his Preakness status in question, but he stepped back into the picture with a sharp breeze while wearing blinkers on Sept. 26. He will be equipped with blinkers again in the Preakness after having competed without them in his last two races. Florent Geroux will ride the colt, who is 6-1 on the morning line, for the first time.
Purchased for $1 million as a yearling by Albaugh Family Stable LLC and Spendthrift Farm LLC, Thousand Words won his first three starts and was a prime member of Baffert’s crew of Triple Crown prospects early this year. Even with his early success, Baffert said the colt was a bit behind the other members of his core group of top 3-year-olds: Authentic, Nadal and Charlatan.
“He was so immature mentally,” Baffert said. “It’s started to catch up slowly with him. He’s always been a bit of a slow learner, but he’s getting with it now. He still has to fill out. He’s got a beautiful frame; that’s why he cost so much money. He’s doing really well. They’re both doing really well.”
Thousand Words was fourth to Authentic in the San Felipe in March and stumbled at the start of the Oaklawn Stakes in April. With blinkers off, he was second by four lengths to stablemate Uncle Chuck in the Los Alamitos Derby on July 4. Four weeks later, he won the Shared Belief, holding off Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P. After the Derby paddock fiasco, he is at Pimlico playing second fiddle to Authentic.
“He’s getting over the track really well,” Baffert said. “He’s happy. He’s pretty sharp. He’s fresh; he didn’t run in the Derby. He’s pretty honest. So you never know. He’s getting better. I can tell that he looks better now than he did for the Derby.”
Baffert schooled both his colts in Pimlico’s indoor paddock Thursday and said saddling Thousand Words will not be a problem.
Asked to make a case for Thousand Words in the Preakness, Baffert said: “He’s fast. He gets away from there. I added a little blinker to him. He’s got a lot of speed. He’s not as quick as Authentic. If he gets into a nice rhythm and is right there you just never know. As the gamblers say, he is the ‘other Baffert.’”
Baffert won the Preakness with each of his first five Derby winners and will try to extend that record with Authentic. With the first five, the Preakness was two weeks after the Derby. This year, a pandemic changed the Triple Crown schedule.
“I’ve never come in here with a horse that I’ve had a month to prepare him for it,” Baffert said. “I can see a big difference out of (Thousand Words), what he’s doing. To me, I think he’s getting better. He’s stronger. You can tell he is filling out. At this stage of the game they are ready to run with older horses. Back in May, they are still filling out.
“He’s doing good, but I’ve watched those other horses that are in the race train and everybody looks good. Art Collector looks good. Mr. Big News, he looks good. It’s exciting with everybody that is here. There are some new faces here and they are excited about their horses.”
ART COLLECTOR – Trainer Tommy Drury Jr. got his first look at Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector training at Pimlico Friday morning and was happy with what he saw from the colt who is rated second at 5-2 in the morning line for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.
“I’m just glad to be able to watch him go this morning. It looked like he skipped over the racetrack,” Drury said. “That’s all we can ask for. We’ve all done our part. Maybe a little jog in the morning – we may decide to walk him – and we’ll turn our keys over to the jock and hopefully he’ll use good judgment and we’ll go from there.”
Art Collector will seek his fifth victory in a row since being transferred to Drury this year, including dominating wins in the Aug. 9 Ellis Park Derby and July 11 Blue Grass at Keeneland in his two most recent starts.
“He’s pretty straightforward and easy. We just tried to stay out of his way and use good judgment and make logical decisions,” Drury said. “He won off the shelf the right way. The next logical step was to try him around two turns. We did that. The next logical step after that was to try stakes company. He’s kind of earned his way into this stuff.”
Art Collector went about his business Friday morning in a thoroughly professional manner.
“He’s pretty laid-back and easy going, which is a good thing because I get nervous for both of us,” said 49-year-old Drury, who celebrated his first graded-stakes success in the Blue Grass.
Art Collector has shown versatility during his winning streak while either setting the pace or stalking the leaders under Brian Hernandez Jr.
“He’s a kind horse to ride. As Brian kind of jokes, ‘He’s a fingertips kind of horse.’ He’s got a little stop-and-go to him. You can use him to get yourself out of a spot if you need to and he’ll shut back down,” Drury said. “We’re hoping that will be beneficial come race day.”
The son of Bernardini didn’t make his first start this year until May 17, when he came off a 5 1/2-month layoff to win a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance at Churchill.
“If the Derby would have ran on a normal schedule, this horse was only five-eighths fit. Not to mention he had zero points,” Drury said. “It has actually been beneficial for me. You’ve got to give Bruce credit for stopping on the horse and letting him mature and thinking about the horse first. I think that’s the biggest reason why we’re here today.”
LIVEYOURBEASTLIFE – Whether it’s horsemen or horseflesh, trainer Jorge Abreu has learned from and worked with some of the best.
Six years spent as an assistant to 72-year-old Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito gave him an up close look at champions Storm Song and War Pass and stars such as Bellamy Road, Birdstone and Commentator. Nine years as an assistant to trainer Chad Brown, a five-time Eclipse Award winner already with Hall of Fame credentials at the age of 41, exposed Abreu to a steady wave of talent including champions Big Blue Kitten, Dayatthespa, Flintshire, Lady Eli, Stacelita and Zagora.
Abreu, a 46-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, also spent time as an assistant under trainer John Terranova, getting the chance to gallop horses that Bob Baffert would ship East for stakes that took residence in Terranova’s barn.
“He used to send us horses like Captain Steve, Congaree around that time,” Abreu said. “I’m lucky. I’ve been around a lot of nice horses.”
This week, Abreu has shared a shedrow with Baffert at Pimlico and will send out William H. Lawrence’s longshot Liveyourbeastlife, runner-up in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga.
Liveyourbeastlife galloped 1 1/4 mile over the main track Friday morning for Abreu, who is making his Triple Crown debut. Baffert owns a record 16 Triple Crown race wins, including historic sweeps with American Pharoah and Justify. Also in town for the Preakness are Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen and trainer Ken McPeek, both Classic race winners.
“I can’t describe it. I’m speechless. Really. It will be my first time. It’s a big step. I’m very blessed to be here,” Abreu said. “You’re in the barn with Bob, Kenny, Steve Asmussen – you’re talking about the big guns. I’m very proud of myself.”
Abreu saddled his first two winners (from two starters) while under Brown’s employ in 2016 before going out on his own full-time in 2017. He was thrilled when Stellar Agent ran third to Brown-trained Newspaperofrecord in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf.
“She was 71-1 walking over, and I felt like she was 8-1. I had great confidence she was going to run good, and she got beat for second right on the wire,” Abreu said. “Being here, it’s a different feel. It’s just nervous.”
Liveyourbeastlife is listed at 30-1 on the morning line for the Preakness, but Abreu has similar confidence in the son of Hall of Famer Ghostzapper, who had to be supplemented into the race because he was not originally nominated to the Triple Crown.
“He seems like he’s really improving since the last race. He had two really good breezes at Belmont Park, and Mr. Lawrence told me, ‘If you want to take a shot, why not? Let’s take it,’” Abreu said. “The horse is doing everything right, so why not take the shot? I’m not here just to be here. If I know the horse has no chance, why waste time? It’s a very competitive race, but I think my horse belongs in there, So why not give him the chance?”
Lawrence won the Preakness in 2017 as co-owner with Klaravich Stable of Cloud Computing. Liveyourbeastlife will leave from outside Post 11 under champion Maryland jockey Trevor McCarthy, riding in his second Preakness and first since 2015.
“Everything in this game has its ups and downs, but I’ve been around a lot of nice horses,” Abreu said. “It helps a lot, just to define what kind of horse you’re dealing with because every horse is different. Some horses are just late bloomers, some horses are good 2-year-olds or 3-year-olds and then you don’t see them anymore. I think this horse is coming around, and I think he’s going to be even better as a 4-year-old.”
MR. BIG NEWS – Allied Racing Stable LLC’s Mr. Big News, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, had a strong 1 1/2-mile gallop over a sloppy Pimlico track Friday morning in preparation for a start in Saturday’s Preakness.
“He had another good day. Everything has gone well since we got here. I don’t know if he’s had an opportunity to get across the track like it’s going to be Saturday, but he’s training very good and he’s sharp,” trainer Bret Calhoun said. “I feel good going into it, so now it’s up to him.”
The son of Giant’s Causeway closed from 10th to enter contention at the top of the stretch in the Derby before finishing evenly in the stretch. Calhoun expects that Mr. Big News will once again be sitting well off the early pace in the Preakness.
“He is who he is. I think he’s a closer. That’s the style he has developed and I think that suits him best. Sometimes they change their style – some will want to show more; some will want to show less. It’s kind of strange over time how they can change their styles sometimes, but this suits him well,” Calhoun said. “We’re going to leave him alone and let him run how he wants to run and forget what’s going on in front of him.”
Gabriel Saez has the return mount.
SWISS SKYDIVER – Trainer Kenny McPeek pronounced Peter Callahan’s Swiss Skydiver ready for her clash with the boys in Saturday’s Preakness following her early-morning gallop over a wet Pimlico racetrack Friday.
“She’s a model of consistency. She just keeps it even. She’s very professional. She keeps it even every day,” McPeek said. “There’s nothing complicated about her.”
The daughter of Daredevil has finished first or second in her last six starts, including victories in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, Fantasy at Oaklawn, Santa Anita Oaks and Alabama at Saratoga, as well as runner-up finishes in the Blue Grass at Keeneland and the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill.
Swiss Skydiver, who will be ridden for the first time by Robby Albarado, has tactical early speed but has shown the ability to rate off the pace.
“I’m not going to guess the pace of the race. I learned that a long time ago – you can’t guess the pace. She’s an honest ‘12s’ horse. When you go 24 and 48 and then let her do her thing after that – that’s her best race. If there’s no pace and they go 48 on the front end and she’s up there, that’s fine. If they go 46 and she’s 10 lengths back, I’m fine with that too,” McPeek said. “Robby’s going to have to get her in a nice rhythm. He’s been around. He knows how fast horses are going and whether they’re doing too much.”
NO NOTES - No notes today for Excession, Max Player and Pneumatic (all trained by Steve Asmussen); Jesus' Team (Jose D'Angelo) and Ny Traffic (Saffie Joesph, Jr.).