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Fund started to aid disabled riders
BALTIMORE - Two-time Eclipse Award winner John Velazquez, sidelined because of a fractured shoulder and cracked rib, was at Pimlico on Thursday to help launch the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
The fund was established by a consortium of racetracks and organizations with a short-term goal of raising $1 million by June 15. Toward that end, all Magna Entertainment Corp.-owned tracks will be selling gold wristbands - with the inscription "Preakness 131, Supporting Disabled Jockeys" - and hats beginning this weekend through June 15. Churchill Downs and the New York Racing Association are also involved in the fund.
"This is very important for us and the Jockeys' Guild to be reunited with the racing industry," Velazquez said. "It's a great cause. I really encourage everyone to come to the same table and talk about a cause that means a lot to a lot of people and jockeys."
Velazquez has been out of action since suffering a fractured shoulder blade and a cracked rib in a spill after he won the Forerunner Stakes aboard Up an Octave at Keeneland on April 20.
Velazquez said he has recently begun light stretching exercises, but is still a few weeks away from beginning more strenuous physical therapy. He said he is hoping to return to action in July, before the opening of the Saratoga meet.
Velazquez said he was happy to see Bluegrass Cat - his regular mount - finish second in the Kentucky Derby after being well-beaten in the Blue Grass at Keeneland.
"I was very happy to see him run so well," Velazquez said. "I have no excuse for him as to why he didn't run any better at Keeneland except to say that he didn't like the track."
Klesaris barn is white hot
Most handicappers will dismiss Diabolical from consideration in Saturday's Preakness Stakes. And while he deserves to be a longshot, it is worth noting that his trainer, Steve Klesaris, is on quite a roll the last seven weeks.
From April 3 through Wednesday, Klesaris has won with 21 of his last 50 horses (42 percent). Through the first month of the Delaware Park meet, Klesaris has saddled 13 winners from 25 starters. He also has 6 second-place finishes and 3 thirds at that meet.
Klesaris said he hopes the momentum carries over to the Preakness, where Diabolical, who has yet to win a stakes race, faces his sternest test to date.
"You feel like you're in a groove or you're in a zone, and momentum is in your favor," Klesaris said. "When things are going good, it's like you can't do anything wrong. When you're not going good, it doesn't matter what you do. Nothing goes right. I hope it carries through. We know this is a difficult task. It's a step up in distance, it's a step up in class, but it's a substantial amount of money, so we're going to take a shot."
Diabolical finished second, beaten eight lengths, to Barbaro in the Laurel Turf Cup last November.
Where is Scrappy T now?
The horse who nearly ruined the Preakness for everyone, Scrappy T, is stabled about 45 minutes from Pimlico, at the Bowie training center, where he quietly goes about his business as oblivious as ever to the near-catastrophe he perpetrated last year in the Preakness.
Scrappy T, whose infamous swerve at the top of the Pimlico stretch nearly caused the eventual winner, Afleet Alex, to fall, has raced three times without a win since that fateful occurrence. After suffering from a nagging back ailment following the Preakness, he raced three times in the fall, finishing second in the Indiana Derby and Discovery Handicap, then sixth in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in late November.
Trained by longtime Maryland horseman Robby Bailes, Scrappy T had been working steadily at Bowie in recent weeks while being pointed to the Schaefer Handicap on the Preakness undercard. But he "had a little setback last week," said Bailes. "He hit himself training, and although it's not that big a deal and we probably could've run him anyway, I thought it better to take a step back and wait this one out. I don't have any particular race in mind, but I'm sure we can find something."
Bailes said he probably will be at Belmont Park or Delaware Park on Saturday, far from the Preakness crowd - many of whom were here last year, witnesses to that unforgettable moment when Scrappy T, ridden by Ramon Dominguez, became entangled with Afleet Alex leaving the quarter pole.
"I do still think about it quite a bit," said Bailes. "You always wonder, 'What if.' Everybody got on Ramon about it, but really,
I think it's hard to blame anybody. It was one of those unfortunate things where, fortunately, nothing really bad came of it."
Opponents, yes, but in a friendly way
Dan Hendricks, Brother Derek's trainer, and Michael Matz, the trainer of Barbaro, were in the same barn at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, and struck up a friendship there. When Hendricks arrived in Baltimore for Wednesday night's post-position draw, Matz extended an invitation for Hendricks to visit Matz at the Fair Hill training center.
"I'm not sure I want to see that nice a training facility," Hendricks said, joking. "It'll make me sad to go back to Santa Anita. No offense to Santa Anita, but that place sounds nice."
Hendricks joked he was going to try to visit Matz at Fair Hill before the Preakness, "because he might not want to talk to me after."
Brother Derek shipped to Pimlico on Wednesday afternoon and made his first tour of the track on Thursday morning. With exercise rider Cisco Alvarado, he jogged briefly before galloping 1 1/4 miles.
Barbaro was not scheduled to be sent by van from Fair Hill to Pimlico until Friday afternoon.
Hendricks hoping for better luck
This is the first time that Hendricks has a horse in the Preakness Stakes, but it's the second time he has been to Pimlico. The first visit did not exactly go as planned.
Hendricks several years ago brought Venus Genus, who was owned by Jan, Mace, and Samantha Siegel. Two days before the stakes in which he was going to run, Venus Genus went out for a gallop and suffered a minor injury. Another horse owned by the Siegels, though trained by Randy Bradshaw, was being pointed for the same race.
"Mine got hurt, and then his got sick," Hendricks said Thursday morning. "They paid $20,000 for Randy and I to get a three-day vacation."
Jocks could form hometown exacta
If Barbaro and Sweetnorthernsaint finish one-two in the Preakness, in either order, more than a few longtime followers of Maryland racing will be happy. That's partly because their jockeys, Edgar Prado and Kent Desormeaux, both enjoyed lengthy periods of dominance on this circuit.
Prado, who will ride Barbaro, won virtually every riding title at Laurel and Pimlico from 1990-99, having inherited the title of local kingpin after Desormeaux departed for Southern California in January 1990. Desormeaux's reign in Maryland was shorter, lasting about 3 1/2 years, but he dominated the circuit as perhaps no other jockey has or ever will, easily winning every riding title from 1987-89 at both major tracks.
Zito saddles 17th Preakness horse
Longshot Hemingway's Key represents the 17th Preakness starter for trainer Nick Zito in the last 16 years, but because of multiple starters in several of those years, Zito has been represented in 13 of the 16 runnings since Strike the Gold was his first Preakness starter in 1991.
Zito had two starters in 1999 and 2002, and last year he started three: Sun King, Noble Causeway, and High Fly. Zito's lone Preakness victory came 10 years ago with Louis Quatorze.
Zito's 17 starters are fourth in race history behind D. Wayne Lukas (31), Max Hirsch (19), and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons (18).
Mayne, Acton honored for their work
Kenny Mayne of ESPN and Lucy Acton of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred magazine were among the honorees Thursday morning at the annual Alibi Breakfast in the Pimlico clubhouse. Mayne and Acton were co-winners of the Old Hilltop Award for their years of coverage of Maryland racing.
The other honorees were Mike Brunker, the David Woods Award; Molly Riley, the Nikon Photo Award; Jeff Beauchamp, Special Award of Merit; and Brenda Handleman, Honorary Postmaster.
* Pimlico is offering guaranteed pools on both its early and late pick-four wagers on Saturday. A $250,000 guarantee is in effect for races 4-7, and $1 million for races 9-12, which ends with the Preakness.
- additional reporting by Marty McGee and Jay Privman