05/18/2016 1:06PM

Preakness: Baffert willingly cedes the spotlight

Barbara D. Livingston
Collected, at Pimlico with assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes on Wednesday, “brings it every time,” said trainer Bob Baffert.

BALTIMORE – As the colt Collected made his way back to the stakes barn at Pimlico on Wednesday morning, his trainer, Bob Baffert, came walking up, trailed by a media throng of exactly one, a journalist who is working on a book on Baffert.

A year after bringing in the popular American Pharoah off a Derby win and also sending out Dortmund, Baffert comes into the 141st Preakness as a mere character actor in a story headlined by the unbeaten Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist.

“Different feel?” Baffert said, responding to a question. He looked around. His media throng had doubled.

He’s not bothered by it. More like bemused. Cool, calm, and Collected. Baffert knows he’s not playing with the strongest hand this year.

“Last year, I just stepped back and watched – let’s see what you got now, boy,” he said of American Pharoah.

“Nyquist is a really good horse. Eight wins in a row. It’s like with California Chrome. After he won the Derby, people went, ‘Oh, he is for real.’ He has a winning attitude. He reminds me of Smarty Jones. Explosive. He ran a pretty fast Derby. He kept running. He was pretty impressive.”

Nyquist and Collected were among 11 horses entered on Wednesday for the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown. Of the 11, only Nyquist, Derby runner-up Exaggerator, and ninth-place finisher Lani ran in the first leg of the Triple Crown. The other eight entrants – Abiding Star, Awesome Speed, Cherry Wine, Collected, Fellowship, Laoban, Stradivari, and Uncle Lino – skipped the Derby to run here. Posts were drawn too late to make this edition.

Baffert pointed Collected to the Preakness after his victory in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland on April 16. Collected would not have had enough points to make the 20-horse Derby field anyway, but Baffert had decided to keep him out of the Derby following a fourth-place finish in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Feb. 15.

Collected has won two straight since the Southwest, including the Sunland Festival of Racing – this year’s substitute for the Sunland Derby – prior to the Lexington.

“He’s getting better,” Baffert said. “I think campaigning him like that helped him get better. He’s been hanging on the lower branches.”

Baffert has won the Preakness six times, including with all four of his Derby winners – Silver Charm, Real Quiet, War Emblem, and American Pharoah. Those six wins – from just 17 starters – tie him for second with D. Wayne Lukas for the most Preakness wins among trainers. They trail only R.W. Walden, who won the Preakness seven times between 1875 – the third running of the Preakness – and 1888.

Baffert’s record in the Preakness with horses who skipped the Derby is not as strong. Of his 17 Preakness starters, only three – Senor Swinger in 2003, Govenor Charlie in 2014, and Bayern in 2014 – did not run in the Derby, and the best any of them has done is a fifth by Senor Swinger.

“I think he’ll step up,” Baffert said of Collected. “I think he’ll be very competitive. I felt like he deserved a chance the way he ran last time. He brings it every time.”

Collected arrived here Tuesday, as did Baffert, who on Wednesday morning was beginning to recover from a post-Derby cold that was at its worst last weekend.

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Laoban also arrived Tuesday, traveling with Collected from Kentucky. Laoban has a patch on the inside of a hoof, which trainer Eric Guillot said was needed after Laoban stepped on himself and tore off a shoe. Laoban was entered as blinkers off for the Preakness.

Uncle Lino was on a flight that began early Tuesday in California and stopped in Kentucky to pick up Collected and Laoban. Because of the length of the trip, Uncle Lino merely walked the shed row at the stakes barn Wednesday.

Nyquist and Exaggerator have been here longer than any Preakness entrants, more than a week in the case of Nyquist. He jogged two miles Wednesday with exercise rider Jonny Garcia, alongside a pony ridden by assistant Jack Sisterson.

“Very nice, papa,” Garcia said to trainer Doug O’Neill upon returning to the barn.

At Belmont Park, Lani was officially timed in 1:01.50 for a five-furlong work. He was slated to be sent by van to Pimlico on Thursday.

All Preakness horses were required to be on the grounds by noon Thursday.

– additional reporting by David Grening