05/15/2013 2:37PM

Preakness Stakes: Departing heads newcomers to Triple Crown scene

Barbara D. Livingston
Despite his Illinois Derby victory, Departing was not pressed into a Kentucky Derby start.

BALTIMORE – The talent Departing has shown in winning 4 of 5 career starts figures to make him the shortest price among the three newcomers joining the Triple Crown fray Saturday in the Grade  1, $1 million Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. ­Govenor Charlie and Titletown Five are the only other members of the projected field of nine who did not run in the Kentucky Derby.

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Departing’s connections could have made the case on a couple of occasions this spring for running the War Front gelding in the Kentucky Derby. In the Grade 2, $1 million Louisiana Derby on March 30, he finished a creditable third to Revolutionary. One start later, Departing turned in a tour-de-force performance in the Grade 3, $750,000 Illinois Derby on April 20. But instead of pushing for the Kentucky Derby, owners Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider and trainer Al Stall Jr. bided their time with the developing Departing.

“We just didn’t think after the Louisiana Derby he was ready for the Derby,” Stall said. “The Derby was never really under consideration. We didn’t think he had enough seasoning to run in the Derby. Our interest was in the Preakness all along.”

Departing launched his career Dec. 22 at Fair Grounds, and won a maiden special weight at six furlongs. He proceeded to take a first-level allowance in his two-turn debut Feb. 1, also in New Orleans, before shipping to Sam Houston Race Park in Houston to win the $50,000 Texas Heritage. Departing then suffered his first loss in the Louisiana Derby, but rebounded in the Illinois Derby, which was his first start on Lasix. Departing was forced to take an outside route in the Hawthorne race after breaking from post 13, then drew clear for a 3 1/4-length win in a convincing lead-in to the Preakness.

“The race in the Illinois Derby pumped us up for this,” Stall said. “The way he covered all that extra ground and just won in hand – the way he did it, he earned his way into the Preakness.”

Stall said Departing has continued to develop since that race, and he is hopeful the horse will handle both the ship to Maryland and the Pimlico surface based on how he handled those variables for the Illinois Derby. Departing was to fly into town Wednesday from his base at Churchill Downs.

“He shipped to Hawthorne, no problem,” Stall said. “That gives us confidence to go to a new track, with no experience over it.”

Departing is to be ridden by Brian Hernandez Jr., who last year won the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic aboard Fort Larned. Departing will be Stall’s second Preakness starter after seventh-place finisher Terrain in 2009, a horse who raced for Dilschneider.

Govenor Charlie will attempt to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his sixth win in the Preakness. But the colt, who was a five-length winner of the Grade 3, $800,000 Sunland Derby in his last start March 24, is unlike any of the 13 starters Baffert has previously had in the second leg of the Triple Crown.

“I’ve never run a horse in the Preakness that didn’t run in the Derby,” Baffert said. “I’m in uncharted waters.”

Govenor Charlie, who races for his breeder, Mike Pegram, brings serious speed into the Preakness. He lowered a Sunland Park record that stood for 52 years in the Sunland Derby, when he won the 1 1/8-mile race 1:47.54. The previous mark of 1:48.20 had been held by Winsham Lad.

“It was a tremendous effort by him,” Baffert said. “He separated himself from those horses, ran very fast. He showed that he belongs in that category. He’s a very well-bred horse, was one of the best bred horses in the race, by Midnight Lute out of a Hall of Fame family on the bottom.”

Govenor Charlie’s dam is Silverbulletway, a daughter of Storm Cat and the $3 million earner Silverbulletday.

Following the Sunland Derby, Govenor Charlie became a candidate for the Kentucky Derby. But he had a hiccup not long before he was to leave his Southern California base for Churchill Downs, and ultimately the decision was made to pass the Kentucky Derby.

“I lost a week of training with him,” Baffert said. “I had a hind issue with him in the foot. It really didn’t bother me that much, but to make sure he was 100 percent and that it was just the foot and nothing else, we sent him to the clinic.”

Baffert received clearance from veterinarians to go on with Govenor Charlie, but still passed Derby, a race he has won three times.

“The thing about the Derby, everything has to flow,” Baffert said. “The horse has to bring you to the Derby. They have to get there. All my Derby winners, the horse, they bring you there, and they’re ready, and there’s no bumps in the road.”

Baffert said in hindsight, missing the race run in the slop might have been a blessing for Govenor Charlie.

“The way the track came up, the way the pace was, I was glad he wasn’t in there with them,” Baffert said. “The speed horses got sucked into this jet stream. At the half-mile pole, those trainers must have been going, ‘I’ve been preparing the last few months for this?’ Any front-runner lost all chance whatsoever. We would have been in that group, or close to it.”

Titletown Five will be one of three starters trainer D. Wayne Lukas will send out in the Preakness, a race he has won five times. His others, Oxbow and Will Take Charge, exit the Kentucky Derby, having finished a respective sixth and eighth. Titletown Five started his season later than his stablemates, and enters the Preakness off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill on April 27.

“He got into a speed duel, the fractions were totally unrealistic,” Lukas said. “He was very fresh and was into it. I’ve been working since on relaxing, taking off his fast ball, making him so he isn’t quite so one-dimensional.

“He’s a very talented horse. We’ve got [Julien] Leparoux, who I think will get along very good with him. He’s an excellent rider for this style of horse. We’re excited about taking him over there.”

Titletown Five is by Tiznow and from the mare D’ Wildcat Speed, a Grade 2 winner of $530,755. He was a memorable maiden special weight winner at Churchill last October, when he won a seven-furlong sprint by nine lengths with a Beyer Speed Figure of 98. Following the start, Titletown Five was found to have a bone chip in his left knee that was removed. Titletown Five returned to action in March, and was second in the $60,000 Gazebo at Oaklawn. He proceeded to run ninth in the Louisiana Derby, after which Lukas decided to target the Derby Trial and his favorite leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness.

“In this one, beware of the sleeping dog,” said Lukas.