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Running on short rest tricky business
BALTIMORE - The Triple Crown provides several unique challenges for 3-year-olds. The Kentucky Derby usually is the first race in which a horse will run 1 1/4 miles. The Belmont Stakes is the only Grade 1 race in the United States at 1 1/2 miles on dirt. And the Preakness Stakes usually marks the only time in a high-stakes horse's career that he runs back on just two weeks' rest.
Trainers say that there is a fine line when bringing a horse back on short rest. They want the horse fit, but don't want to overdo it and have him be flat. Fresh is best.
Of the 10 horses who ran in the Derby who are scheduled to return for the 130th Preakness here on Saturday, most are having workouts preceding the Preakness, but Afleet Alex will not.
Not that he needs it. Afleet Alex does far more on a daily basis than any of his rivals, mixing jogs and gallops that range in total from three to five miles.
"A lot of times you can run a horse back in two weeks if he's only run once or twice off a layoff," Tim Ritchey, the trainer of Afleet Alex, said Tuesday morning outside the stakes barn at Pimlico. "But when a horse has run as much as most of these horses have, my feeling is you want them to come into this race off two weeks fresh. That's why I'm not going to breeze him.
"He's just going to gallop up to the race. Smarty Jones did the same thing," Ritchey said, referring to last year's winner of the Derby and Preakness. "A lot of times you take a little bit of the edge off of them by breezing them. Even though my horse came out of the race very well, he's still in a recuperating phase, still coming back to himself, trying to get strong."
Afleet Alex, after winning his 2005 debut in the Mountain Valley Stakes, came back on two weeks' rest for the Rebel Stakes. He finished sixth, in the worst performance of his career, but he emerged from that race with a lung infection.
"He's had three good races and one not-so-good race this year," Ritchey said. "He's dead fit. I want him a little fresher, a little sharper, going into this race."
Afleet Alex, Scrappy T only ones here
Of the 14 horses expected for the Preakness, just two were at Pimlico on Tuesday. Afleet Alex has been here for a week, while Scrappy T arrived Monday afternoon.
Ritchey said he felt it was important to arrive early.
"Tracks are all different," he said. "Even though they might be slightly the same, they have little differences. The more they train over that particular racetrack, I think it's an advantage. We'll find out Saturday."
Ritchey said the Pimlico surface is "the best I've ever seen it."
"I don't know what they've done to it, but it has more life to it, more bounce," he said. "It's a good, safe racetrack."
Scrappy T is based about 75 minutes away at Delaware Park, but trainer Robbie Bailes decided to come to Pimlico early because his horse is curious and needs a few days to get used to new surroundings.
"He likes to look around a bit," Bailes said. "It's nice to give him a couple of days to do that. Hopefully by Friday or Saturday he will be settled in.
"I've never seen a horse like him," Bailes added. "You will be walking along beside him and then he will jump and start looking around. You wonder, 'What in the world is it?' It might be a half-mile away. Maybe that's what it was. But he's getting a lot better about that. He's starting to grow up a lot. He's really matured a lot the last couple of months."
Ashado likely for Pimlico Distaff
After weighing his options for the past week, trainer Todd Pletcher on Tuesday said that the champion filly Ashado would likely race here on Friday in the Grade 3, $150,000 Pimlico Distaff rather than the Grade 2, $200,000 Shuvee Handicap on Saturday at Belmont Park.
"I like the mile and a sixteenth distance," Pletcher said from Saratoga, where he was checking on his string there. "It's more of a truly run race."
Ashado was assigned top weight of 123 pounds for the Pimlico Distaff, one of five stakes races on Friday's card. There are several other New York-based fillies entered in the Distaff who also could go in the one-mile Shuvee, including Saintliness, who won her first five starts before finishing second last time out in the Next Move Handicap at Aqueduct. The winner of the Next Move, Daydreaming, is going in the Shuvee.
"I'm not sure what we're going to do yet," Kiaran McLauglin, the trainer of Saintliness, said Tuesday.
Golden Man works; Dutrow waits
As of Tuesday, Golden Man remained the odd-horse out in the Preakness. In the convoluted three-tier system that determines the 14 horses who run in the Preakness, Golden Man is 15th on the list due to insufficient lifetime earnings. He has only earned $59,100, less than half as much as Hal's Image.
Tuesday at Aqueduct, Golden Man worked four furlongs in 48.31 seconds and his connections are still hopeful of getting into the field. Trainer Richard Dutrow claimed Golden Man for $60,000 on Jan. 23 and the gelding won an entry-level allowance race by three lengths at Gulfstream on April 3. Among the horses he beat that day was Coin Silver, who came back to win the Lexington Stakes and run in the Kentucky Derby.
The ownership group of Golden Man, led by Michael Dubb, would have to supplement the gelding to the Preakness for $100,000 because he was not nominated to the Triple Crown. Dutrow thinks the horse fits in the race.
"I like him enough to try him in a spot like this at this time," Dutrow said. "If Bellamy Road would have won [the Derby] by eight, we wouldn't be looking at this kind of spot. But that race fell apart and a 50-1 shot won it so why can't that happen again? We're looking to take a shot and we think we're taking a legitimate shot."
Dutrow said John Velazquez would be named to ride Golden Man if he gets in. Dutrow said he wasn't sure if he would run Golden Man in the Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard if he doesn't get into the Preakness. The Peter Pan on May 28 is another alternative.
* Pimlico is offering a bet linking Friday's Pimlico Special with the Preakness. The Pimlico Special-Preakness Double is a $2 bet, and wagers on it can be made beginning Thursday.
- additional reporting by David Grening