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Updated on 09/16/2011 8:23AM
A vow: We won't be fooled again
BALTIMORE - The trainers who will try to beat Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem in the 127th Preakness Stakes on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course have a message for trainer Bob Baffert: Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.
The questions remain, however, whether these trainers are fooling themselves into believing the Preakness will be run differently than the Derby, and whether War Emblem needs the lead to win.
War Emblem, the upset winner of the Derby two weeks ago at Churchill Downs, will attempt to take another step down the Triple Crown trail in the Preakness. There is a widely held notion that his victory was the product of a slow pace in the Derby, and that the pace will be different in the Preakness.
But will it? At the post-position draw on Wednesday, trainers of potential speed horses all selected post positions that indicate a desire to press the pace, rather than aggressively take the lead. The trainers of Booklet, Menacing Dennis, and Proud Citizen all selected after Baffert picked number 8 for War Emblem, and all picked posts outside the Derby winner.
Typical of the attitude is that of Jeff Bonde, who trains the longshot Menacing Dennis. Even though that horse clearly has enough speed to make the lead if desired, Bonde said he thinks "Booklet and War Emblem will be on the front end, and we'll stalk in third."
If, however, one of the other front-runners decides to make a dash for the front, will War Emblem be hindered? The prevailing theory is that he needs to make the lead, but rational analysis would call that into question. War Emblem set the early pace in the Kentucky and Illinois Derbies because no one else wanted it. He did not set blazing fractions. In fact, at Fair Grounds last November, he rallied from fifth in a six-horse field to win a one-mile allowance race. He might be far more versatile than believed.
"He's obviously much better," said H. Graham Motion, the trainer of Equality. "He's a changed horse from what we saw in New Orleans."
Baffert agrees. "He's blooming," Baffert said. "We put him on a different feed program. He adapted pretty quickly."
Baffert admits, though, that "War Emblem has a lot to prove."
War Emblem has chips in an ankle, but he has raced successfully with them. Baffert said his staff treats the colt with medication that "help repair joints," citing Legend, an injectable hyaluronate sodium for joint inflammation, as one he uses.
"It really helps horses. It's very expensive, but now's not the time to be cheap," said Baffert, who appears in advertisements in trade magazines for Legend.
The theories regarding War Emblem needing the lead, or the Preakness being run differently from the Derby, might not be the only ones exposed on Saturday. Pimlico still has a reputation of being a speed-favoring track, with tight turns. The fact is the track's turns are no sharper than those at Churchill Downs. The turns, however, are not banked as much as Churchill's. And the speed bias, which existed in the 1970's and 1980's, has long since passed. The old canard that speed wins the Preakness is folly. At 1 3/16 miles, the Preakness is only 110 yards shorter than the Derby, and is farther than 1 1/8 miles. It is not a sprint.
A field of 13 will go to the post in the Preakness. The Preakness will be televised live by NBC-Sports in a 90-minute show that begins at 5 p.m. Eastern. Post time for the Preakness is 6:09 p.m. It is the 12th race on a 13-race card that begins at 10:30 a.m.
There was plenty of rain in the forecast between Thursday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service. Showers were expected to hit the area on Thursday night, with stronger thunderstorms on Friday. The weather service said there was a 90-percent chance of rain Friday night, and that rainfall could reach an inch in some areas of Baltimore. The rain is supposed to clear out Saturday and the high temperature is only supposed to reach the upper 60's.
The run by the stands for the first time could tell the tale of the Preakness. John T. Ward Jr., who trains the speedy Booklet, believes he is bringing a "fresh and resilient" horse into the race.
"Booklet will have the ability to control the race if that's what Pat Day wants to do," Ward said. "Everybody's going to be going after War Emblem. It'll look like the Indy 500 leaving the gate."
Asked if he was trying to play mind games with Baffert, Ward replied, "We like to poke fun at one another, but I don't think Bob Baffert could be psyched out by the best psychiatric hospital in the world."
The race's wild card could be Medaglia d'Oro. Drawn in post 5 with jockey Jerry Bailey, Medaglia d'Oro has enough tactical speed to press the pace if it is fast, or even make the lead if the jockeys on the horses drawn outside get caught up worrying about one another.
"I'm not going to depend on anyone," Bobby Frankel, the trainer of Medaglia d'Oro, said in a conference call on Thursday. "Jerry's going to ride his race. He'll ride him out of the gate and see what happens. If nobody goes, he'll go. If they go, he can sit."
Medaglia d'Oro could be the slight favorite. He was fourth in the Kentucky Derby, in which he broke poorly and then was caught in severe traffic. He is the 5-2 favorite on the early line set by Mike Watchmaker of Daily Racing Form, who has War Emblem next at 3-1.
Richard Migliore was named Thursday as the jockey on Magic Weisner by Nancy Alberts, who trains and owns the gelding.
Proud Citizen, who was second in the Derby in his third start of the year, will be in better condition for this race, according to his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.
"He's a fitter horse. We'll see if we can change things around a little bit," Lukas said.
U S S Tinosa figures to get an ideal trip from his inside post, a spot his trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, understands is beneficial at this track.
U S S Tinosa disappointed in the Santa Anita Derby in his last start, but he finished just 2 1/2 lengths behind Medaglia d'Oro in Santa Anita's San Felipe Stakes.
Nick Zito sends out longshots Crimson Hero and Straight Gin, both of whom need a hot pace to set up their late runs.
"The big question with War Emblem is that we're going to find out how good he is," Zito said. "If he doesn't duplicate that last race, anyone can win."
But if they get fooled again, the Preakness will be just like the Derby. They will meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
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