Leaving us with a three-horse race ... at least on paper.
Went the Day Well is an intriguing choice.
In Graham Motion and Team Valor International, it has the same trainer/owner combination as last year’s Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up Animal Kingdom.
Unlike I’ll Have Another, which had a perfect trip in the Derby, Went the Day Well’s trip two weeks ago was at the other end of the scale.
Bumped at the start and forced to go seven wide at the turn, the bay colt finished fourth by 21/2 lengths after being 17th and 18 lengths back halfway through the race.
“When I watched the blimp shot (replay), I wanted to throw up,” said Barry Irwin, the managing partner of the syndicate Team Valor International that owns the colt.
“If he had just been closer earlier ... I thought he would be in the middle of the field. The fact is we were near the back of the field. It’s his own fault we broke badly. If he had run one of his previous races where he was closer up and made a similar move, he’s going to win the race.”
The thinking is that with less traffic — an 11-horse field as opposed to 20 horses at the Derby — Went the Day Well should be in pretty good shape.
Canada’s hopes rest with I’ll Have Another, which boasts Windsor Ont.-born owner Paul Reddam and adopted Canadian jockey Mario Gutierrez from Mexico. Almost-Canadian Doug O’Neill — he was born in Dearborn, Mich., just across the border — handles the training.
I’ll Have Another is vying to become just the 12th horse in history to win the Triple Crown and first in 34 years since Affirmed did it in 1978.
He got the first leg two weeks ago at the Derby and will go for the second Saturday.
O’Neill has shown tremendous confidence in his colt and young first-time Preakness rider Gutierrez even before the Derby win and, if anything, is even more confident now.
“We’ve had a great time here,” O’Neill said of his time in Baltimore. “We’ve visited with the Ravens, threw out the first pitch at an Orioles game. Just an unbelievable time, but a large part of it is the fact that the horse has been doing so good. We’re all in great spirits and pumped up.”
But having O’Neill pump up his own horse is expected. When his chief rival does it, you start to take notice.
“I mean, I can’t believe he hasn’t been favoured in these races,” Baffert said of I’ll Have Another. “He looks really good. I‘ve been watching him train here. He’s dangerous. He’s really dangerous.”
And that’s just the horse. Baffert is equally complimentary of the young man riding him.
“I think Gutierrez rode a tremendous race in the Derby,” Baffert said. “He didn’t chase us. He just rides his own horse. Every time he has ridden that horse, he just sat there.
“He’s a high-cruising horse also and he just keeps him in a good spot and he’s never panicked or anything. For a first-time rider (in the Derby), I thought he showed a lot of cool.”
There’s no question Baffert likes his own rider, too, but he admits his horse might have surprised his rider a bit in the Derby.
The quick early fractions left him vulnerable to I’ll Have Another and Gutierrez down the stretch.
“(Bodemeister jockey) Mike Smith, I think he learned a lot from the horse last time,” Baffert said. “He’s a horse that, if you push the button, he is going to be gone. The pace is the whole key here.
“But here at the Preakness, there is always some longshot that decides they want to go or whatever. I really can’t worry about that. If Bodemeister just runs his race, he’ll be effective, and that’s the whole key.”
Even with the race 110 yards shorter, Baffert doesn’t want to see the quick first few quarters he saw out of Bodemeister at the Derby.
Asked if he thought Smith could contain Bodemeister’s Speed, Baffert replied, “I think so. I mean, I hope so. He doesn’t need to go :22.”
If he does, any one of a trio of horses may just make him pay for that ... again.
I’LL HAVE ANOTHER HAS YET ANOTHER CANADIAN CONNECTION
BALTIMORE — I’ll Have Another’s Canadian connections apparently go deeper than owner Paul Reddam.
The man responsible for keeping I’ll Have Another stretched out and in tip top shape, Larry Jones, is a former member of the Portland Winter Hawks hockey club.
Jones’ hockey career ended prematurely after having back surgery. Naturally, he took that experience and went into Equine Care, where his massaging hands have handled the likes of legendary show jumper Big Ben to the current Derby winner.
The Stettler, Alta., native, who now goes by the name Thumper (after the massaging device he uses), landed the gig with I’ll Have Another through a partner back in Alberta who had been working with Doug O’Neill’s horses for years. Because the Triple Crown season conflicted with his preparations for the Calgary Stampede, the partner handed the job over to Thumper.
“We got the major work done on that horse back in January,” Thumper said. “Since then it’s been just maintenance. After every time he runs (race or workout), we go over him, stretch him out and just make sure everything is 100%. He’s the greatest client because he’s so happy-go-lucky there really hasn’t been a lot to do.”
Not every trainer will put the money into this kind of care for his horses.
“Doug is very conscientious about his animals and he asked me if I would fine tune him and stay hooked for the (Triple Crown) races,” Thumper said.
LUKAS LIKES BODEMEISTER
BALTIMORE — D. Wayne Lukas doesn’t expect he has the horse to win the Preakness in Optimizer, but he has a definite opinion of who might.
Lukas’ horse is bred more for the distance of the third leg of the Triple Crown. The Belmont is more his type of race.
Lukas thinks his horse can still get a piece of the action at Pimlico, but as for winning it, Bodemeister is his favourite.
“In the Derby, we thought Trinniberg was just going to go and he never even got up in front,” said the five-time Preakness-winning trainer.
“I think if Bodemeister gets loose on the lead, he’s very dangerous because I think he gets bolder and bolder. I thought he ran a hell of a race in the Derby to hang around like he did in those fractions.”
Lukas is not as optimistic about Derby winner I’ll Have Another. “We’re going to give him every credit in the world – beautiful race, strong powerful race in the end,” Lukas said. “If he does it here, we’ll go to New York and say, ‘Let’s see if he can do it again.’ We’re not going to bronze him and put him in the infield off one race, are we? I want to see it again. This horse’s pedigree (Flower Alley) is really questionable.”
Meanwhile, jockey Ramon Dominguez will ride Tiger Walk in the 137th Preakness Stakes, replacing Kent Desormeaux. Desormeaux was removed from his mounts at Belmont Park on Friday for failing a breathalyzer. He has not yet been suspended, but an investigation is being conducted.