Preakness one of my faves

May, 20, 2011
BALTIMORE -- The Preakness is one of my favorite races to ride. I love the whole experience, from the feeling of the actual event to visiting Baltimore and staying down by the waterfront.

In this race, the pressure is either off or it's on, depending on which horse you're riding. Usually it's on for the riders of one or two horses -- the Kentucky Derby winner and the most likely candidates to beat him. The rest of us don't really feel any stress. On race day, there'll be two or three horses bet down and focused on, and the rest of them will be pretty much disregarded.

You still get a lot of people out here for the day like you do at the Kentucky Derby, but for a rider, it's a whole different feel. At the Derby, everybody feels the pressure. Here, a lot of that is gone, and a lot of times those horses that didn't run so well in the Derby will get that easygoing attitude from the jockey and pop back and run big, too.

Horses are like people, though. If they're good athletes, they'll adapt to the situation. You know, I drag to work some days when I just don't feel like doing it. But once I'm out there, you'd never be able to tell that I came to work that way. When I'm in the saddle, I'm in a whole different zone. The adrenaline pumps in and you forget about everything except the competition. Once you're out on the racetrack, a whole different mindset kicks in, and a lot of times, the horses can be that way, too.

This year, I'm riding Sway Away in the Preakness. He's a horse I got on a couple of times before, and we finished second to The Factor in the San Vicente for trainer Jeff Bonde earlier this year. I thought he was a nice candidate on the Triple Crown trail, but then I rode him in the Rebel Stakes in Arkansas and was very disappointed in his race. He got hit with some dirt and acted like a horse that hadn't really run before. Before the race, I thought if he ran poorly, he'd get beat by three or four lengths, and if he ran well, he'd run out the TV. Instead, he finished 9 1/4 lengths back, and that performance was anything other than what I was expecting.

I was happy to see him bounce back a little in the Arkansas Derby on April 16 and run fourth, beaten just 3 1/4 lengths that time under Patrick Valenzuela. He got a better kind of trip and hopefully he can move forward off the last effort. He's a fresh horse now, so that should work in our favor, and you can't help noticing he's by Afleet Alex, who won the Preakness in 2005.

I know this horse pretty well. I've worked him quite a few times and ridden him in those earlier races. He's a very laid-back runner and a classy individual. He carries himself kind of funny because he has a bit of a sway back and his head is set kind of high. It probably hurts his action a little, but he's starting to figure out how to find his way through it. Now he's had some more dirt in his face, and I think he's learning as he goes on. He's got enough tactical speed to keep me out of traffic trouble, and even though the mile and an eighth was a question, he showed from his last race that he can get that distance when he moved after them when they went sprinting real hard. If I ride him a bit more conservatively, I think we can get the mile and three-sixteenths.

Going into this race, I'll have an eye on Animal Kingdom, of course. He's the winner of the Kentucky Derby. But you've also got to watch the pace and see where it's going to come from.

It looks like Shackleford and Flashpoint will be right up there, but when Flashpoint ran in the Florida Derby in his last race, he didn't show any kind of speed. He was behind my mount, To Honor and Serve, and he couldn't keep pace. So I don't know what to think about him, but those two leaving the starting gate right next to each other might help also as far as the pace scenario is concerned. And Astrology has a little pace, and Dance City should be up there, too.

I do a little more homework before a race like this, not so much on my horse as on the field. I'm not really trying to figure out a scenario; I'm just becoming more familiar with each and every runner, because when you have a full field of top stakes contenders, you need to know the tendencies of every single one.

Someone asked me whether I get nervous before a big stakes race. I wouldn't classify it as "nervous," per se, but the zone is definitely intense. It's not a big deal in your mind until you start out in the post parade. You warm up this runner that could be a lot more accomplished in a few minutes. You walk up to the gate and look through it, and you can see your way down the racetrack. It's like your future is stretching out in front of you, and in those moments before the start, everything is possible.



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