Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to Pimlico we go for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the 135th Preakness Stakes, in which Super Saver, the Kentucky Derby winner, will face another large field, though the complexion of the race has changed dramatically from the lineup at Churchill Downs, both in terms of horses and the likely pace.
The Preakness is limited to 14 runners, and as of Monday, it appeared a baker's dozen of 13 was going to pass the entry box on Wednesday, when post positions will be drawn for the $1 million race. Of the 20 horses who ran in the 1 1/4-mile Derby, only five, including Super Saver, are returning for the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, so the remainder of the field is made up of eight horses who skipped or could not get into the Derby.
And though the Derby's pace played out as it looked on paper - white-hot - the Preakness is coming up with apparently less early speed, a scenario made even more acute by the withdrawal of A Little Warm on Monday.
Super Saver has remained at Churchill Downs following the Derby. On Monday, he had a little tune-up for the Preakness, an easy three-furlong drill in 36.60 seconds under jockey Calvin Borel on a fast main track. According to track clockers, Super Saver galloped out a half-mile in 49.20 seconds, and five furlongs in 1:02. The time equaled the fifth-best of 29 at the distance.
"Calvin did exactly what we asked him to do," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who watched from the frontside. "Go an easy three-eighths and gallop out an easy half. It's amazing how effortless the horse was in doing it.
"We are very, very encouraged by his energy level, the way he is eating, the way he is moving. We are very happy with what we see."
This will be the first - and likely only - time in Super Saver's career that he will have races a mere two weeks apart. Pletcher said he worked Super Saver because "he's doing so well, we wanted to give him a chance to stretch his legs a little bit."
There are four other horses who chased Super Saver in the Derby and are scheduled to be back for a rematch in the Preakness - Paddy O'Prado (third in the Derby), Lookin At Lucky (sixth), Dublin (seventh), and Jackson Bend (12th). Jackson Bend, working with stablemate Latigo Shore, flew through four furlongs in 46.60 seconds at Churchill Downs on Monday with exercise rider Stacy Prior. Their time was the best of 69 at the distance.
"Fred Brei, who co-owns Jackson Bend, kept telling me how tough this little guy is, and he was right," Nick Zito, the trainer of Jackson Bend, said by phone from Kentucky. "This morning was a good indication of how tough this guy is. I wanted to see where we were at. If we have a good week, I hope he can rebound."
Lookin At Lucky did not work - and will not between these two races, according to trainer Bob Baffert - but his former rider, Garrett Gomez, was aboard Dublin for a half-mile drill in 48.40 seconds.
D. Wayne Lukas, the trainer of Dublin, also worked Northern Giant three furlongs in 36.40 seconds with exercise rider Arielle Witkowski.
Northern Giant is one of eight horses joining the Triple Crown trail after skipping the Derby. The others are Aikenite, Caracortado, First Dude, Hurricane Ike, Pleasant Prince, Schoolyard Dreams, and Yawanna Twist.
Hurricane Ike worked seven furlongs in 1:25.80 on Monday at Churchill with jockey Robby Albarado, who has the Preakness mount. Calvin Borel rode Hurricane Ike to a victory in the Derby Trial, but then won the Derby a week later with Super Saver, his Preakness mount. Hurricane Ike has tried two turns just once. He was 11th of 14 in the Breeders' Futurity on Polytrack last fall at Keeneland.
"Calvin told me after the Derby Trial that he thought he'd run on," said John Sadler, the trainer of Hurricane Ike.
Also at Churchill Downs, Yawanna Twist worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 with exercise rider Michelle Nevin for trainer Rick Dutrow.
Lukas's duo was scheduled to travel by van to Pimlico on Tuesday, but the remainder of the Churchill Downs-based Preakness runners are scheduled to fly to Maryland on Wednesday. That flight is originating early that morning in California, where Caracortado is based, and is stopping in Kentucky.
A Little Warm worked five furlongs on Monday at Delaware Park in 1:01.16, according to Daily Racing Form, but bled in the work and was removed from the Preakness. A Little Warm, trained by Tony Dutrow, has not raced since finishing second in the Louisiana Derby seven weeks ago.
"Tony scoped the horse and he bled a 2 out of 5," said Chris Baker, the racing and farm manager for owner Ed Evans. "The horse had no history of bleeding prior to that. Even though all other indicators showed the horse was recovering and seemed to be ready to compete at Pimlico, this showed us he wasn't as well recovered as he would need to be so we've withdrawn him from consideration."
The work was the first for A Little Warm since April 25, when he breezed four furlongs in 48.40 seconds at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida. After A Little Warm didn't get into the Derby field because of a lack of graded stakes earnings, he was vanned from Florida to Dutrow's stable at Delaware Park. After training his first day at Delaware, A Little Warm came down with a temperature that kept him off the track for several days.
A Little Warm could have been a key player in the race. With Conveyance and Sidney's Candy, the two speedsters from the Derby, off the Triple Crown trail, A Little Warm was a strong candidate to be the Preakness pacesetter.
Conveyance was ridden in the Derby by Martin Garcia, who is expected to ride Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness, replacing Gomez.
The weather this week at Pimlico is forecast to be quite varied. There was a 60-percent chance of rain on Tuesday, with a high of just 60 degrees, but that was to be followed by 81-degree days Wednesday and Friday, with isolated thunderstorms possible both days. The forecast for Saturday is for a high temperature of 78 degrees, and just a 10-percent chance of rain.
- additional reporting by David Grening and Marty McGee