LOUISVILLE, Ky. - John Ward Jr., trainer of Monarchos, is pretty sure that his Kentucky Derby winner will be primed for the Preakness. What he doesn't know is whom his horse will face May 19 in the second leg of the Triple Crown at Pimlico.
The Preakness field is often slow to take shape, but this year it may be slower than usual as horsemen wait to see who's going before deciding themselves. Surprisingly, the only horses from Saturday's Kentucky Derby confirmed for the Preakness are Monarchos, who won the Derby, and A P Valentine, who finished seventh after a troubled trip.
Bob Baffert, trainer of Congaree and Point Given, said he will see how his horses bounce back from the Derby before deciding whether to send them to Baltimore. If they show no ill effects, he said, he likely will run them against Monarchos at Pimlico.
Baffert's pair would provide the Preakness its spice: the Derby's beaten favorite (Point Given) and third-place finisher (Congaree) seek revenge against the Derby winner.
Outside his barn yesterday at Churchill Downs, Ward seemed unconcerned about who will show up at Pimlico. Ward, 55, a third-generation Kentucky horseman, had expressed confidence all week before the Derby that his "old-fashioned" training methods would place Monarchos in the winner's circle.
By old-fashioned, he said, he meant that his style is not to pound, pound, pound on a horse until it's jumping out of its skin before a race. His style is to treat a horse as if it were a long-term project with measured but restrained training.
As a result, he said, he believes Monarchos won the Derby - easily, by 4 3/4 lengths - without delivering a peak performance or draining his reserves. And that fit Ward's plan of having a horse not only for the Kentucky Derby but also for the Triple Crown series.
"My thinking was that if he can win the first one, let's be lined up for the second one," Ward said. "If he gets a little bit of a weak field in the Preakness, I think he's going to go into the Belmont with probably the best conditioning [of any recent Triple Crown hopeful]."
Nick Zito, trainer of A P Valentine, said that he'd like another chance at the 3-year-old division leaders. He referred to the Equibase chart describing A P Valentine's race: " ... checked when bumped by Talk Is Money ... steadied between foes ... shuffled back ... rallied belatedly."
"If you look at his race, if you analyze his race, you see that this horse ran an unbelievable race," Zito said. "He could have been eased. He just kept going."
Zito said that A P Valentine will join Albert the Great and several other horses on a flight today to Baltimore. Albert the Great likely will be the favorite Saturday in the $750,000 Pimlico Special, a Grade I stakes for older horses.
Todd Pletcher, trainer of Derby runner-up Invisible Ink and 14th-place finisher Balto Star, said that neither horse is likely for the Preakness. Invisible Ink probably will contest the Belmont, he said. He said that Balto Star suffered mild heat exhaustion in the Derby and needed time to recover.
Pletcher said his Preakness horse likely will be Distilled, winner of the Illinois Derby.
Petra Kappel, assistant to the Laurel-based trainer John Scanlan, said that Talk Is Money will receive a long vacation after his last-place finish in the Derby. Jockey Jerry Bailey eased the horse entering the final turn and walked him across the finish line.
Kappel said that the anxious Talk Is Money was hindered by the heat and bleeding from the lungs.
"He has some small issues here and there, but we are going to get them taken care of," Kappel said. "We're going to give him some time, give him some grass and not worry about bringing him back until the fall."
She said that Talk Is Money would be sent to a farm in Lexington, Ky., for rest and relaxation.
"He needs a head adjustment," Kappel said.
John Dowd, trainer of Songandaprayer (13th in the Derby), and Ben Perkins Jr., trainer of Richly Blended (won the Withers Stakes Saturday at Aqueduct), said they wanted to assess their horses and the Preakness field before committing to running in Baltimore.
Songandaprayer and Richly Blended are front-runners. Their trainers said that the Preakness would be more appealing if no other speed horses entered. A speed horse alone on the lead is more effective than one battling early with other horses.