Trainer John Ward Jr. visited Pimlico Race Course yesterday, examined the stakes barn and pronounced Stall 40, typical home of the Kentucky Derby winner before the Preakness, suitable for his Derby winner Monarchos. The Preakness is May 19.
"I'm a believer in tradition," Ward said, standing outside the stall. "Monarchos will be right here. It was good enough for the great horses that were here before him. It will be good enough for him."
Last year, it was not good enough for Fusaichi Pegasus. After he won the Derby, his trainer chose an out-of-the-way barn on Pimlico's backstretch. Neil Drysdale said the high-strung colt needed quiet quarters. That was the first year the Derby winner did not reside in the stakes barn since Northern Dancer in 1964.
Fusaichi Pegasus was beaten in the Preakness, finishing second.
Ward flew from Kentucky to check on accommodations for his Derby winner and take a look at Pimlico's racing surface. He said Monarchos should like the track and his place in the stakes barn, which Ward noted looked better than in recent years.
Maryland Jockey Club workers have spruced up the barn area behind the Pimlico grandstand. They have torn down an old barn, refurbished five barns, including the stakes barn, and planted flowers and trees. They are also tearing down the barbed-wire-topped chain-link fence around the stable and replacing it with a fence of brick pillars and steel pickets.
"Everything looks comfortable and clean and fresh and ready to go," Ward said. "I see no problem whatsoever."
Monarchos is scheduled to fly tomorrow from Louisville, Ky., where he is stabled at Churchill Downs, to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and then ride in a van with police escort to Pimlico. His plane is due at the airport between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., Ward said.
Other horses will also be on the flight, including Hero's Tribute, trained by Ward, and Percy Hope, a Preakness hopeful trained at Churchill Downs by Tony Reinstedler. Percy Hope won the Lone Star Derby but bypassed the Kentucky Derby.
Hero's Tribute was one of the trio of 3-year-olds Ward was preparing for the Derby. A lackluster performance in the Blue Grass Stakes prompted Ward to give the colt a rest. Hero's Tribute will run in the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard, Ward said.
In other developments, Bob Baffert, trainer of Congaree and Point Given (third and fifth in the Derby), said that both colts will contest the Preakness if they show no ill effects from the Derby. Speaking by phone from Louisville, Baffert said the pair would fly to Baltimore one week from today.
Baffert also said Jerry Bailey would ride Congaree, replacing Victor Espinoza. Baffert said he planned to keep Congaree in the East and wanted an East Coast jockey for the Arazi colt. Espinoza is based in California.
Dallas Stewart, trainer of Dollar Bill, said there's a slight chance the colt will run in the Preakness. The hard-luck horse finished 15th in the Derby after encountering trouble on the far turn.
Griffinite, trained by Jennifer Pedersen, is scheduled to arrive today for the Preakness after a flight from his home base at Saratoga. Griffinite finished second in the Lexington Stakes.
A P Valentine galloped yesterday at Pimlico in his initial trip to the track after becoming the first Preakness horse to arrive. The Nick Zito-trained A P Valentine, a troubled seventh in the Kentucky Derby, arrived Monday.
A P Valentine was hard to restrain.
Said Zito: "He's feeling great. He was a little eager out there."
NOTES: Albert the Great, the likely favorite in Saturday's Pimlico Special, breezed five furlongs yesterday at Pimlico in 59 3/5 seconds and galloped six furlongs in 1 minute, 14 1/5 seconds.
Zito, his trainer, was pleased.
"It was how he did it," Zito said. "He went the first part in 24 and change, and then he just flew home. He looked beautiful."
Post positions will be drawn today for the $750,000 Special, a Grade I stakes for older horses.
The Super Bowl champion Ravens will be included in festivities leading to the Preakness. Friday, Ravens owner Art Modell and his wife, Pat, will be honored at the Triple Crown Ball at Pimlico.
The dinner benefits the Foundation Fighting Blindness and the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Next Wednesday, return specialist Jermaine Lewis will pick the slots for the post position selection, also at Pimlico.
With help from a later start, the final hour-plus of the Kentucky Derby telecast outdrew last year's by about 40 percent.
NBC Sports' debut broadcast under a five-year, $51.5 million deal to air thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown series produced a 9.2 national rating from 5:30 p.m. to 6:42 p.m. Saturday.
That's 39 percent higher than the 6.6 national rating from 4:59 p.m. to 6:04 p.m. for the 2000 Derby on ABC, which had aired the past 26 Runs for the Roses.
NBC moved the traditional 5:30 p.m. post time to 6:07 p.m. in an effort to draw more viewers.
Each national rating point represents a little more than 1 million U.S. TV homes.
Sun staff writer Ken Murray and the Associated Press contributed to this article.