Mark Shuman is the trainer of Xchanger, a 3-year-old who hoped to be on the road to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby by now. Instead, he is at Pimlico Race Course today, which Shuman isn't particularly happy about for more than one reason.
The Kentucky Derby prep season wraps up today with the Grade II, $325,000 Coolmore Lexington Stakes at Keeneland Race Course in Kentucky. The ungraded, $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico is usually a steppingstone for locally based horses hoping for a start in the Preakness.
Both races will be televised on a delayed basis between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
Xchanger has run against and been beaten by some of the best horses on the Derby trail - Scat Daddy, Nobiz Like Shobiz and Curlin, among them.
It was seeing Curlin on March 17, before the running of the Grade III Rebel Stakes, which Curlin won and in which Xchanger finished seventh, that convinced Shuman he shouldn't be pointing toward the first Saturday in May.
"When I saw him in the stable area, I said, 'Wow!' I know he's good looking. Is he for real? After the race, I was very impressed. ... He's just Class A-plus. I'm definitely a class below that horse."
Still, if Shuman could have found a jockey he liked in Kentucky, he would be running there today and not at Pimlico, because at Pimlico there is another horse he doesn't really want to face.
His name is Etude, owned by Robert Meyerhoff and trained at Pimlico by Dickie Small.
"I've only seen him on video, but honestly, he was the main reason I was going to go to Lexington," Shuman said. "But when Ramon Dominguez's agent confirmed he could run at Pimlico in the Tesio, that kind of made my decision. But Etude, since they've put blinkers on him, has been very impressive and he was the reason we were considering Kentucky in the first place."
Etude is the morning line, 4-to-5 favorite in the 27th running of the Tesio, which is named for the late Italian breeder who created bloodlines that still dominate thoroughbred racing throughout the world.
Bloodlines come into play in the Tesio in another way, too. Etude is the grandson of Broad Brush, who won the race in 1986 before going on to finish third in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.
Broad Brush, bred by Meyerhoff, is a descendant of Domino, a bloodline Meyerhoff has kept alive and achieved great success with. Broad Brush earned close to $2.6 million in his career.
As a stallion, Broad Brush produced Concern, the 1994 Breeders' Cup Classic winner, and Include, Etude's sire, whose career included purse winnings of $1.6 million.
"To me, that's the story," Small said. "The fact that Mr. Meyerhoff has had such breeding success all on his own, with his own stock. What he's done is extraordinary. He's breeding on his own farm, not to sell, but to race and is doing it on a pretty large scale.
"Etude is a good young horse. But he's just won three races. It's possible he's a very good horse. But they're fragile."
Broad Brush was an exception to the fragile nature of thoroughbreds. Small said he sent the son of Ack Ack to race once a month for 27 straight months.
"He was just an extraordinarily durable horse, almost a throwback to another century," Small said.
Small said he doesn't know if Etude is of that caliber. He said Etude looks like Broad Brush in shape and movement, "but we're sort of figuring Etude out as we go along. ... Every race is an enormous stress because we're asking him to reach the extreme end of his durability."
Today, Etude, who started somewhat slowly, not winning until his fourth start, will make his first trip around two turns in the 1 1/8 -mile run on Pimlico's dirt course. But so far he has improved in every outing and has been perfect since Small put blinkers on him.
Small hopes Etude's performance today in a six horse field that includes Xchanger (second choice at 2-to-1), Saratoga Lulaby, Zephyr Cat, Belly Rub and Pink Viper will point the way to the Preakness.
"If you look at their performance charts, they're all pretty nice horses and the race isn't going to be that easy," Small said. "But I wouldn't trade; let's just say that."
Note -- Racey Dreamer broke down and was euthanized yesterday after Mixed Up won the $150,000 Royal Chase at Keeneland. Racey Dreamer, an 8-year-old son of A.P. Indy, stumbled while trying to clear the 10th fence during the 2 1/2 -mile turf race and fractured his leg.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.