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Preakness contender Royal Mo suffers career-ending fracture during workout

Thursday morning at Pimlico Race Course, John Shirreffs was presented with a counterfactual: How would Royal Mo have fared in the Kentucky Derby, had his colt just made the cut?

"It's hard to predict," the-71-year-old trainer said. "The Derby is about being at the right place at the right time, getting a break. A lot of things have to go well."

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Nothing had gone wrong for the Derby field ahead of the May 6 Run for the Roses, which was why Royal Mo had not made the cut. Twenty-first in points entering the Triple Crown's first leg, he was named to the also-eligible list but not, ultimately, the 20-horse race.

Shirreffs' consolation — that Royal Mo would at least run in the Preakness this Saturday — was reduced to another what-could-have-been lament Sunday morning. Something had not gone well. There was, in fact, a break. During a workout at Pimlico Race Course, Royal Mo fractured a bone in his right front leg. He was sent to the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center for further examination and treatment.

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The injury is career-ending, but "there isn't any other damage, so that's a very good thing for him," Shirreffs said.

Jockey Gary Stevens pulled up Royal Mo at the top of the stretch during a scheduled 5-furlong workout Sunday, the 3-year-old's final scheduled preparation for the Preakness. Stevens said he heard a "pop" turning into the stretch while racing outside a workmate.

The injured limb was bandaged, and a splint was applied, before Royal Mo was loaded onto an equine ambulance and taken to a Pimlico barn for X-rays.

"He was going better than he was [in his workout] before the Santa Anita Derby," in which he finished third, Stevens said. "I was getting goose bumps down my neck. As we were rounding into the stretch, I was thinking how much I was going to let him gallop out. Thankfully, when he went, I had a hold of him. He looked out for me and I looked out for him. He pulled himself up."

The track, he added, was "perfect. It's just one of those deals."

The son of Uncle Mo — who also sired 2016 Derby champion Nyquist — arrived at Pimlico on Tuesday, shipped on the same flight carrying Derby winner Always Dreaming. Royal Mo arrived in good shape, Shirreffs said last week, an advantage afforded to horses having gone through his particular limbo.

In 2012, Churchill Downs for the first time allowed also-eligible entrants into the Kentucky Derby. As many as four horses would be permitted to run if another withdrew from the field before scratch time the Friday before the race. In the past five years, four also-eligibles who did not compete in the Derby went on to enter the Preakness field.

They typically have made the two-week wait worth it. First, there was Pablo del Monte, in 2014. He finished fourth. The next year, Tale of Verve finished second. Last year, Laoban finished sixth in the 11-horse field, while Cherry Wine, a 20-1 morning-line long shot, overtook Nyquist late to finish second, 3 1/2 lengths behind Exaggerator.

"I think it's probably a little bit of an advantage to have a fresh horse, right?" Shirreffs said Thursday.

Of Royal Mo's six career starts, just one had been "disappointing," Shirreffs said. After breaking his maiden in November, the colt, owned by Jerry and Ann Moss, won a Grade III race at Santa Anita Park to begin his year. In the Rebel Stakes six weeks later, at Oaklawn Park, Royal Mo finished ninth. "We thought he'd do much better," Shirreffs said.

Overexcited, Royal Mo had had trouble breathing in the Grade II race. He was outfitted with a tongue tie ahead of April's Santa Anita Derby for the first time, then finished third. That race will be Royal Mo's last.

"It's very difficult," Shirreffs said Sunday. "Our hopes and dreams were with Royal Mo."

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His injury means there are 10 horses committed to racing in the Preakness; entries are due Wednesday morning, and posts will be drawn Wednesday night.

Note: Trainer Todd Pletcher said Preakness favorite Always Dreaming, who galloped about 1 1/2 miles Sunday morning at Pimlico, is "showing us everything we hoped he would show us." He added: "Aside from deciding to jog him one day instead of gallop, which turned out to be fine, literally everything has gone exactly the way we kind of mapped it out."

jshaffer@baltsun.com
twitter.com/jonas_shaffer

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