Is this the year a Maryland-trained horse wins the Preakness again?

Went The Day Well is Maryland's best shot at a Preakness States title this year.
Went The Day Well is Maryland's best shot at a Preakness States title this year. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

Deputed Testamony is 32-years-old. His dark brown coat is shaggy, and his biggest excitement is going into his paddock at Bonita Farm for three or four hours of grazing each day.

He is a pensioner, an icon. The oldest living winner of a Triple Crown race.

But when Billy Boniface looks at the horse in his paddock, he sees the striking colt that was born and trained at the family farm and raced to victory in the 1983 Preakness — the last horse bred or trained in Maryland to do so.

"Oh my gosh, I still get goose bumps when I look at him and remember that day," said Boniface, who was 18 then and had just taken over the breeding operation at the farm. "It's pretty special. You never forget it."

This year, for the first time in at least three decades, there will be four Maryland-based trainers with horses in the Preakness Stakes. (None were bred here.)

Bowie Training Center-based Chris Grove brings Pretension, owned by Maryland native Irving Kidwell of Annapolis; Fair Hill trainer Graham Motion has fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher Went the Day Well; Fair Hill trainer Michael Matz brings Teeth of the Dog, the third-place finisher in the Wood Memorial; and the famed Sagamore Farm has Tiger Walk, the farm's first Preakness entry under the ownership of Under Armour founder and Maryland native Kevin Plank, who is restoring the facility.

And so, the question: With four of the 11 horses in this 137th running of the race having Maryland connections, is this the year one will win and give the locals those goose bumps again?

"I suppose there is an outside chance," said Mike Watchmaker, the national handicapper for the Daily Racing Form. "But those four horses could each run their very best races and still not crack the top 2. I'm sorry to spoil the party."

The top 2 are pre-race favorite Bodemeister and Kentucky Derby winnerI'll Have Another.

Television commentator Jerry Bailey, a former jockey, isn't quite so pessimistic.

"It's not out of the realm of possibility," Bailey said. "Went the Day Well has a fairly good chance."

Bailey thinks the longer shots will have a tougher time, though.

"The thing with long shots is if there is just one outstanding horse and all the others are long shots, it's just one horse that has to have an off day," he said. "But that's not the way it is in the Preakness. There is Bodemeister and I'll Have Another, who I believe have an equal chance. And I think Went the Day Well has a pretty good chance. They'd all have to have an off day for one of the other Maryland horses to come through. When you have two or three that are better, it rarely happens that they all falter."

And, he adds, Pretension and Tiger Walk may just not be fast enough.

But it's a horse race, and anything can happen. Just ask Kidwell, who owns Pretension. He's been in the horse racing business since 1979 and is now experiencing his first Preakness.

"Any horse can win the Preakness," Kidwell said. "I'm 87 years old. It's time to win or time to go. We've won at Pimlico. We've had an extra week's rest. This is probably the best horse I've had. And, I need it."

Kidwell has been ill with a bout of pneumonia. He plans to be at the race, "if at all possible," and said he'd love to see a horse with Maryland connections win, even if it isn't his.

"I'd like to see a Maryland horse," he said. "It would be absolutely inspiring to others. The crowd proved that to me when we won [the Canonero II stakes at Pimlico on May 5]. Everyone was so excited."

Grove, who trains Pretension, is frank.

"We're surely going to be a long shot," he said. "But it is possible. If it wasn't, they wouldn't run races."

Around Maryland race tracks King Leatherbury, the third-winningest trainer all-time in the country, is known as an astute handicapper. Friday, in the Triple Crown Room at Pimlico, he said this will not be the year a Maryland horse wins — but he did leave a window of hope.

"Here's the deal," he said. "There are three possible winners 6, 7 and 9 [Creative Cause, Bodemeister and I'll Have Another]. But they might not run their races. If they don't, 1-4-5 [Tiger Walk, Zetterholm and Went the Day Well] could step up.

"Bodemeister will be the favorite, but I'll Have Another has done nothing wrong. He's done everything right. But can he keep it up? A lot of horses don't run well coming back in two weeks."

In the 136 previous runnings, only eight Maryland-bred colts have won the race. Since Deputed Testamony's victory, nine horses either bred here or trained here have finished in the top 5, four of those in the top two.

None have won. But Maryland breds Oliver's Twist, also bred at Bonita, and Magic Weisner, bred and trained by the late Nancy Alberts, came oh, so close. In 1995 Oliver's Twist lost by a half-length to Timber Country, and in 2002 Magic Weisner came within 3/4ths-lengths of War Emblem.

Tiger Walk ran what was viewed as "an OK race" in a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial, and even his trainer Ignacio Correas said recently at Sagamore that Tiger Walk will have "a lot of improving to do" to get the job done.

Pretension is viewed as being speed challenged and with Bodemeister, who ran some of the fastest splits in Derby history, expected to set the pace, that's not good for Pretension.

Teeth of the Dog is given "a puncher's chance" by some, but not by others.

It is only Went the Day Well that most consider realistic, and Motion, while impressed by the way his horse has recovered from the Derby, is not promising a celebration for a Maryland connected horse.

He is however, promising a great day for Maryland racing.

"Certainly I feel my horse belongs in the race," Motion said. "But he's going to have to come back and run the same race he ran in the Derby, and that's not always easy to do. And until you take him over there on Saturday, you really don't know how they're going to handle it."

Motion said Maryland racing doesn't need a Preakness winner, that the sport is strong in the state and has proven it time and again.

"What amazes me is even after how many years I've been here — and this is where I started — not much has changed," he said. "The trainers are the same and still very competitive. Through all the woes, it's still a very competitive place to race, and that speaks volumes."

He rattles off a list of names — Smarty Jones, Barbaro, Animal Kingdom. One came from just across the state line, two from the state. All amazing performers, all Kentucky Derby winners.

"When you think about the small population of horsemen in the area, to have that number of [relatively recent] Triple Crown race winners right here, is incredible," he said. "What's really great about the Preakness, whether it's a great Preakness or whether a horse with Maryland connections wins, is that it's in Maryland. It brings attention to the great racing in Maryland. Nothing can duplicate that. This is the week everyone talks about racing. It will be a great day."


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