A group of Preakness contenders who arrived Wednesday afternoon from Kentucky got their first experience on the Pimlico Race Course track Thursday morning.
Bob Baffert, trainer for Derby winner American Pharoah and Dortmund, who finished third, said both took to the track well.
"This cold air really … puts them on their toes," Baffert said. "They were happy to get out there. They just marched up to the race track and were eager to get to work. You don't want to see them leading up there like a borrowed dog. They were in a hurry to get up there and they really moved really well over the track. The track is really soft, a little deep.
"Dortmund came by first, he was really moving well," Baffert said. "You see he's comfortable, and then American Pharoah, as always, he just looks like he just … floats over the track. He looked very eager."
Baffert, who has won the Preakness five times including in each of his three attempts with a Kentucky Derby winner, said there's not much training-wise you can do with just two weeks between the races. You simply look for signs that the horse will fire on race day.
"Both horses, I was very happy the way they went over," he said. "They looked healthy, bright and in top condition. There's no regression there. It looks like they're coming up to another big race."
Simon Callaghan, trainer for Kentucky Derby runner-up Firing Line, also reported his colt looked "really good" on his first foray onto the Pimlico dirt.
"We just jogged and did a light lope," Callaghan said. "We're going to do a regular gallop tomorrow, but so far, so good. He seemed to get over it really well."
Lukas on Mr. Z sale
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas on Thursday elaborated on the two-hour window in which he engineered the sale of Mr. Z that allowed him to enter the colt in the Preakness, all for a 20-1 horse he said would need to make a "gargantuan leap" to win.
Lukas said Mr. Z's former owner, Ahmed Zayat, told him to bring the horse from Kentucky as a back-up plan in case of an issue with American Pharoah, another Zayat horse. Zayat called Lukas at 7:50 a.m. Wednesday to tell him Mr. Z wasn't going to run.
Shortly thereafter, Lukas mentioned in passing to Calumet Farm owner Brad Kelley that he was disappointed by the decision.
"If I had him, I'd run him," Lukas recalls Kelley saying. "I said, 'Why don't we see how that shakes out?' " The six-time Preakness-winning trainer consummated the sale, with them at first so far apart that he never thought he'd make the 10 a.m. Wednesday deadline.
He said he even offered to buy a stake on the horse himself, but ultimately, the two businessmen found a price that worked for both. Through mostly his own doing, Lukas earned himself a Preakness horse.
Mr. Z is one of five Kentucky Derby horses in the eight-horse Preakness field, but the only one to change jockeys. Lukas gave credit to jockey Ramon Vazquez for keeping Mr. Z on his feet and not having him wreck the race, but made the switch to jockey Corey Nakatani for the Preakness.
"I gave [Ramon] his opportunity to have his 15 minutes of fame in the Kentucky Derby, but if you can get a rider with experience that has been there and done that and everything … I want to take the best chance I can," Lukas said.
Veteran trainer Jose Corrales, who has been based at Maryland's Laurel Park for the last four years, has his first Triple Crown entrant in Bodhisattva, and said he'll prepare for the Preakness as if it's any other race weekend.
"You've just got to go back and forth, try and have a normal day," Corrales said. "They're just races. I take every race as a good race. I'm excited to win the $5,000s, I'm excited to win this one."
Bodhisattva, who won Maryland's top Preakness prep race, the Federico Tesio Stakes, at Pimlico last month, worked out at Laurel Park on Thursday morning before coming to Pimlico.
The horse will gallop early Friday morning, but doesn't have to go through some of the familiarizing that out-of-state contenders do.
"The horse didn't have to travel so long," Corrales said. "He had a little [spell] in between the race, and I think that's helpful for the horses not to be so tired."
Connections for Danzig Moon, who ran fifth in the Kentucky Derby, were absent from both Wednesday's draw and Thursday's Alibi Breakfast. But trainer Mark Casse said by telephone Wednesday night that he "came away from the draw smiling."
"I think it helps our chances because it hurts the chances of a few others," he said, referring to American Pharoah and Dortmund, at posts No.1 and No. 2.
"It's going to be a real tactical race, especially into the first turn," Casse said. "I can see two or three scenarios taking form that hopefully our horse will relax, sit back and be able to watch what's going on in front of him."
Danzig Moon will need a "perfect trip," he said, which he said hopefully involves the fast horses inside him leaving them the rail early.
"Hopefully the rail is a good place to be on Saturday," Casse said.