Paul Reddam seemed almost too relaxed. The owner of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist had arrived in Baltimore on Wednesday just an hour or so before they pulled the post positions for Saturday's Preakness, but he seemed no worse for a long ride, which gave him something in common with horse racing's newest Triple Crown candidate.
As the crowds fill the infield and the stands at Pimlico Race Course for the 141st running of the Preakness on Saturday, consultants working for the state will be fanning out to assess what's needed to keep the Triple Crown race there on future May Saturdays.
As the director of horsemen's relations for the Maryland Jockey Club, Phoebe Hayes, 55, is a crucial figure behind the scenes of Preakness weekend. Whether her office is coordinating rides for owners, overseeing admittance to the winner's circle after the Preakness Stakes or arranging a White House tour, Hayes juggles it all, ensuring smooth visits for the VIPs.
The state of horse racing today is much like the spindly legged 1,200-pound thoroughbreds themselves — majestic but fragile. Some in the industry worry that if an unscrupulous trainer's drug practices contributed to a thoroughbred's fatal misstep, it could devastate a once mighty sport that now only gains prominence for the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
Cathryn Sophia went off as a 5-1 co-second choice in the Kentucky Oaks and broke cleanly, sitting in fourth place for much of the race as jockey Javier Castellano patiently waited to make his move. When he called on her to strike from the outside, she took the lead decisively and won by an easy three lengths in front of a record Oaks crowd of 124,589.
Grinding Speed didn't disappoint. In 22 sanctioned races over hill and dale, he has eight victories, six seconds and one third. Last year, after wins in the prestigious $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup and $75,000 International Gold Cup, the National Steeplechase Association named him its 2015 timber champion. At 10, the thoroughbred Wharton bought on the cheap for $2,000 has earned $295,200 — and he's still in his prime.
Superstardom did nothing to dull American Pharoah's competitive form. He won the $1.75-million Haskell almost casually, with jockey Victor Espinoza easing him to the finish line as a record crowd of 60,983 roared approval.
All told, some 600,000 green acres are preserved in Maryland by the horse industry. The more interest and excitement generated by thoroughbred stars such an American Pharoah, the easier it is to save this open space from development.
Questions quickly turned to American Pharoah's future schedule and his potential impact on a struggling sport, but Baffert and owner Ahmed Zayat mostly wanted to soak in the moment after the horse won the 2015 Belmont Stakes and horse racing's Triple Crown.
Two questions have hovered over American Pharoah's preparations for the Belmont Stakes: Can he triumph where 13 others have failed and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978? If he does it, would his achievement lift a sport that has lost much of its stature over the last four decades?
When American Pharoah breaks from the gate at Belmont Park on Saturday, he'll be carrying more than jockey Victor Espinoza on his broad shoulders. He'll also have to lug 37 years worth of baggage around the track on his 1 ½-mile run for horse racing's elusive Triple Crown.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert continues to see all the right signs from his Triple Crown contender American Pharoah, who took his first gallop over the track at Belmont Park on Thursday morning. "When he finally came down the stretch, he was moving so fluidly, like he usually does," Baffert said. "So it was a very positive gallop. It looks like he's moving along just like he always moves along. It was very comforting to see that. You can tell he still has his energy."
What mainstream attention horse racing garners is overwhelmingly focused on the Triple Crown. Is it all too much? Are we obsessed with the Triple Crown to the detriment of a sport desperate to attract attention the rest of the year?
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert nodded in approval as he heard American Pharoah will start from the No. 5 hole when he attempts to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in history in Saturday¿s Belmont Stakes.
As with most debates involving sports, there are varying reasons for the absence of a Triple Crown champion racehorse over the past 37 years. It has as much to do with bank accounts as bloodlines, yet trying to pinpoint the main reason is as elusive as the achievement itself.