Likely favorites Strike the Gold and Olympio drew the Nos. 3 and 7 posts, respectively, for the 116th Preakness tomorrow, a draw that elicited happy responses from their trainers.
"That was great as far as I was concerned," said Nick Zito, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold. "I wanted to stay inside early. It's good enough for me."
"I love it," said Ron McAnally, trainer of Olympio. "It's perfect because we have two off-the-pace horses on either side of us [Honor Grades in 6 and Whadjathink in 8]. I think it is perfect where we are, outside the early speed."
Eight horses were entered for the 1 3/16-mile race. The draw for posts was held shortly after 10 a.m. yesterday in the Sports Palace at Pimlico Race Course.
Although Pimlico has a reputation for being a track to favor speed and/or inside runners, that hasn't been the case for the Preakness. Over the past 82 years, winners have been evenly distributed from posts 1 through 8. Post 6, with 12 winners, has produced the most winners in those years.
Accordingly, virtually every trainer downplayed the significance of yesterday's draw.
"With eight horses, I believe everybody is OK," said Frank Brothers, trainer of Hansel.
Hansel is the enigma horse of this Preakness. In the days leading to the Derby, his bandwagon was crowded, and the Churchill Downs fans made him their 5-2 choice.
But the colt faltered in the stretch, finishing 10th, and following the Derby, he dropped out of sight and mind when he was shipped to Brothers' base near Chicago. He resurfaced Tuesday, becoming the last horse to join the Preakness field. Brothers said delaying his decision to run didn't necessarily hurt, but, he said, "It is always an advantage to train over the track you are going to race over.
"I didn't mind doing it this way. Obviously, it would have been better to fly or come right away from Churchill Downs, but, under the circumstances, I thought it was the best thing for our horse and our organization."
A calm before the storm has existed in the days leading to the Preakness. With the possibility of rain predicted for tomorrow, and the scarcity of mud form among the starters, some trainers are hoping that is not a literal interpretation.
"When it's wet, this is a really tough track," said D. Wayne Lukas, who will send out Corporate Report from the No. 1 post. "There are four or five legitimate mudders [based on their breeding] here, but I don't think any of them want to run on a wet track."
Hansel is the only starter to have ever competed in a stakes race on a track rated sloppy or muddy. He did it twice, finishing second and third, but those efforts came last year.
Whadjathink broke his maiden on a muddy track in his career debut. Strike the Gold won the Blue Grass Stakes on a track rated "good," but one that trainer Nick Zito said was plenty wet.
Zito is pleased with the way Strike the Gold has trained and acted since the colt scored a 1 3/4 -length victory over Best Pal in the Derby. "It's all good things for this horse," he said. "He's just like he was before the Derby. He's right on the trail -- the Triple Crown trail."
A victory by Strike the Gold would put him one race away from becoming just the 12th Triple Crown winner. Zito, who races regularly on the New York circuit, said: "All Strike the Gold has to do is win the Preakness, and New York will never be the same. Maybe we would get some people in the stands for that one."
Strike the Gold once again will be ridden by Chris Antley, who began his career in 1983 on the Maryland circuit. Antley is one of just three jockeys in the race without a prior Preakness victory.
While Strike the Gold, a son of Alydar, has typified a late bloomer -- the Derby was just his third victory from eight career starts -- trainer Ron McAnally said that Olympio always has been a precocious sort.
"It all went back to Texas where he was being broken," said McAnally, a member of the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.
"His first race, he broke terrible," he recalled. "He just took right off, and Eddie [Delahoussaye, who will ride him tomorrow] said he didn't even ask him. It was impressive, and we felt we really had something."
That was in the colt's maiden voyage at Santa Anita. He was 24 lengths behind after a quarter-mile and still 15 behind in mid-stretch, then finished fourth, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths.
Since then, Olympio has won five of seven starts, including his last three. He has shown effective tactical speed, something that may give him a strategic edge tomorrow.
"I am very confident," McAnally said.
Winning post positions in the Preakness from 1909 to 1990:
. 1.. .. .. 8
. 2.. .. ..11
. 3.. .. ..10
. 4.. .. .. 9
. 5.. .. ..10
. 6.. .. ..12
. 7.. .. .. 9
. 8.. .. .. 8
. 9.. .. .. 2
. 10. .. .. 1
. 11. .. .. 1
. 12. .. .. 2