You could call it a near-breeze.
John Ward Jr., the trainer of Monarchos, stuck to his plan of not breezing the Kentucky Derby winner before the Preakness. Instead, Ward sent Monarchos on a strong gallop yesterday at Pimlico, a gallop so strong it was, well, nearly a breeze.
A breeze is a workout at a set distance at near-racing speed. Trainers use them to get horses in condition for a race. Ward, who describes himself as an old-fashioned trainer, said after the Derby that Monarchos was fit and needed only jogs and gallops before the Preakness.
"I don't need to train him," Ward said yesterday. "I just need to prepare him."
Monarchos galloped about 1 5/8 miles around the Pimlico track, site of Saturday's Preakness. Ward timed one mile of the gallop in 1 minute 52.81 seconds. He timed the eighth of a mile just before the finish line in 12.72 seconds. That's about as fast as a horse would run while breezing.
"This horse is deceptive about how easily he gallops and gets across the ground," Ward said. "I'm happy with him at this point. I don't see anything standing in the way of his putting in a top performance."
Monarchos' exercise rider, Bryan Beccia, told Ward: "We're right where we want to be with him."
Said Ward: "I just need to make sure he's a relaxed, fit, happy animal. I think he's totally comfortable with the racetrack. He's as good as he was before the Derby."
A good workout
A P Valentine, who experienced an inordinately rough trip in Kentucky, worked a strong five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 at Pimlico under exercise rider Jamie Sanders yesterday.
Trainer Nick Zito was pleased because "the track was not that fast and I was looking for him to go about 1:02, but he made the track look fast and did it very easily. Jamie had a good hold all the way and never moved her hands on him."
The colt was still without a jockey after training hours, with Zito preferring to wait until the remainder of the field becomes clear. "There are plenty of jockeys out there that can get it done. There's no panic," he said.
Zito's only Preakness victory was with long shot Louis Quatorze, who upset Skip Away and favored Cavonnier in 1996 by setting rapid fractions and leading all the way. His time of 1:53 2/5 equaled the 11-year-old stakes record set by Tank's Prospect.
A P Valentine will be his 10th starter in the race, including at least one every year since 1991. His closest finish was a second with Go For Gin, beaten three parts of a length by Tabasco Cat in 1994.
The Bob Baffert-trained duo of Point Given and Congaree both went five furlongs at Churchill Downs in separate works, the former going in :59 3/5 and the latter in 1:00 2/5.
Baffert removed the blinkers from Congaree, who finished a game third in the Derby, in an effort to try "to get him to relax a little bit. He picked it up a little the last eighth and went out in 1:13 and change [for six furlongs]."
Derby favorite Point Given had good position at Churchill Downs, but flattened out in the final quarter-mile and Baffert said "that day with the [rapid] pace, it just didn't work. Maybe he should have been back with Monarchos."
Jerry Bailey replaces Victor Espinoza as the rider on Congaree, who will arrive tomorrow with Point Given and Dollar Bill.
Dollar Bill, another traffic victim in the Derby, breezed five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 at Churchill Downs. Dollar Bill has been hurt by poor luck in his past three races, clipping heels in the Louisiana Derby, getting pounded at the start of the Blue Grass Stakes and stopped in his tracks in the Kentucky Derby.
Bay Eagle a definite
Lazy Lane Farm's Bay Eagle was pronounced as a definite starter by trainer Graham Motion, and the gifted local youngster, Ramon Dominguez, will be aboard.
"I'm sure there are several trainers in the race that aren't too worried that we're going," Motion said. "In the Lexington, at a mile and a sixteenth, it looked as if he needed more distance. He comes from behind and I think he fits in."
The Preakness is 1 3/16 miles.
Monarchos is early favorite
Track handicapper Clem Florio released an early Preakness line yesterday with Monarchos the favorite at 2-to-1 followed by Congaree at 5-to-2 and Point Given at 3-to-1. Richly Blended was at 8-1, A P Valentine at 12-1, Dollar Bill and Mr. John at 15-1, Bay Eagle, Marciano and Percy Hope at 30-1, and Griffinite at 50-1.
Prospective Preakness field
Horse ............ Trainer ........................... Last race
A P Valentine .... Nick Zito ....................... 7th, Kentucky Derby
Bay Eagle ........ H. Graham Motion .............. 3rd, Lexington Stakes*
Congaree ......... Bob Baffert .................... 3rd, Kentucky Derby
Dollar Bill ........ Dallas Stewart ................. 15th, Kentucky Derby
Griffinite ........ Jennifer Leigh-Pedersen ....... 2nd, Lexington Stakes*
Marciano ......... Tim Ritchey ................... 1st, Federico Tesio Stakes
Monarchos ....... John Ward Jr. ................ 1st, Kentucky Derby
Mr. John ........ Elliott Walden ................. 8th, Lexington Stakes*
Percy Hope ...... Tony Reinstedler .............. 1st, Lone Star Derby
Point Given ....... Bob Baffert ................... 5th, Kentucky Derby
Richly Blended ... Ben Perkins Jr.................. 1st, Withers Stakes*
-In the Lexington Stakes, Mr. John was disqualified from second to eighth for impeding another horse. Griffinite was moved up from third to second, Bay Eagle from fourth to third.