War Emblem led every step of the Kentucky Derby, setting a comfortable pace and then surging like a fresh horse down the stretch to a four-length victory. That prompted this declaration yesterday from John Ward Jr.: The Preakness will not be a replay.
Ward trains Booklet, a speedy little horse capable of keeping pace with War Emblem - in other words, pressuring him early and perhaps compromising his chances late. Ward articulated what will likely be the story line leading to the 127th Preakness Stakes on May 18 at Pimlico.
"I think everybody's going to be after War Emblem," Ward said. "It's going to be like the Indy 500 leaving the gate. There'll be a jam-up at the first turn."
Booklet has shot to the lead in his past six races, including a win in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and a second in the Blue Grass. He is one of several horses who skipped the Kentucky Derby but will challenge War Emblem in the Preakness.
Three of those horses have arrived at the stakes barn at Pimlico. Yesterday, USS Tinosa arrived from Churchill Downs. His trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, had wanted to run him in the Derby but couldn't break into the field because of a lack of graded-stakes earnings.
USS Tinosa, who finished fifth in the Santa Anita Derby, joined the two Preakness horses already in Baltimore: Crimson Hero and Straight Gin. Trainer Nick Zito sent his pair early, as he always does. They arrived Tuesday.
Today, Equality, trained by H. Graham Motion, is to arrive from Delaware Park, and tomorrow, the lightly raced Menacing Dennis, trained by Jeff Bonde, is to arrive from California. After that, no more Preakness horses are due until Wednesday, when two planes from Kentucky will transport the Derby horses to the second leg of racing's Triple Crown.
The focus will be on War Emblem, surprise winner of the Derby at odds of 20-1. Bob Baffert, who trains the Our Emblem colt, said he rebounded so quickly from the Derby that he sent him back to the track a day early. War Emblem jogged Wednesday and galloped yesterday at Churchill Downs.
"So far, so good," Baffert said. "We're charging the battery back up getting him ready for next week."
Baffert didn't tout his horse before the Derby, he said, because he hadn't seen enough of him to know how good he was. Baffert didn't start training War Emblem until three weeks before the race. One of his leading clients, Saudi Arabian Prince Ahmed bin Salman, bought War Emblem after his 6 1/4 -length victory April 6 in the Illinois Derby.
Now, Baffert says War Emblem might be as good as any horse he has trained, including Silver Charm, Real Quiet and Point Given, all of whom won two legs of the Triple Crown.
"He's as good as any horse I've brought there," Baffert said, referring to the Kentucky Derby. "That was a pretty devastating win the other day."
Expected to try to derail War Emblem's run toward the Triple Crown are two, possibly three, horses from the Derby. Proud Citizen, who finished second, and Medaglia d'Oro, who finished fourth, are headed to the Preakness. Trainer Ken McPeek said that his Harlan's Holiday, the Derby favorite who finished seventh, might make the trip.
In addition to Booklet, Crimson Hero, Equality, Menacing Dennis, Straight Gin and USS Tinosa, others expected for the Preakness, limited to 14 horses, are Easyfromthegitgo (second in the Louisiana Derby), the Laurel-based Magic Weisner (second in the Federico Tesio Stakes), Sunday Break (third in the Wood Memorial Stakes) and perhaps Shah Jehan or Table Limit (both trained by D. Wayne Lukas).
What: 127th Preakness Stakes, second leg of thoroughbred horse racing's Triple Crown
Where: Pimlico Race Course
When: May 18
Post time: 6:04 p.m.
Distance: 1 3/16 miles
Purse: $1 million