The first of the Preakness colts rolled into Pimlico Race Course yesterday, and it didn't take long for Tim Ritchey to warm to the setting.
With Afleet Alex grazing outside the stakes barn, the man with the unorthodox training methods and a passionate Pimlico past claimed "home-field advantage" for the 130th Preakness on May 21.
"I've always done well here," Ritchey said after a nearly 13-hour trip by van from Louisville, Ky., delivered the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby. "I've had a lot of good experiences.
"And [jockey Jeremy Rose] has won a lot of races here. So I feel like we have a home-field advantage."
That sentiment likely will be reinforced next week if, as expected, Afleet Alex becomes the morning-line favorite in a field that includes the Derby winner, 50-1 long shot Giacomo.
While Ritchey planned a mile gallop this morning for Afleet Alex, Giacomo hit the track in Louisville yesterday for a mile gallop and was pronounced fit by trainer John Shirreffs.
"I thought he did very well for his first day on the track [since the race]," Shirreffs told Churchill Downs officials. "He's eaten up and it doesn't look like he dropped too much weight from the Derby, so I think we're in good shape."
Shirreffs joined Giacomo at Churchill Downs after flying in from his California base at Hollywood Park. He is scheduled to put his colt aboard one of the Wednesday horse flights to Baltimore.
But he left uncertain exactly what kind of training schedule he'll adopt in the short-term.
"I think you have to wait and see," he said. "The Preakness comes up quickly in two weeks, so we'll have to let the horse dictate what kind of training he's going to get.
"I would prefer not to breeze. That would be my first preference. But he may get a two-minute clip or something. Who knows? It's hard to say."
Ritchey, who lives in Elkton and has his stable at Delaware Park, said Afleet Alex "recovered very quickly" from his Derby run, a fact he attributed in part to his unique training tactic of taking the colt out to the track twice a day.
The strategy produced the best effort of any of the horses considered before the race to be the cream of the Derby crop.
"You can achieve a higher fitness level with less stress," Ritchey said. "So they stay mentally and physically happy."
Ritchey's familiarity with Pimlico and his horse's makeup give him even more optimism going into the race.
"He's a little smaller, a little more agile," the trainer said of Afleet Alex. "He handles the turns a lot better - because they are a little bit tight.
"I think it's an advantage. He has enough tactical speed that we can put him where we want, depending on who all goes in the race."
There was one addition to the Preakness field yesterday. Golden Man, the gelded son of Suave Prospect, will be supplemented to the race, pushing the Preakness purse to $1.1 million.
Claimed out of a race at Gulfstream Park in January, Golden Man has made just one start for trainer Richard Dutrow, beating Coin Silver on April 2. Golden Man has won four of 11 lifetime starts.
"After the claim, we did some work on him and straightened him out," said Dutrow, who is attempting to get Edgar Prado as his jockey.
According to the Daily Racing Form, neither Flower Alley, under trainer Todd Pletcher, nor First Word (Bobby Frankel) will run in the Preakness. Frankel plans to enter High Limit, instead.
Ritchey, meanwhile, was settling in and enjoying the sights. Among other things, he weighed in on the controversial issue of slots.
"I used to be stabled in Maryland, at Laurel," he said. "I had 20 horses there, and 35-40 at Delaware for a couple years in a row. I enjoy Maryland racing. I wish they had slots, then I'd come stable here again."
Field for Preakness Stakes
Horse Trainer Last race
Giacomo John Shirreffs 1st Kentucky Derby
Closing Argument Kiaran McLaughlin 2nd Kentucky Derby
Afleet Alex Tim Ritchey 3rd Kentucky Derby
Wilko Craig Dollase 6th Kentucky Derby
Greeley's Galaxy Warren Stute 11th Kentucky Derby
Golden Man Richard Dutrow Jr. 1st allowance, Gulfstream Park
Hal's Image Barry Rose 1st Unbridled Stakes
Malibu Moonshine King T. Leatherbury 1st Federico Tesio Stakes
Scrappy T Robby Bailes 1st Withers Stakes
High Fly Nick Zito 10th Kentucky Derby
Noble Causeway Nick Zito 14th Kentucky Derby
Sun King Nick Zito 15th Kentucky Derby
Going Wild D. Wayne Lukas 18th Kentucky Derby
High Limit Bobby Frankel 20th Kentucky Derby
A.P. Arrow D. Wayne Lukas 9th Santa Anita Derby