There have been distractions this week - Rachel Alexandra's new owners deciding to enter the filly in the 134th Preakness and creating buzz among horse fans, and the owners of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird talking about how to keep her out.
But Tuesday evening, when Mine That Bird arrived by van at Pimlico Race Course surrounded by a police escort, the eyes of the racing world were back on the petite Kentucky Derby winner. Mine That Bird clearly enjoyed his stardom.
After being unloaded, fed and watered, Mine That Bird was brought out of Stall 40, traditional home of Derby winners, and walked into the light and evening air. To the surprise of photographers, he stood and posed for pictures like a model. First straight on, then a turn to the right and a turn to the left, then repeat.
Through it all the horse stood perfectly still, his head cocked, his ears pricked. As cameras focused on him, he looked directly into them and then into the eyes of individuals in the crowd of reporters and track workers who had gathered to see him.
In the annals of Preakness tradition it was, as far as anyone could remember, an unprecedented act of graciousness on the part of trainer Bennie "Chip" Woolley Jr., who had just driven his horse a little less than 10 hours to get here.
Usually, the Derby-winning horse is stabled and secluded and the trainer spends as much time as he can avoiding the post-arrival interview.
But Woolley, with his cowboy hat, dark glasses and mustache, said he and his horse are enjoying all the attention.
"I called a friend while we were driving in with the police escort," Woolley said. "I told him, 'This is the first time the police are leading me instead of chasing me.' We're having a lot of fun and really enjoying all of this.
"Really, it has been exhilarating with so many people, people who don't even really care about horse racing, an overflowing number of people from grooms to people in restaurants coming up to congratulate us, saying: 'Way to go! This was one for the little guy.' It's fantastic. I hope it brings a new breath of air into the industry because people have gotten sour on racing and I hope to see something good come of it."
Mine That Bird can be described as a small horse in a plain brown wrapper. But he has an intelligent face and well-muscled legs that served him well on the first Saturday in May. Owned by Mark Allen and Leonard Blach of Roswell, N.M., he went off as a 50-1 shot in the Derby and for much of the race he lived up to his odds, running last.
But over the last three-eighths of a mile in the sport's biggest race, the tough, gelded son of 2004 Belmont upset winner Birdstone and the grandson of 1996 Derby winner Grindstone, passed 18 horses and won pulling away by seven lengths.
"If you can't get excited about that, you better look somewhere else for your entertainment," trainer Larry Jones said after working Friesan Fire at Pimlico on Tuesday morning. "I mean, there's a horse that came through a hole that wasn't there, and he came home fast. I mean he came home as fast as Secretariat, from what I understand.
"Hopefully, for horse racing, he can do it twice in a row, though hopefully, for my case, he can't. ... We'll see what happens."
Meanwhile, in Louisville on Tuesday morning, as Mine That Bird was being loaded into the van, Pioneerof the Nile trainer Bob Baffert couldn't help but notice the condition of the horse.
"He looked great," Baffert told Pimlico officials. "He's going to be tough, that horse. He looks good. It looks like the Derby didn't take a lot out of him."
The question facing Mine That Bird Saturday is whether he'll be a one-shot wonder like 2005 Derby winner Giacomo, who came out of nowhere and returned there after finishing a distant third in the Preakness; or whether he'll be like Charismatic, a 31-1 long-shot winner in the 1999 Derby, who backed it up with a Preakness victory before finishing third (with a broken leg) in the Belmont Stakes.
Woolley said he, too, is eager to find out.
"We'll see," he said, as Mine That Bird was taken away to eat some grass. "He's trained super and he's doing good, and all I can ask him is to give me all he's got. So we'll go out there and see what the results are on Saturday."