More relief than sizzle

Draw isn't very exciting, just important

May 13, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

I think we can all agree that the post-position draw for the Preakness Stakes is not exactly sizzling entertainment.

If you've never seen it, it's called a "pill pull." Numbered discs are pulled out of a shaker to determine which horse in the field leaves from which gate.

So unless you find yourself jumping up and down in front of your TV when the pingpong balls shoot into those tubes and the lottery winners are drawn each night, this probably isn't something you would find riveting.

On the other hand, if you race horses for a living, the draw at Pimlico Race Course on Wednesday was a big, big deal.

Todd Pletcher, the normally reserved trainer of Super Saver, seemed as chatty as a Chamber of Commerce rep after his colt drew the No. 8 position as the 5-2 early favorite in the 12-horse field.

Conversely, when Lookin At Lucky drew the No. 7 position and was installed as the 3-1 second choice, trainer Bob Baffert looked like a man who had just walked away from a plane crash.

I'm so relieved," he said. "I was so worried. As soon as the [No.] 1 got by, I thought: 'Well, that's good. At least I'm not stuck there.'"

In the Derby, you'll recall, the colt drew the inside rail, racing's version of hell in a 20-horse field, prompting this sunny outburst from Baffert: "This horse, he can't catch a break. We named him wrong. Can we change the name?"

If he could have, Baffert would have changed the horse's name right there, maybe to something snappy like Why Am I Always Getting Hosed?

That would have been fitting because in the mud at Churchill Downs, the 6-1 favorite was bumped twice early in the race, ran into traffic and then surged to finish sixth behind eventual winner Super Saver.

But after Wednesday's draw, Baffert wore a smile so dazzling, I wanted to borrow his trademark shades when I talked to him.

"At least I feel I have a chance to win it," he went on. "In Kentucky, when we drew the 1, I knew I was doomed. And I knew I didn't have a chance unless something miraculous was going to happen."

The thing is, Baffert doesn't really believe in miracles.

Looking to change his luck, he decided to change jockeys after the Derby, replacing veteran Garrett Gomez with 25-year-old phenom Martin Garcia for the Preakness.

Garcia's a hotshot up-and-coming jock in California and is ranked 10th on the Equibase list of jockey earnings with $3,244,201.

More important, what Baffert sees in the guy is enormous potential. Potential you could liken to, oh, a young LeBron James.

"If he was a basketball player, he would have gone right to the NBA out of high school," Baffert said of Garcia, and here he began to seriously mix his sports metaphors.

"He's a young, raw talent," he continued. "I have a lot of confidence in him. I told him when he came to work for me: 'I can get you up to the plate, but you have to swing the bat.' And he said, 'What do you mean by that?' He didn't know what I was talking about! He's from Mexico, right? He's never seen baseball down there."

On the other hand, Gomez won't exactly be sitting around a pool sipping frozen cocktails this weekend.

Instead, he'll be aboard Dublin, a 10-1 shot going out of the No. 12 position.

Understand, Baffert wants you to know he's not dissing Gomez by changing jockeys after a failed run at the Derby.

But in a way, you can liken it to an NFL kicker who has had three straight field-goal tries blocked and gets pulled for another kicker in the next big game.

"I was trying to change the luck somehow," Baffert said. "It was going so bad. … I like the 7. I wanted 7, 8 or 9. I like those post positions here. You still have to get away well and everything. I'm just glad the horse finally drew a decent post position."

Pletcher seemed equally buoyed after Wednesday's draw.

Before winning the Derby with Super Saver two weeks ago, he was 0-for-24 in Derby tries, the most attempts in Derby history without a victory.

Now he finds himself in the strange position of running the Preakness favorite this weekend.

"Anytime you bring the Derby winner to Pimlico, you're the one everyone is looking at," he said. "You're the one everyone is hoping can win the second leg [of the Triple Crown] and get to Belmont. It's a pleasure to be here in that situation.

"Obviously there's some pressure, too. But that's what we wanted, why we're here."

Saturday, at a little past 6 in the evening, we'll know if his Triple Crown hopes are still alive.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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