Preparing for a 'Super' Preakness

Derby winner draws No. 8 post, made 5-2 favorite

May 13, 2010|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

Todd Pletcher is not a man who enjoys idle moments. Even when he's riding in the passenger seat of an SUV — as he was Wednesday morning, when he made the journey from Monmouth Park in New Jersey to Baltimore — he cannot sit still.

He does not listen to music, read a book, gaze at the scenery or make friendly conversation with the driver, assistant Adriane Hall. Instead, Pletcher works. He cracks open his laptop, pulls up his weekly reports and his schedules, and dials up his clients. Not a minute, even in transit, is wasted.

"It's the same thing I would be doing in my office," Pletcher said. "I just try and do it on the road. It was actually a pretty productive three hours."

That kind of fastidious preparation is one of the reasons Pletcher showed up at Pimlico Race Course on Wednesday with Super Saver, the 2010 Kentucky Derby winner and the 5-2 morning-line favorite to win the 135th running of the Preakness. Details, in Pletcher's world, do not get glossed over. They do not get missed.

So when Super Saver stepped out of his trailer about 3 p.m. — having flown to Maryland on a plane from Kentucky and then escorted by police from the airport through Baltimore — it was Pletcher who was there to take the horse's reins. It was Pletcher who led the majestic brown colt to the barn, past a mob of clicking cameras and into the stall reserved for the Derby winner. The 42-year-old trainer had already been on the racetrack grounds for more than an hour, waiting and preparing, making certain that everything would go smoothly.

As his assistants gave Super Saver a bath, Pletcher stood by the horse's side, watching in silence, hands thrust deep into the back pockets of his blue jeans. If there were any suspicion that a Kentucky Derby victory might soften Pletcher, or make him complacent, the look on his face Wednesday afternoon was all anyone needed to shoot down those thoughts. This was not a man content with his success. This was a man gunning hard for the second leg of the Triple Crown.

"I'm sure [Super Saver] is a little curious as to why everyone is here taking his picture," Pletcher said. "But he's a pretty cool customer. Some horses that might upset, but not in his case. He's pretty laid-back."

Super Saver wasn't the only horse to arrive in Baltimore on Wednesday. Eight other thoroughbreds were on the plane with him from Louisville, Ky., including Lookin At Lucky, likely to be his stiffest competition Saturday. As expected, Super Saver was made the morning-line favorite at 5-2 after drawing the No. 8 position. But Lookin At Lucky, who drew No. 7, was a close second choice at 3-1. They were followed by Paddy O'Prado at 9-2 and then Dublin and Caracortado at 10-1.

But the lion's share of attention was focused on the Derby winner, as is always the case during Preakness week. In a few days, we'll know more about whether Super Saver really is a special horse or whether he's just a mudder who got a great trip from a great jockey in the slop at Churchill Downs. But for now, the dream of a Triple Crown is alive and well, and that remains the enduring appeal of the Preakness.

"You really try not to get ahead of the race in front of you," Pletcher said. "But obviously, we know that if he wins the Preakness, then it's a shot at immortality. You can't think about the Belmont too much because he's not there yet. But it's certainly in the back of your mind a little bit because he's the only one that has a chance to do it this year."

Unlike the Derby, for which trainers and horses arrive more than a week in advance to train, the trend for Preakness trainers in recent years has been to show up no sooner than midweek. Only one trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, brought his horses to Pimlico before Wednesday, and one horse, Schoolyard Dreams, won't arrive until the day of the race. But most of the trainers still insist the Preakness is one of their favorite events.

"I've had great luck here," said Lukas, who has won five Preaknesses. "We've run horses in the Derby that ran sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and they come in here and bam! For years, I used the Derby as a prep for the Preakness, thinking I could slip in and win the Triple Crown."

The smaller field, which is limited to 14horses, means that everyone has a realistic shot at winning, regardless of post position. And the working-class nature of the fans has a certain appeal for some of them.

"I love the Preakness," said trainer Bob Baffert, who has won the race four times. "It's my favorite of the classic races. I love the atmosphere and seeing all the animals in the infield, screaming and yelling. I was disappointed last year when they changed it. I knew that was going to be a disaster. I know they did it because it can get pretty rowdy, but that's how you get young fans into the game. They barely remember who won, but they love telling you they were there. That's what makes it the Preakness."

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