High hopes for Norman Asbjornson

Long-shot son of Real Quiet 'peaking at the right time,' says Nye, horse's co-owner

May 17, 2011|By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun

Harry Nye, who co-owns Norman Asbjornson, the Preakness contender trained by Chris Grove, is blunt when asked about his horse's chances in Saturday's race.

"We're going to win," he said. "The horse is peaking at the right time and we're going to surprise the hell out of everybody. We're going to kick everybody's butt."

Hello, Mr. Subtle.

Nye, 65, lives in Harrisburg, Pa. He and his partner, Thomas McClay, own about 22 horses; this is their first trip to the Preakness. He said he knows the early odds have Norman Asbjornson as a 30-1 long shot, but he believes in the son of Real Quiet, who won the 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

He also believes in Norman Asbjornson, the 75-year-old who founded AAON, a corporation that designs, manufactures and sells semi-custom heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment.

Asbjornson is still the president and chief executive officer of the company for which Nye worked.

"This is what happened," Asbjornson said. "He called me up one day and said, 'I have to ask you a question. You made it possible for me to make more money than I ever thought I would and I think you're lucky. So I have a horse I want to name after you and hope a little of your luck rubs off on him.' I was flattered."

Asbjornson, who grew up in Winifred, Mont., a place he says had a hitching post on Main Street when he was a kid, was located about 24 miles from the nearest paved road and was heavy on ranching, admits he has not been much into horse racing.

But he went to the Wood Memorial and saw his namesake run.

"I hope he's right," Asbjornson said, when hearing of Nye's projection. "I grew up with great expectations but not much knowledge. The horse has great durability, but he didn't have much enthusiasm for the launch [the starting gate]. If he gets out of the gate on time, I think he could run them into the ground."

Asbjornson said he plans to reach Baltimore tonight.

"I had a great time at the Wood Memorial and I'm not unfamiliar with Baltimore," he said. "I fully expect a degree of pleasure again."

Concealed Identity close

Concealed Identity, winner of the Federico Tesio Stakes on May 7 at Pimlico, is "80-20" to run in Saturday's Preakness, said Linda Gaudet, who co-owns the horse with Morris Bailey.

With Ruler On Ice passing on the Preakness, Concealed Identity moved into the prospective Preakness field, which is limited to 14 horses. Based at Bowie Training Center, Concealed Identity is the son of 2004 Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones.

"We're very realistic. We're shooting for the stars, but other than the horses from the Derby -- the 1-2-3-4 finishers that are coming -- we're on the same page with the other horses," said Gaudet, the wife of trainer Eddie Gaudet. "The horse has run very well at Pimlico and has done everything we've asked."

Concealed Identity, who won the Maryland Juvenile Championship last year, was winless in three starts this year before being sent around two turns at Pimlico on April 15, when he won an entry-level allowance by more than three lengths. The Maryland-bred gelding came right back on May 7 to score a two-length victory over favored Ruler On Ice in the Tesio.

"We don't have to ship. The horse has run well at Pimlico, so that's always been an advantage," Gaudet said. "Eddie hasn't had a horse in the Preakness before, and they don't come along very often."

Sheldon Russell will retain the mount, Linda Gaudet said.

Sprucing up the stalls

On Wednesday, when the Preakness horses begin to arrive, you won't be able to do what was possible on Monday at Pimlico Race Course. On Monday you could walk down the shed row at the Preakness Stakes barn and look in the stalls. They were empty, of course. Really empty. In most of the stalls, all that was present was the dirt floors.

But in stalls 23-26, there was 2 to 3 feet of pine-chip bedding spread out and in stalls 22 and 18, Mike McCullough and Nick Chuckas, two Anne Arundel Community College students, who have summer jobs working at the Maryland tracks, were busy shaking out straw beds.

The two have been busy at Pimlico for three weeks now, scraping old paint, applying new, fixing roofs and cleaning stalls.

"We don't know what horses are going in the stalls," said McCullough, 18.

"They leave the bedding here and we just shake it out and get it ready," said Chuckas, 22, the son of Maryland Jockey Club President Tom Chuckas.

Wyomia awaiting company

In Barn D, where many of the Black-Eyed Susan horses get stabled, graded stakes winner Wyomia is all alone. She pokes her dark-brown face, with its sweet expression, out from stall No. 11 at the sound of approaching feet. She grabs a bite of hay from the bale hanging beside her door and looks at her visitor with as much interest as the visitor has for her.

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