By Christina Bossinakis
Baltimore, MD–The leadup to this year's GI Preakness S. has proven anything but routine with news of the Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit (Protonico) testing positive for Betamethasone following his GI Kentucky Derby win two weeks ago. However, just two days before the second jewel in the Triple Crown, the vibe around the Stakes Barns on Pimlico's back side had a decidedly more business-as-usual feel rather than a Classic-week electric charge.
El Camino Real Derby winner Rombauer (Twirling Candy), third in the GII Toyota Blue Grass S., and Keepmeinmind (Laoban), last season's GII Kentucky Jockey Club victor, were among the initial horses to go to the track prior to the renovation break. The bigger influx of stakes contenders appeared when the track re-opened at about 7:45, led the Wayne Lukas-trained Ram (American Pharoah).
“Coming here, you hope to see a good level of energy,” said Lukas. “I'm watching how focused he is and how much energy he has. When you make a nine-hour van ride [from Louisville, Kentucky], you want to see if he is adjusting and to make sure he's eating and that he's showing that on the racetrack. That's my primary concern. I want to make sure he has a good energy level Saturday and I see it increasing every day. Today was better than yesterday, and yesterday was better than the first day. We're in good shape.”
Asked whether his charge's come-from-behind running style was a good fit for Saturday's race, Lukas, a six-time Preakness winner, said, “They often say this race is speed favoring, but I haven't really found it to be that way except for Oxbow [2013 Preakness winner], who took off and they let him have the lead. But overall, I think it's a fair race. The track plays really fair. If you have a good closer or a mid-pack type of horse, I think it's fair for everybody. I don't think you have to have a certain type of horse to win this race.”
Coming out shortly after the morning line longshot, GIII Lecomte S. winner Midnight Bourbon (Tiznow) looked a picture of health (hello dapples!) shortly after departing the Stakes Barn, drawing plenty of praise from the small group of onlookers.
“Hey Steve, your horse is my favorite,” yelled a spectator as the colt's trainer, Steve Asmussen, made his way to the track.
“He's my favorite too!,” shouted back the Hall of Famer. “Add my name to the list!”
Most of the morning's attention swirled around the Baffert-trained pair of Medina Spirit, who was the first of the two Bafferts to hit the track, followed by Concert Tour (Street Sense).
Accompanied by Jimmy Barnes astride the barn's pony, the striking Medina Spirit appeared to get over the track very well while held under an easy gallop. About 30 minutes later, barnmate Concert Tour, winner of the GII Rebel S. and GII San Vincente S., was led out to the track by Barnes for some easy maintenance work. Baffert, who has been under fire the past week, is not expected to attend this weekend's race.
Other Preakness contenders sent to the track after the renovation break, GII Wood Memorial S. third Crowded Trade (More Than Ready), GIII Withers S. scorer Risk Taking (Medaglia d'Oro) and Unbridled Humor (Honor Code), runner-up in the GIII Stonestreet Lexington S. Both Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher are expected to be on-hand in Baltimore Friday.
Always a big draw in the mornings, bath time for Medina Sprint and Midnight Bourbon, who both appeared in top form, drew a gaggle of media looking for a photo opp. Both colts made a striking impression, not only for their glowing health, but also for their cool and relaxed demeanor in the face of the photo-hungry press.
Noticeably absent from Thursday's a.m. trackwork, France Go de Ina (Will Take Charge) was relegated to walking around the shedrow yesterday following his solo sojourn after losing his rider Wednesday morning. The Japanese-based colt will return to the track Friday morning and is also expected to school at the gate.