Preakness notes: Rombauer in; Ram new possibility

Preakness notes: Rombauer in; Ram new possibility
Photo: Shane Micheli/ Vassar Photography

John and Diane Fradkin’s Rombauer, third in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) in his most recent start, is headed to the May 15 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.

"That’s the plan,” trainer Michael McCarthy said Monday.

The homebred son of Twirling Candy automatically qualified for a starting berth in the 146th Preakness with his victory in the El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 13 at Golden Gate Fields. He was third, beaten 5¾ lengths in the Blue Grass behind champion Essential Quality and Highly Motivated, who finished fourth and 10th, respectively, in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

Since Rombauer has been most effective running from off the pace, McCarthy said the Blue Grass did not suit him because there was no early speed in the race at Keeneland.

“The horse laid a little closer than I would have liked but ran a credible third,” McCarthy said.

Rombauer was second by three-quarters of a length in the American Pharoah (G1) on Sept. 26 at Santa Anita and completed his 2-year-old season with a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Nov. 6 at Keeneland.

“He’s done everything and made a nice little progression from 2 to 3,” McCarthy said. “He’s put on a little weight. He’s a horse that takes pretty good care of himself, so he’s been pretty easy that way.”

McCarthy said that Rombauer will have his final work at Santa Anita and will ship to Pimlico early next week.

Get Her Number, who defeated Rombauer by three-quarters of a length in the American Pharoah, will not run in the Preakness, trainer Peter Miller said Monday.

‘All systems good’ for Kentucky Derby hero Medina Spirit 

Last September, Jimmy Barnes watched on his phone in an ambulance as his boss Bob Baffert captured a record-tying sixth Kentucky Derby (G1) with Authentic in the COVID-delayed Classic. Saturday, Baffert’s long-time assistant trainer was back watching the race in person at Churchill Downs as Medina Spirit provided Baffert a record-breaking seventh Kentucky Derby victory.

Barnes had sustained a fractured wrist when the barn’s other 2020 Derby entrant, Thousand Words, reared and flipped as the assistant trainer attempted to saddle him in the paddock’s walking ring. Knocked off balance, Barnes fell and landed awkwardly on his right wrist. Barnes was back at Baffert’s Churchill Downs barn the next morning after the break was set at Louisville’s Norton Audubon Hospital, but he ultimately had surgery in California with screws inserted to stabilize the injury.

“Especially if you win, you want to be here,” Barnes reflected Monday at Churchill Downs. “But I’d been here enough and we’d won it enough that I knew what was ahead of me. They didn’t know how hard it was going to be to get out of here. They said we could either go now (to the hospital) or it could be like 8 o’clock when you get out of here. I knew I probably had four or five hours at least ahead of me, setting it and doing all that. So I said, ‘Let’s go.’ And I watched it on my phone.”

The mishaps weren’t over, however, as Authentic later knocked down Baffert in the Derby winner’s circle on the turf course.

“It was nice to have Jimmy there and nobody fell down in the winner’s circle,” Baffert said Sunday of Medina Spirit’s victory in the 147th Kentucky Derby. “It was very enjoyable, and it was good to do it in front of fans.”

Now back on his pony, Barnes again is overseeing Baffert’s Pimlico-bound contingent, which, in addition to the Derby winner, could include Rebel Stakes winner Concert Tour for the May 15 Preakness as well as horses for other stakes next week. Baffert will be out to break a tie with fellow Hall of Famer Robert Wyndham Walden, who had seven Preakness winners between 1875 and 1888. Baffert’s most recent of seven Preakness champions include Triple Crown winners Justify in 2018 and American Pharoah in 2015. Each of his Preakness winners went on to be voted 3-year-old champion.

Medina Spirit, who has never been worse than second in six career starts, paid $26.20 to win as the sixth betting choice of 19 while marking the seventh California-based horse to win the Derby in the last 10 years.

“Was I surprised?” Barnes said. “He was running against good horses in California. California horses are usually right there in the Kentucky Derby. He’d run second to (now-injured stablemate) Life Is Good. He was second to John Sadler’s horse (Rock Your World) in the Santa Anita Derby. So he’d run respectable races, maybe not the way we needed him to run. He wants to be up front, out in the clear and we had other horses who were faster than him. It just didn’t work out for him. He ended up having to be behind and having to close. But going a mile and a quarter, you just never know: Are we going to go on the lead the whole way?

“… I thought there was enough speed that someone would have gone with us.”

Barnes began working for Baffert in November of 1998. His first Derby victory with for Baffert was the trainer’s third, front-running War Emblem in 2002. However, Barnes first came to Churchill Downs for Derby weekend in 1999, with Silverbulletday winning the Kentucky Oaks and Baffert attempting to win a third straight Derby with the filly Excellent Meeting and the colt General Challenge. Excellent Meeting rallied from 18th to take fifth (beaten a total of 2 1/4 lengths) and Santa Anita Derby winner General Challenge was knocked sideways shortly after the start and struggled home 11th.

“I saw what it took,” Barnes said. “You need a pretty good horse and you want to be out in front. You need to be up close in the clear to have your best chance.”

Medina Spirit had a second walk day Monday since keeping runner-up Mandaloun at bay for a half-length victory Saturday, with third-place Hot Rod Charlie and fourth-place favorite Essential Quality both beaten about a length for everything.

“He’ll probably walk three days – that’s our typical deal,” Barnes said. “Maybe Wednesday he’ll jog. We’ll see how the weather is. It’s hard to give them too many days off when we’re coming right around. But all systems look good right now. Everything is good.”

Baffert also has Concert Tour, who bypassed the Derby after finishing third in the Arkansas Derby (G1), under Preakness consideration. Concert Tour worked five-eighths of a mile in 1:00.60 Sunday and is scheduled to work again this weekend. Gary and Mary West’s son of 2007 Derby winner Street Sense walked Monday and will jog Tuesday, Barnes said.

‘So far, so good’ for King Fury’s Preakness prospects

Trainer Kenny McPeek, who saddled filly Swiss Skydiver for a gutsy victory over Kentucky Derby victor Authentic in the 2020 Preakness (G1) last October, is hoping to be back at Pimlico for this year’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown with stretch-running King Fury. The Lexington Stakes (G3) winner was scratched Friday from the Kentucky Derby after spiking a temperature.

With the Churchill Downs track sloppy following an overnight rain, King Fury had a walk day Monday with his temperature back to normal. “So far so good,” said assistant trainer Greg Geier.

McPeek called the temperature spike ‘a one-off deal’ Sunday, reporting that the son of Curlin had responded quickly to treatment and had good energy on Derby Day.

“It will be one of those call-an-audible-at-the-line-of-scrimmage [things]. We’ll take it into Friday, and see what kind of week he has. If he has a good week, we’ll contemplate working him Saturday or Sunday,” McPeek said. “Everything will have to fall into line. He’ll have to show there are no ill after-effects on him. He’ll have to have good blood work and a good scope (endoscopic exam).”

After watching Medina Spirit’s front-running victory in the Derby, McPeek thinks that the race scenario may well have stacked the odds against King Fury, who closed from far back to win the Lexington going away.

“And I don’t know if that Derby would have set up for him, either. Might have been fortuitous. It didn’t look like anybody could really close any ground,” he said. “The way the racetrack played, they even went fast early and kept going.”

When it was suggested that McPeek didn’t see anything in the Derby to scare him away from the Preakness, he said with a laugh, “If I wasn’t scared last year, I wouldn’t be scared this year. If I’ve got a horse doing good, I’m going to go. If he’s doing really well, we’ll go. If he backs out of the tub or his bloodwork isn’t right, any notion that he isn’t at a full energy level, then we won’t go. If he is, we’ll go.”

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon, who rallied to finish sixth in the Kentucky Derby following an awkward start took him out of his usual up-close style, is under Preakness consideration. The Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up had another scheduled walk day Monday at Churchill Downs and will walk again Tuesday before resuming training Wednesday, said trainer Steve Asmussen.

Asmussen won the 2007 Preakness with two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and again in 2009 with Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.

“We’re considering running in the Preakness, but we will obviously defer to his training,” the trainer said. “We’ll keep discussions open.”

Asmussen said jockey Mike Smith told him that Midnight Bourbon’s ‘hind end slipped out,’ and that’s that. It wasn’t where we were hoping to be. He ran reasonable after a poor beginning, covered plenty of ground and didn’t look like he was horribly overmatched – or overmatched at all.”

Trainer Brad Cox said Monday morning that Kentucky Derby runner-up Mandaloun and fourth-place finisher Essential Quality continue to bounce out of the race well with a Preakness decision yet to be made for either horse.

Cox said he has to talk to owner John Ed Anthony about possibly running Caddo River in the Preakness. Anthony, who now races in the name of Shortleaf Stable, won the 1992 Preakness with Pine Bluff and in 1993 with Prairie Bayou while racing with ex-wife Mary Lynn Dudley under the Loblolly Stable banner.

Caddo River, who finished second in the Arkansas Derby, was knocked out of the Kentucky Derby after spiking a temperature.

Lukas-Trained Ram ‘Outside Chance’ for 146th Preakness

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Monday that Ram, who has won his last two starts, is being considered for the 146th Preakness.

Lukas, 85, is a six-time winner of the Preakness, starting with his debut runner, Codex, in 1980. He has saddled a record 44 horses for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. His most recent Preakness horse was Market King, who was 12th in 2019. In addition to his six wins, he has two seconds and five thirds in the race.

“Pimlico is my favorite spot,” Lukas said. “I would love to come. We all think that Pimlico is the most fun of all the Triple Crown races, without a doubt.”

Ram, a son of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, is owned by Christina Baker and William Mack. The ridgling won the opening race on Saturday’s Kentucky Derby program at Churchill Downs. Lukas said he is considering other races for Ram as well and probably won’t make a decision on the Preakness until next weekend.

“There is an outside chance,” Lukas said. “We’ve talked about it and I don’t know how strong the owner is about it. We’ll take a look at the field and see who is going.”

Mack and Christina Baker’s late husband, Robert, have teamed with Lukas for about 30 years. Among the horses Lukas has handled for the partners are Grade 1 winners Strong Mandate, Dublin and Sporting Chance. Ram broke his maiden on April 16 in his eighth start and followed with the 3 ½-length allowance victory at a mile.

“He was one of my picks as a yearling and he was, what I like, a little bit feminine,” Lukas said. “He needed some time, but he had all the angles that I like. He’s been slow to develop, but he’s come along and he is really in great shape right now. If we manage him a little bit, he’s going to be a factor.”

Lukas, elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999, operates a racing stable based at Churchill Downs and Oaklawn Park. He has 34 horses in his care and said he typically spends four to five hours in the saddle supervising his runners during training hours.

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