Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Derby con­tenders may com­pete at Preak­ness

- By Childs Walker Tri­bune News­pa­pers

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Bal­ti­more could be set to host a block­buster se­quel with Ken­tucky Derby cham­pion Amer­i­can Pharoah and top ri­vals Fir­ing Line and Dort­mund all pointed to­ward the May 16 Preak­ness.

In re­cent years, the Preak­ness has be­come the ne­glected mid­dle child of the Triple Crown slate, with many train­ers of top con­tenders opt­ing not to take their horses to Pim­lico Race Course to chal­lenge the Derby cham­pion. In­stead, they’ve waited and brought fresh horses to the Bel­mont Stakes.

But that dy­namic could change in 2015 with the bur­geon­ing ri­valry be­tween a trio of Cal­i­for­nia horses that dom­i­nated Satur­day’s 141st run­ning of the Derby. It’s a story full of rich plots, from the in­tra-barn com­pe­ti­tion be­tween Amer­i­can Pharoah and Dort­mund — both trained by Bob Baf­fert — to Fir­ing Line’s on­go­ing quest to fin­ish first against Baf­fert’s stars.

“I think it’s what the game’s all about, re­ally,” said Fir­ing Line’s trainer, Simon Cal­laghan. “This is what peo­ple love to see in the sport, and us, as rac­ing fans, we love to see it, as well. So, I think it’ll be a great thing.”

The last time the top three Derby fin­ish­ers ran in the Preak­ness was 2009.

Baf­fert was pleased with the way Amer­i­can Pharoah and Dort­mund bounced back the morn­ing af­ter the Derby. Cal­laghan seemed equally con­fi­dent in his horse’s re­silience.

“You bet­ter get used to this,” Baf­fert said to Amer­i­can Pharoah as he led the cham­pion to pose for a clus­ter of pho­tog­ra­phers and to ac­cept pats on the head from early-ris­ing fans.

Baf­fert said Amer­i­can Pharoah strug­gled ini­tially with the crush of ad­mir­ers as he walked from his barn to the pad­dock be­fore the Derby. His horse was rat­tled enough that the ex­pe­ri­ence might have sapped some of his en­ergy for the race.

As well as Amer­i­can Pharoah ran against the best com­pe­ti­tion he’d faced, he also had to grind in a way he never had, with jockey Vic­tor Espinoza hit­ting him re­peat­edly down the stretch. The bay colt dis­played his tough­ness as much as the bril­liant speed that had on­look­ers rav­ing in the weeks be­fore the Derby.

Baf­fert cel­e­brated the victory with din­ner at Jeff Ruby’s Steak­house, his son, Bode’s, fa­vorite, and then watched the Manny Pac­quiao-Floyd May­weather fight with the fam­ily of Amer­i­can Pharoah’s owner, Ahmed Zayat.

The Hall of Fame trainer thought his other horse might win as he watched Dort­mund hold a lead down the back­stretch be­fore fad­ing slightly. He’ll dis­cuss the tow­er­ing chest­nut’s fu­ture with owner Kaleem Shah. “I’m sure he’s go­ing to want a lit­tle re­venge,” Baf­fert said. “His horse ran a re­ally good race.”

An­other fac­tor loom­ing for Preak­ness is the re­cent civil un­rest in Bal­ti­more, but the con­nec­tions of the top three Derby fin­ish­ers ex­pressed no reser­va­tions about mak­ing the trip.

“Peo­ple set­tle down, and things get worked out,” said Baf­fert, who lived and trained through the 1992 ri­ots in Los An­ge­les. “Life still goes on.”

Mary­land Jockey Club gen­eral manager Sal Sinatra said he doesn’t ex­pect changes to be made to the Preak­ness sched­ule be­cause of the protests.

“We’re go­ing to go there and try to win,” said Fir­ing Line’s owner, Arnold Zetcher, for­mer CEO of the women’s cloth­ing brand Tal­bots. “It’s the Triple Crown.”

Though Fir­ing Line twice fin­ished be­hind Dort­mund in prep races, Cal­laghan be­lieves his horse and Amer­i­can Pharoah are the two best 3-year-olds. With Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens aboard, Fir­ing Line pushed the pre­race fa­vorite all the way to the wire, los­ing by less than a length.

“He def­i­nitely showed us it’s go­ing to be re­ally close,” Cal­laghan said of his colt. “I don’t think any­one can con­fi­dently say they’re by far the best.”

 ?? GARRY JONES/AP ?? Trainer Bob Baf­fert, left, feeds Ken­tucky Derby win­ner Amer­i­can Pharoah a car­rot at Churchill Downs on Sun­day.
GARRY JONES/AP Trainer Bob Baf­fert, left, feeds Ken­tucky Derby win­ner Amer­i­can Pharoah a car­rot at Churchill Downs on Sun­day.

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