Sun Sentinel Broward Edition
Derby contenders may compete at Preakness
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.”