(Midnight Bourbon / Photos by Holly M. Smith)
From the Pimlico Media Team:
Ron Winchell, who campaigns Louisiana Derby (G2) runner-up Midnight Bourbon in the name of his family’s Winchell Thoroughbreds, said he’s trying to keep his enthusiasm in check about their chances in Saturday’s 146th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico.
“It’s hard not to be overly optimistic,” Winchell, the Las Vegas entrepreneur and co-owner of Kentucky Downs as well as an internationally prominent owner and breeder, said by phone. “He’s doing great. The Derby didn’t seem to take a lot out of him.”
Midnight Bourbon finished a late-running sixth in the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1) after an awkward start took the strapping, nearly-black colt out of his normal up-close running style.
His connections knew the son of Tiznow was in trouble early on in the Derby. With the scratch of King Fury, the Steve Asmussen trainee went from being one of the last horses to load to one of the first, having to stand in the gate while the others were led in. When the gate’s stall doors sprung open, his hind end slipped out from under him, taking Midnight Bourbon out of a preferred position up on the pace or just off the leaders. Instead, he found himself as far back as 14th and wide on both turns before rallying.
“I said it before the race, ‘If he doesn’t come by the first time and he’s not in the first five or six spots, we’re pretty much toast,’” Winchell said. “That’s just how the Derby seems to be working out now.”
Winchell doesn’t have to look back very far to appreciate how difficult it is to win an American Classic. He knows that no matter how fabulous your horse looks or trains that luck is involved – including the misfortunate of running into horses who are simply faster. Winchell’s best finish in the Kentucky Derby was a third in 2016 by Gun Runner. He would go on to win the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) in 2017, earning the Horse of the Year title, and the $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) in 2018 to cap his career before heading off to stud duties with earnings just shy of $16 million.
Gun Runner, owned by Winchell and Three Chimneys Farm, did not run in the Preakness and progressed from being a very good 3-year-old into a dominant champion at 4. Winchell is hoping Midnight Bourbon likewise will improve with age, though quicker the better, preferably Saturday.
Midnight Bourbon, winner of the Lecomte (G3) whose only finish worse than third in eight starts came in the Kentucky Derby, is the third choice in the Preakness morning line at 5-1 in a field of 10 3-year-olds. He will break from Post No. 5. With two-at-a-time loading, he’ll go into the gate next to last.
“If you had said, ‘Here’s 10 spots. Put all the horses where you want them to be,’ it would be pretty close to how it turned out. Which never seems to happen,” Winchell said.
In fact, it’s making him nervous how things so far have fallen into place.
“I’ve got people calling me, ‘I really like your horse,’” he said, adding with a laugh, “It’s like, ‘No. Stop it! Stop it!’”
Winchell has built upon the high-quality breeding and racing operation that his late father Verne started in the 1950s. With Ron taking over Winchell Thoroughbreds in partnership with his mother, Joan, upon Verne’s death in 2002, the Winchell Thoroughbreds stable has campaigned Gun Runner, 2014 Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) heroine Untapable, 2012 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Tapizar, 2008 Louisiana Derby victor Pyro, 2005 Kentucky Oaks winner Summerly, and Cuvee, one of the top 2-year-olds of 2003, along with many other stakes winners.
The last horse Winchell purchased with his father was a silver-hued yearling bought two months before Verne’s death at age 87. That colt named Tapit captured the 2004 Wood Memorial (G1) to emerge among the favorites for the Kentucky Derby. Tapit finished ninth in the Derby, but his real fame has come as a breed-shaping stallion and one of the sport’s best sires of the last half-century.
“Winning the Derby has always been a focus,” Winchell said. “However, when my dad was around, we focused a little more on probably the speed element than the Derby distance. It’s kind of two different horses: the ones who are going to win as 2-year-olds at Saratoga and Del Mar. That’s a different set-up traditionally than the guy who is going to win the Derby.
“I’ve changed that focus to a certain degree in probably the last five to 10 years,” he added. “It’s reflective in the amount of starts we’ve had in the Derby.”
Verne Winchell had four Kentucky Derby starters, the best finish being Classic Go Go’s fourth in 1981. Midnight Bourbon became the eighth Derby runner for his son.
“We’re getting to the Derby; we’re just not performing in the Derby,” Winchell said. “However, Kentucky Oaks starters, we’ve started four with two winners. A little better record there. But it’s one of the categories that has been very elusive for our stable, winning Classic races. Breeders’ Cup races, yeah, we’ve won a number of those. We’ve brought some pretty good horses to the Derby. I think Gun Runner had a pretty good chance, but at that stage of his career, he couldn’t get to the finish line first. I mean, it is what it is.”
Midnight Bourbon will be Winchell’s third Preakness starter, following Tenfold’s close third in the fog to eventual Triple Crown champion Justify three years ago and Pneumatic’s 10th last year when the COVID-delayed race was in October. His dad finished fourth in the 1991 Preakness with Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Olympio.
Though he hasn’t had as many starters as in the Derby, Winchell said the Preakness is a race he very much covets, along with its iconic Woodlawn Vase, of which the winning owner gets a replica.
“It is one of those great races you grow up hearing about,” Winchell said. “I’d love to win. I’d love to get it behind me, honestly, because we’ve performed well in all sorts of races. There’s probably not a lot that we haven’t won over the course of my involvement in racing and my dad’s. These are ones that have eluded us. It’s a super cool race to win. The trophy is one of the best. I’ve love to have a spot for it on the mantel somewhere.”
Midnight Bourbon schooled at the starting gate, followed by a routine gallop, Thursday at Pimlico. He was scheduled to school in the paddock during the races.
Asmussen is pursuing a third Preakness victory, having won his first Triple Crown race in 2007 with two-time Horse of the Year Curlin and then two years later with the filly and 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.
“It is the Preakness and a great opportunity, being an American Classic and having a quality horse like this for Winchell Thoroughbreds,” said Asmussen. “If you’ve ever seen him, you realize the potential that’s there.”
Asmussen’s parents, Keith and Marilyn, raised and prepared all of Verne Winchell’s young horses for the races at their Laredo, Texas, training facility. That decades-long association has continued into the next generation, strengthened even more by Steve Asmussen being Ron’s primary trainer.
“I’m extremely proud of the Winchell and Asmussen connection,” Asmussen said. “Ron’s father and my father did business and had a lot of success before they let me or Ron make any decisions. So it’s extremely exciting for us.”
Barnes Pleased with Preakness Preparation of Medina Spirit, Concert Tour
Medina Spirit and Concert Tour took different paths to the Preakness Stakes (G1), but assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes is using a similar approach while preparing the Bob Baffert-trained colts for Saturday’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course.
Video Medina Spirit: Click here to view
Video Concert Tour: Click here to view
After a Wednesday morning schooling session in the indoor paddock, where Baffert horses are typically saddled for the Preakness, both colts galloped 1 ½ miles Thursday morning one after the other, with Medina Spirit going first.
Since Zedan Racing Stables’ Medina Spirit is coming to the Preakness from the Kentucky Derby, where he led the way from start to finish, Barnes has been on the lookout for any signs of fatigue. He has not found any.
“He had no wear and tear,” Barnes said. “He came out in excellent shape and moved right ahead, forwardly. We only walked him three days and went right back to the track and jogged. That’s usually a sign, how soon we get back to the track, of how happy we are with the recovery from the race.”
Gary and Mary West’s Concert Tour emerged as a top Kentucky Derby prospect with victories in the seven-furlong San Vicente (G2) on Feb. 6 and the 1 1/16-mile Rebel (G2) on March 13. After he finished third in the Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 10, Concert Tour was taken off the Derby trail. Barnes said the Street Sense colt “looked awesome on the track” Thursday and is well-prepared for the Preakness.
“We have seen what we expected to see,” Barnes said. “He was a little on the light side after the Arkansas Derby and Bob and Gary West opted to pass on the Derby and run a fresh horse in the Preakness. We’ve basically seen everything you’d want to see. No hiccups at all. His coat is beautiful. He’s eating well. He should be ready for Saturday.”
Barnes said he is drawing a line through Concert Tour’s Arkansas Derby.
“I know which direction he’s heading and it’s the one we want to see him in,” Barnes said. “He’ll show up on Saturday.”
Baffert returned home to California from Kentucky this week and sent Barnes, a key member of his team since the late 1990s, to manage the operation at Pimlico. It’s a familiar role for Barnes.
“I’m used to it. I travel all the time. I’m always on the road,” he said. “If Bob is there sometimes, that’s great. If he can’t make it, I just have to pick up the slack, just march on, try to do my best and try to produce a win.”
Rombauer Brings ‘Wonderful Mechanics’ into Saturday’s Preakness
Trainer Michael McCarthy is a Triple Crown series veteran and rookie at the same time. While he gained loads of experience in the Spring Classics during his long tenure as an assistant to Hall of Famer-elect Todd Pletcher, John and Diane Fradkin’s Rombauer will be his first Triple Crown starter when he goes to post Saturday in the 146th Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course.
McCarthy, 50, went out on his own in January 2014. He has had plenty of success during those seven-plus seasons, most notably City of Light’s triumphs in the 2019 Pegasus World Cup (G1) at Gulfstream Park and the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Churchill Downs. Versatile Rombauer has delivered him to the Triple Crown.
“Anytime you can compete in any big race it feels pretty good, but to be able to participate in something like the Triple Crown, always makes it special,” McCarthy said. “It’s a wide-open race; anything can happen. These are the kind of races you want to participate in. It’s pretty neat.”
Rombauer earned a fees-paid entry into the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown by winning Feb.13 El Camino Real Derby, a Preakness ‘Win & In’ event, at Golden Gate Fields. The son of Twirling Candy most recently finished third in the April 3 Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland.
McCarthy said Rombauer has settled in easily at Pimlico since shipping in from Santa Anita Tuesday. Rombauer galloped 1 1/8 miles Thursday morning.
“He’s lightly raced this year. He travels well. He doesn’t need to take his racetrack with him,” McCarthy said. “He seems to me to be doing as well as he could be. The horse is himself here and that’s a good thing.”
Rombauer has won on turf and synthetic surfaces and is Grade 1-placed on dirt after finishing second in last fall’s American Pharoah at Santa Anita.
“He seems to get over every surface,” McCarthy said. “It’s a feather in his cap that he can adapt the way he does. He’s got wonderful mechanics. He is just light on his feet, very athletic.”
Flavien Prat will ride Rombauer for the first time in the Preakness.
Cohen Makes Preakness Debut with High Hopes for Keepmeinmind
Jockey David Cohen will ride in his first Preakness Stakes (G1) Saturday at Pimlico Race Course expecting a better result fromKeepmeinmind, who closed from 19th to finish seventh in the May 1 Kentucky Derby (G1).
Video Keepmeinmind: Click here to view
“We were extremely happy with his performance in the Derby,” said Cohen, who was provided his first Kentucky Derby appearance by the Robertino Diodoro-trained son of Laoban. “I think he finally got back to his 2-year-old form as far as relaxing early on and coming and finishing up with a nice, strong finish that we know he likes to do. Being such a big field, we got shuffled back a little farther than I’d have liked to have been. But at the same time, with the removal of the blinkers and getting him to relax, I was happy just for him to get back to his running style that we know he wants to run. To see him finish up was definitely encouraging.”
The 36-year-old jockey has ridden Keepmeinmind in six of seven races, only missing out on the Breeders’ Cup because he was riding another horse for Diodoro. He hasn’t been just Keepmeinmind’s regular jockey, he has been aboard for many of the colt’s workouts.
“Some horses you fall into prior to their last start prior to getting to the Derby,” he said. “This guy, I was getting on him for his first quarter-mile at the track. I’ve really had a lot of foundation with him. That much was pretty special. Doing it with Robertino and my supporters made it even more special…. Just blessed that the horse made a good effort, came out of it healthy and feeling good and sound. I’m definitely looking forward to the Preakness.”
Riding in the Preakness is the latest chapter in Cohen’s comeback story.
Cohen, who has ridden 1560 winners since beginning his career in 2004, was among the sport’s rising stars when he was kicked by his mount in his lower right leg in the paddock at Aqueduct on Feb. 1, 2014. His badly fractured fibula and tibia required surgery involving a plate and six screws to repair.
The cancer-related death of his father, California horse owner Morry Cohen, several months after the paddock mishap had the jockey struggling to heal, not only physically but emotionally. He rode six races in late 2014 but was discovered to have a torn meniscus in his right knee. Cohen suffered another personal loss a year later with the death of his sister, Dana. He did not ride again until Nov. 30, 2017.
“Coming off an injury in 2018, I received the [JockeyTalk 360] Comeback Award,” he said. “In 2019, I had a bang-up year and won the Oaklawn Park title. To be here in 2021, I’m definitely very blessed for these opportunities.”
Keepmeinmind jogged a mile and galloped a mile Thursday at Pimlico for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. As delighted as Diodoro was with Keepmeinmind’s training session Wednesday during the colt’s introduction to the Pimlico surface, he was even happier with the second day at the track.
“Yesterday, he seemed happy and relaxed,” Diodoro said. “Today, he was very sharp, a lot sharper but still very happy. I think he likes the track. I’m really impressed with the surface. Even the [exercise rider] says it seems like a very kind track.”
Brown: Risk Taking Gets ‘Endurance from His Dad’
During his time (2002-2007) as an assistant to the late Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, Chad Brown had the opportunity to work with a number of wonderful racehorses.
Tops on that list would be Medaglia d’Oro, winner of eight of 17 career starts, including the 2003 Whitney Handicap (G1) at 2002 Travers Stakes (G1), both at Saratoga.
“He is definitely one of the best horses I worked with in my time with Bobby,” Brown said, “if not the best horse.”
Brown sees a lot of Medaglia d’Oro in Seth Klarman’s Klaravich Stables’ Risk Taking, one of the two horses Brown will run in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course. And that makes sense since Risk Taking is a son of Medaglia d’Oro.
Video of Risk Taker: Click here to view
Video of Crowded Trade: Click here to view
That is not meant to say that Risk Taking is the second coming of his successful sire.
“Medaglia d’Oro was quicker, faster than this horse,” Brown said. “But there are some similarities. The way he looks … you can definitely tell he is an offspring of him. He certainly looks like a son of his.”
Brown began his own training career in 2007 and will be looking for his second win in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. He got his first Preakness in 2017 when Cloud Computing ended up in the winner’s circle.
Risk Taking has won two of five career starts and does his best running late. Two starts ago, he won the 1 1/8-mile Withers (G3) at Aqueduct on Feb. 6. He disappointed when he was a non-factor in the Wood Memorial (G2), finishing seventh as the 2-1 favorite.
“I think (Risk Taking) has gotten a lot of endurance from his sire,” Brown said.
Risk Taking and Crowded Trade, also owned by Klaravich Stables, went through their Preakness preparations Thursday, the second day they both went to the track. Under the supervision of Brown’s assistant, Jose Hernandez, the two colts galloped about 1 ¼ miles separately.
Exercise rider Kelvin Perez rode both of the horses.
“They looked pretty good,” Hernandez said. “(Wednesday) they were a little in the bridle because they had walked two days in a row. They were more relaxed today and they galloped beautifully. They have a shot.”
Hernandez said that both horses will gallop another 1 ¼ miles Friday morning. One horse will go out at 6 a.m. and the other a half hour later.
Brown is expected to arrive at Pimlico early Friday afternoon.
France Go de Ina’s Camp in Fine Spirits after Wednesday’s Mishap
Things were back to normal for Yuji Inaida’s France Go de Ina Thursday morning.
A day after exercise rider Masaki Takano fell off the colt after completing a four-furlong breeze in preparation for a start in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (G1), his small entourage was able to joke about what happened.
“They were all laughing immediately after,” Kate Hunter, the Preakness field representative for the Japan Racing Association, said outside the Isolation Barn. “We are laughing about it today.”
Takano, who will celebrate his 31st birthday next week, was complaining of some soreness, but that was the only issue remaining from the Wednesday fall after his foot slipped out of the left stirrup.
Hunter said she went out shopping for the rider and brought back a heating pad, Icy Hot and some Advil.
“The only casualty from the fall was a pair of Oakley sunglasses,” she said. “His pride was the only thing that was broken. When he passed the finish, (Takano) was switching his weight to do the gallop out and he lost his balance. He tried to regain it, which is why the horse looked a bit wobbly and he just fell.”
Takano was back on the job Thursday, leading France Go de Ina around the barn for an hour’s worth of walking. Trainer Hideyuki Mori was there, too. The horse did not go to the track Thursday following Wednesday’s workout.
Hunter said France Go de Ina will be back on track Friday, the last horse to do so, because of quarantine regulations. Training hours are from 5 to 8 a.m. because of the 11:30 a.m. first-race post time for Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan (G2) card.
France Go de Ina is scheduled to do his normal walk around the track and then canter around the Pimlico oval Friday. He then will stand in the gate and get a look at where he will be saddled for the Preakness on the turf course.
“We want to let him get accustomed to having someone stand in the gate with him,” Hunter said.
Unbridled Honor Seeks First Stakes Win in Middle Jewel
Whisper Hill Farm’s Unbridled Honor, second in the Lexington (G2) and fourth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), will be seeking his first stakes victory in the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course. Only three horses dating back to at least 1976 have earned stakes credentials in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown: Cloud Computing in 2017, Shackleford in 2011 and Gate Dancer in 1984.
The day that newly-elected Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher ran four horses in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Unbridled Honor worked in company with stablemate Promise Keeper at Churchill Downs. Pletcher takes it as a positive sign for Unbridled Honor that a week later, Promise Keeper earned his first stakes victory in the Peter Pan (G3) at Belmont Park.
“I feel like he’s moving forward, but he needs to make that jump to get it done in this race,” he said. “I think he fits the profile well of a horse who has good spacing between his last prep and this. It seems like he’s improving gradually. But historically, the horses coming out of the Derby are the ones you have to beat.”
Pletcher is hoping that the fact that one length separated Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit and fourth-place Essential Quality is a sign of parity.
“It appears to be kind of a wide-open group,” he said. “Until someone steps up and wins a couple of these in a row, it seems like it’s the kind of year that you could see three different winners [in the Triple Crown series].”
Unbridled Honor will be ridden for the first time by Luis Saez, who was available because 2-year-old champion Essential Quality is not running back in the Preakness.
“Luis is a good positional rider, and he tends to get horses out of the gate well and he’ll get good position,” Pletcher said. “This horse could benefit from that. It’s a fine line between taking them out of their natural element and also getting them into a better position. Luis hopefully can effectively do that.”
Ram (in his stakes debut), Crowded Trade and the Japanese-based France Go de Ina are the other Preakness horses that have yet to win a stakes.
Unbridled Honor had a routine gallop at Pimlico Thursday morning.
Lukas: ‘I’ve Made a Living Running Where I Don’t Belong’
Preakness Stakes (G1) stalwart D. Wayne Lukas didn’t quibble when Ram was rated the longest shot on the morning line at 30-1 for Saturday’s Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown at Pimlico Race Course. The son of 2015 Triple Crown Champion American Pharoah has won his last two races, but he has the tough task of making his stakes debut in the Preakness.
With six wins from 44 starters, Lukas, 85, knows the Preakness well and readily admits his colt will have to improve again to be competitive in the 1 3/16-mile Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. Lukas, who once again quipped that you can’t win a race unless you enter, has been known to drop a longshot winner into Triple Crown races. His last Preakness winner, Oxbow, in 2013, went off at 15-1 and paid $32.80. He won the 1999 Derby with Charismatic and he paid $64.60 after being ignored at 31-1.
Lukas said he pulled off the biggest major-race upset of his career with Commendable, who won the 2000 Belmont Stakes (G1) at 18-1. The Hall of Fame trainer said that he was surprised by Commendable’s score that paid bettors $39.60
“I have also won with a few favorites,” Lukas said. “But I have been really lucky. I’ve made a living running where I don’t belong.”
Ram had a routine gallop of 1 3/8 miles Thursday. Lukas said the colt will stand in the starting gate on Friday.
“We’re done,” Lukas said. “Now we’re just trying to get an energy level and keep him happy.”
Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. has picked up the mount on Ram, who drew the rail for the Preakness.