Preakness Stakes: Horseshoes Down

(Justify heads to the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs after capturing the Kentucky Derby. Rain gear and mud are now two new official products of Triple Crown 2018 / Photo by Holly M. Smith)

The 143rd Preakness Stakes is certainly in the record books, and time will only tell if it becomes more significant — due to one fact, and one only. Will the 2018 Preakness Stakes become part of something bigger? Will it be the middle child of the trilogy to be played out by the grand Justify? Will it be part of the next, latest, and one of racing’s legendary Triple Crowns?

Other than that, and the fact that it was a magnificent horse race that played out to drama from start to exciting finish, the water-logged racetrack and the mysterious fog may have been the only things that kept the historic racetrack — long since allowed to dip into serious decay by its present ownership — from catching on fire, again, as it did several years ago. And, along with that, take down the legend of the historic race with it.

Thank goodness for the grand Justify, and the City of Louisville, for lifting the TV ratings to newer heights.

Thank goodness for the magical run of Good Magic, who helped turned the dung of a racetrack into high stakes drama.

Thank goodness for the bravazo of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who has become a Thoroughbred racing soothsayer, and his 3-year-old colt Bravazo, who turned the week leading up to the race into fresh and fun entertainment and the race finish into a near record splashdown of major upset proportions.

Thank goodness for Steve Asmussen’s talent, who has helped turned the inexperienced Tenfold into a legit contender to some of racing’s best in just a matter of a few, short weeks. His touch is worth much more than tenfold.

Thank goodness for Bob Baffert. That man can sure train a horse, and hold a crowd’s attention. Take notice racing industry. These kind don’t come along very often.

In short, the “Thank Goodnesses” saved this year’s Preakness Stakes. And, how long can that continue to happen, if the fine folks in the Stronach family don’t want to save the event, or it’s venue, itself?

Here is our look at the “Horseshoes Down” for this year’s event:

(Trainer Chad Brown / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

4 Horseshoes Down:

  1. Pimlico: It is painfully — and, it truly is painful — obvious, that the people that currently own Pimlico Race Course (that would be Frank Stronach) do not plan to sink a single dime into the facility to make it even tolerable to attend and enjoy the Preakness Stakes any more. At every turn, the building itself is in disrepair. Retaining fences are falling down. Paint no longer is chipping and falling off, only because the wooden structures it was once attached to is falling down. And, the massive amount of rainfall that occurred this year turned the old, historic facility into an old house leaking from every corner. Simply put, there are no more buckets left to catch the leaks. The leaks have taken over. And, the lack of interest in fixing the old place up, is as obvious as the need to just that. It is almost as if the Stronach family wants to make the experience so miserable that even the historians and preservations give in, and ask to euthanize the old place. And, that will allow Team Stronach the public relations win to simply move the Preakness Stakes over to the remodeled and refurbished Laurel Park, which the family also owns just down in the road in a more acceptable, suburban community. Several years ago, the Stronach family announced that the only way to “save” Pimlico was for the city, the state, and the taxpayers to ante up zillions to renovate the historic property and the neighbors surrounding it. To date, none of the above have agreed to do that — and rightfully so. It is not the city’s, the state’s or the taxpayer’s responsibility, or obligation. It is Frank Stronach’s. And, apparently, he has become nothing more than a slum lord. If Churchill Downs had taken this approach and allowed the famed Twin Spires to fall to this level of decay, the cry of protests would be raining down harder than what the skies opened up to do the week of this year’s Preakness. The Ray Paulick’s, and the Craig Bernick’s  — two obnoxiously loud and most often inaccurate critics of Churchill Downs — would be on social media demanding change. But Churchill Downs — to it’s immense credit, and unlike Stronach — rarely goes a year without refurbishing, remodeling, remaking, and remarkably reinvesting in its historic structure, site, community, location. With its’ own money. Not the state’s. Not the city’s. Not the taxpayer’s. And, the improvements show. Record crowds come nearly every year. Record handle, in tow. And, as a result, this week Churchill Downs announced that the remainder of its’ Spring/Summer meet will have an increase in purses. Yet, there is no applause from the detractors. Guess they are still trying to dry out from the pelting Pimlico experience. At this point, I, too, would be willing to tell Frank to just move the damn Preakness to Laurel. It ain’t worth the pain of going to the hell hole that Pimlico has become. And, that’s a shame. The old racetrack deserves better than that. Let the place go in peace.
  2. Chad Brown: The man has made some strong impressions in his brief tenure as a horse trainer. And, he has manufactured a stout reputation, or two, along the way, as well.  On the positive side, there is no doubt that the young man can train a Thoroughbred race horse. His record speaks to that, loud and clear. And, while he has been one of the best conditioners of turf horses early in his career, he has started to develop real runners on the dirt surfaces, too. Last year, he won the Preakness with Cloud Computing. And, then he captured the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old championship with Good Magic. The racing world, in many ways, is his to conquer, and he is well on his way to doing just that. Unfortunately, for both him and the industry, which needs creative, thoughtful, and talented young people as badly as it needs really good horses, there is a negative side to young Chad Brown, as well. And, it doesn’t take long to unearth it, or hear people talk about it. It’s his demeanor. It’s his personality. It’s his tendency to trend towards temper over diplomacy. The week of the Kentucky Derby, I overheard a prominent person in the racing industry discussing Brown’s Good Magic and how he was training up to the Kentucky Derby. The person, whom I respect immensely, said that Good Magic must be doing really well. When I asked why, he said, “Well, even Chad Brown is in a good mood.” Immediately after the Preakness Stakes, Chad Brown was not in a good mood. And, perhaps, he had every right to be. But he let everyone within shouting distance know that he took great exception with the way the talented and highly successful Jose Ortiz had ridden Good Magic in the race. Brown complained that his horse should not have been on the lead, and pressing Justify for the lead. Brown cried that his horse should not have been pushed and stuck down on a deep rail trip. Brown fussed that his horse was not the type to be used up in the early going, and should have been allowed to settle and come from a stalking position off the pace. Brown insinuated it was the style of the race, and not the horses in the race, that had beaten him. Chad Brown may be right. But his delivery, and timing were ill conceived. And, it only added a few more brushes of paint to the picture of what most people have come to expect from Chad Brown. Too bad. If he took a lesson or two from the affablle, and personable Bob Baffert, Chad Brown may, too, be a spokesperson for the industry at some point. If he doesn’t? Too bad. Opportunity wasted.
  3. Mother Nature: For the second time in three weeks, the grand ole’ Lady decided to dump on racing’s parade. As it did on Derby Day 2018, the rains came in buckets. And, buckets. And, buckets. And, it turned everything in sight — which was limited, mind you — into a mud marathon. There’s not much anyone can do to umbrella one’s self against the elements, and complaining certainly isn’t going to help. But it sure would be nice, Momma, to have a little sunshine, if you don’t mind, for the Belmont Stakes. As Donna Fargo once sang: “It’s hard to be a beacon if your light don’t shine.”
  4. Justify Haters: It didn’t take long after the Preakness Stakes for the “Justify Detractors” to launch on all social media platforms about why and how Justify won’t, can’t and shouldn’t win this year’s Triple Crown. The water was still dripping off his mane and tail and the Black-Eyed Susans were still wrapped around his neck, when the naysayers started in. The criticism ranged from: “He can only run in the mud,” to “He will never be able to get 11/2 miles,” to “Both Bravazo and Tenfold were getting to him, and they aren’t even the best 3-year-olds in the country.” Maybe they are right. Maybe Justify won’t be able to win the Belmont Stakes in two more weeks. And, difference of opinion is great. It is what the entire pari-mutuel system is built upon. But I don’t really understand why there is so much hatred in the world these days, and, in particular, why much of it is aimed at those that are aspiring to be successful at the best of their profession. Justify has done something no other horse in the world of Thoroughbred racing has ever done — already. He is the first horse to ever, as in ever, win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes without having run one, single race as a 2-year-old. The very first. And, they have run 144 Kentucky Derbies and 143 Preakness Stakes now. That’s pretty darn good. And, although I was a skeptic gong into the Kentucky Derby, I am sure rooting for the big chestnut now. Rooting like crazy.

(Jockey Jose Ortiz / Photo Courtesy of Keeneland)

3 Horseshoes Down:

  1. Preakness Purse: I read, somewhere on Twitter, that a prominent member of the horse breeding community was complaining that Churchill Downs had not raised the purse for the Kentucky Derby to $10 million — like Frank Stronach had done for the Pegasus World Cup. Just another shot at Churchill Downs, to be sure. But another unjust one. The fact is that Kentucky Derby week is a major reason that the track can and does offer top end purses throughout its three race meets that extend most of the year. If you took $10 million dollars and dumped it on the Derby, certainly that would have a negative impact on the rest of the meets and race dates. Yet, just last week, Churchill Downs announced that it was raising its’ purses across the board by 10% due to the success of this year’s Kentucky Derby and ancillary events. But not much applause from the racing community for doing that. And, oddly enough, the same twitter critic has written nothing about the $1.5 million purse for the Preakness Stakes. That’s $500,000 less than the Kentucky Derby, the obvious lynchpin of the Triple Crown. Shouldn’t it stand to reason that if the Preakness and the Belmont are going to borrow on the success and hype of the Derby that all three legs of the Triple Crown should have the same purse level? Seems logical to me. What about you, Craig?
  2. Jose Ortiz: Let it be known immediately that I am a huge fan of Jose Ortiz. I think, outside of anyone not named Mike Smith, he is the best rider in the land. For that matter, many lands. Maybe, all lands. The guy is talented. The guy can ride. And, I have no complaint whatsoever, in his decision to go ahead and move on Good Magic early on in the Preakness Stakes. The horse broke very well. The horse has a natural turn of foot. And, anybody with a set of clear eyes and anyone who had paid any attention to the previous races run at Pimlico last Saturday, knew that to have any chance at all, the rider and horse needed to be either on or very close to the lead. After all, Good Magic had run the perfect stalking trip in the Kentucky Derby, and appeared to have every chance and right to go by Justify in the long, demanding stretch that is Churchill Downs. Three times the gutsy Good Magic tried. Three times, Justify repelled. It surely looked — on paper and a wet track — like a new tactic was called for and needed in the Preakness. But… If trainer Chad Brown truthfully and honestly instructed his rider to take back, stalk the lead and make a run later, and there is no reason not to believe those were, indeed, the instructions, then it was not Jose Ortiz’ decision to try something else. It was not his call to override that decision. It was not his to make. Sorry. While I might agree with Jose, it was still the Coach’s call.
  3. Tractor Tracks in the Mud: Although the now famous tractor marks and puddles in the mud near the finish line at Pimlico on Saturday made for some dramatic pictures and made-for-TV drama that both still photographers and NBC crews caught in athletic fashion, it is a shame that these distractions were carved into the surface and an attempt to eradicate them was not attempted in earnest. Can’t you imagine what may have happened if Justify and others were not athletic enough to go airborne and jump them safely and satisfactorily? I don’t even want to think about it. Simply put, a crew on foot should have tried their level best to level the marks out. Didn’t appear to happen.
Pletcher Derby
(Todd Pletcher after winning the 2017 Kentucky Derby / Photo Courtesy of Churchill Downs)

2 Horseshoes Down:

  1. Woman In Infield Running On Top of Portable Toilets: Seriously, that’s what you do in your “Fifteen Minutes?” At the end of her run, though, it didn’t look like she made the final jump nearly as successful as Justify did in his. How did that whiplash feel the next day? Better or worse than the hangover?
  2. Todd Pletcher: The man had four horses to saddle in the Kentucky Derby, and won more Derby preps than anyone in history, and he couldn’t muster a single entry for the Preakness? Not one? Out of the 2,893 horses he has in training (I don’t really know how many he actually has, but it seems like a lot; doesn’t it?), he couldn’t come up with one?

1 Horsehoe Down:

  1. Pimlico: Did I mention how awful Pimlico has become? It should become the poster child for “urban renewal.”

The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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