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Aaron previews the 2023 Preakness Stakes (G1) from Pimlico, then gives his top picks & long shots from the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. Can the Kentucky Derby (G1) champion Mage repeat his same success 2 weeks later against a new cast of rivals, minus the recently-scratched Lexington Stakes (G3) winner First Mission? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
The 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage galloped Tuesday morning at historic Pimlico Race Course, where the Gustavo Delgado-trained colt finished his 1 ½-mile preparation for Saturday’s Preakness (G1) with good energy without prompting from exercise rider J.J. Delgado.
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“He’s so smart. I can’t overstate that. He’s a really intelligent horse. Not only does he take care of himself during his races, but he knows when to commence,” said Ramiro Restrepo, who owns the 3-year-old son of Good Magic with OGMA Investments LLC, Sterling Racing LLC and CMNWLTH. “He responds to the cues from the rider so well. He’s learned Gustavo’s program and you can see it how he picks up the rhythm on his own.”
Mage has demonstrated an unusual level of maturity for a lightly raced colt who was able to outrun 17 more experienced rivals while capturing the May 6 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in only his fourth career start.
“The races are developing him race by race. We’re just waiting to see how much he has in the well of talent. Every day, he’s showing more and more signs of maturation and understanding his job as a racehorse.,” Restrepo said. “It’s great to see it happening.”
Mage went through his morning routine like a veteran racehorse while striding smoothly across the Pimlico racing surface. Later, he barely turning a hair during his bath upon his return to the Pimlico Stakes Barn, where he was the sole focus of many photographers and TV camera crews.
“Professional, that’s the best way to describe it,” said Gustavo Delgado Jr., his father’s assistant. “Very quiet. The track being so quiet with only a few horses at the same time, that helps too.”
Mage has instilled confidence in his owners and trainers heading into the Preakness.
“It’s the greatest feeling just bringing the Derby winner. It gives you confidence,” Delgado Jr. said. “We’re just go day by day, race by race, but it does give you confidence. He’s competitive – 8-5 – not 50-1, 25-1.”
Trainer Brad Cox said Tuesday morning that he is happy with the way Godolphin’s homebred First Mission has settled in at Pimlico Race Course since arriving from Churchill Downs Monday evening.
First Mission, winner of the April 15 Lexington (G3) at Keeneland, will step into the Triple Crown series Saturday in the 148th Preakness Stakes (G1). He drew the outside post in the field of eight. He will be ridden by Luis Saez, who was up for the Lexington.
“I’m super-pleased with how he shipped in last night,” Cox said. “He jumped right into the feed tub. It was kind of late when he got here, but I thought it made the most sense in regards to travel time and when to send him.”
This will be Cox’s second Preakness and First Mission will be his third runner in the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown. In 2019 he entered a pair: Owendale, who was third and Warrior’s Charge, who was fourth.
Cox sent the lightly raced son of Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Street Sense out to the track at Pimlico during training hours Tuesday.
“I’m happy with what we’ve done so far,” Cox said. ‘He had a really good morning and just galloped an easy mile. He’s a kind horse. He’s easy on himself. He doesn’t over-train. He doesn’t pull too much. He has settled in well. So far, so good.”
First Mission did not race as a 2-year-old and debuted on Feb. 18 with a second by three-quarters of a length at Fair Grounds. Cox said the timing of the Preakness fits nicely with the colt’s schedule.
“He’s getting five weeks since the Lexington,” Cox said. “He ran in February, then he was back in four weeks. Then he was back again in four weeks in the Lexington. So, he’s getting five weeks. He has never regressed, based off his numbers, the figures I use. He’s been very steady with his figures.
“I think he’s got to take a step forward. I think he will take a step forward,” he added. “He’s given me every reason to be super-confident with what he’s done in the mornings at Churchill. His three works since the Lexington have been really good. His first was just a maintenance half-mile by himself. Super easy in 49 (seconds). His last two works have been really, really good. So, we’ll see.”
For the second straight day, Rodeo Creek Racing LLC’s Blazing Sevens went to the track at Pimlico Race Course at 7 a.m. as he continues to prepare for Saturday’s 148th running of the Preakness Stakes (G1).
With regular exercise rider Peter Levia aboard, Blazing Sevens galloped about 1 ¼ miles during the cool Maryland morning.
“He went pretty good,” Levia said. “He handled the track very well. He’s happy. He is a super easy horse. He is an easy horse to train; you can do whatever you want with him.”
Levia, 35, has been working for trainer Chad Brown for 10 years. Among the horses Levia has exercised include 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner Practical Joke, three-time Grade 1 winner Domestic Spending and 2017 Preakness winner Cloud Computing. A small sample.
“I am really happy to be able to work for (Brown),” Levia said. “He has given me a lot of good opportunities in this business.”
Levia, who is originally from Chile, said he has gotten on Blazing Sevens since he was a 2-year-old. The son of Good Magic is a bit different than Cloud Computing, who Levia helped prepare for the Preakness six years ago.
“Cloud was a very exciting horse, very happy all the time,” Levia said. “(Blazing Sevens) is very quiet, but very smart. He saves his energy all the time. Cloud, I think, had more personality than this one. This one knows his business. He can go out and stand on the track all the time you want him to.”
Blazing Sevens has won two of six career starts and is coming off a third-place finish in the Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland on April 8. As a 2-year-old. Blazing Sevens won the Champagne (G1) at Belmont Park.
In the Blue Grass, Brown equipped Blazing Sevens with blinkers for the first time. He will also have them when he runs in the Preakness.
Jose Hernandez, Brown’s assistant, said Blazing Sevens will likely return to the track to gallop on Wednesday.
He also plans to school on Thursday at a time to be determined while races are being run at Pimlico. Hernandez said Brown is scheduled to arrive in Baltimore Friday night.
After the Monday draw for Saturday’s 148th running of the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert got a phone call from his son Bode. He gave his dad the news: National Treasure, Baffert’s horse for the Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown, had been assigned the not-so-popular rail post position.
“The only time I like the one is after the results,” Baffert said with a laugh.
Getting Post 1 for this year’s Preakness brought back memories of 2015, when American Pharoah, who would go on to win the Triple Crown, got the rail and Baffert’s other horse in the race, Dortmund, got Post 2.
“After that draw, [wife] Jill called me from Dulles [International] Airport and asked me how we drew,” Baffert said. “I told her Pharoah got the one and she said, ‘should I turn back and go home (to California)?”
Baffert had another chuckle at that memory because, of course, it turned out okay as American Pharoah sloshed down the sloppy Pimlico Race Course track the easiest of winners. He romped to a seven-length win, while Dortmund was fourth.
National Treasure, who is owned by SF Racing LLC, Starlight Racing, Madakat Stables LLC, Robert E. Masterson, Stonestreet Stables LLC, Jay A. Schoenfarber, Waves Edge Capital LLC and Catherine Donovan, is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on April 8.
After breaking his maiden in his first start as a 2-year-old, the son of Quality Road has raced in graded stakes, finishing second in the American Pharoah (G1), third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and, in his first start of 2023, third in the Sham (G3).
National Treasure has been ridden in all five of his starts by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, who will be aboard again on Saturday.
“I think he fits here,” said Baffert, who has won the Preakness a record-tying seven times. “He will have to step it up. He is a horse that has not filled into his frame yet, but we have always been high on him. He hasn’t really run a bad race.”
Baffert will equip National Treasure with blinkers for the Preakness. The colt wore them in his career debut as well as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
“We are going to put them back on to keep him a little bit more focused,” Baffert said. “I’m glad we are going to have them now that we are in the one. It’s not ideal being in the one, but it’s not the end of the world. Johnny knows the horse real well, and you still need a clean break, no matter where you draw.”
Baffert’s longtime assistant Jimmy Barnes said that National Treasure has settled in well at Pimlico since arriving Saturday evening.
“He’s very relaxed here. The track is pretty quiet here,” Barnes said. “He’s right where I want him to be.”
National Treasure went out for his morning exercise, a 1 3/8-mile gallop, when the track opened for training at 6 a.m. Tuesday.
“That’s pretty much our basic gallop if we’d be at home,” Barnes said. “We shipped in, gave them a walk day and just did a little lighter training (Monday). Today we were pretty much up on our normal training routine and should be up until the race.”
Perform, who has a date in Saturday’s 148th running of the Preakness Stakes (G1), arrived at Pimlico Race Course just before 1:30 Tuesday afternoon.
The son of Good Magic, who is owned by Woodford Racing LLC, Lanes End Farm, Phipps Stable, Ken Langone and Edward J. Hudson Jr., will be Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey’s first Preakness starter since 2013 when Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Orb finished fourth.
Perform arrived via Sallee Horse Van and was led off by McGaughey’s assistant Anthony Hamilton. Hamilton drove to Baltimore from Belmont Park in his own car. Hamilton said Perform left Belmont at 8:30 Tuesday morning.
“It was a smooth trip, a little traffic getting out of New York, but nothing crazy,” Hamilton said. “They didn’t stop, but I did for a burger.”
Hamilton said that Perform, who won the Federico Tesio at Laurel in his last start, which is a Preakness win-and-in event, will go to the track Wednesday morning, likely after the break.
The horse was supplemented to the Preakness for a fee of $150,000.
2023 Preakness Stakes
Red Route One, who earned a fees-paid spot in the Preakness by virtue of winning Oaklawn Park’s $200,000 Bath House Row Stakes on April 22, left Churchill Downs around 3:30 Tuesday morning to van to Pimlico Race Course, said Scott Blasi, assistant trainer to Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen.
Asmussen is seeking a third Preakness victory, following Horses of the Year Curlin in 2007 and the filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009. Asmussen was second the last two years with eventual 3-year-old champion Epicenter last year and Midnight Bourbon in 2020. Like those two horses, Red Route One is owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds.
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