The eyes of the horse racing world shift from Churchill Downs to Pimlico Race Course as the Triple Crown players set their sights on Baltimore for the 136th running of the Preakness S. (G1) on May 21.
Team Valor International's ANIMAL KINGDOM (Leroidesanimaux [Brz]), winner of Saturday's Kentucky Derby (G1), was reported by trainer H. Graham Motion to be doing well on the morning after his 2 3/4-length triumph and will now likely begin preparing for the second leg of the Triple Crown.
Motion on Sunday morning informed Pimlico officials, including track president Tom Chuckas, that he is "excited" about Animal Kingdom's chances in the middle jewel. Chuckas called Motion shortly after his appearance on NBC's "Today" show to congratulate the Maryland-based conditioner on his Derby victory with the Team Valor homebred and to personally invite him to the Preakness.
"We certainly plan to be there," Motion said. "It is going to be exciting. I feel really good because we are coming to the next leg with a fresh horse, which is going to be in our favor."
The past 24 hours have been a whirlwind for Animal Kingdom's connections. After leaving the Kentucky Derby Winner's Party at the Kentucky Derby Museum, Team Valor CEO and founder Barry Irwin and Motion and their families joined jockey John Velazquez for Derby evening at the "Night of Silk" party at the Galt House, a first-year fundraiser for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.
"I don't know what happened between 6:30 (p.m. [EDT]) and 9 o'clock," Motion said. "Somebody said to me it was 9 o'clock and I said, 'What happened to the last two and a half hours?' It was extraordinary."
On the morning after the biggest victory of his career as an owner and operator of the Team Valor International syndicate, Irwin relished Animal Kingdom's accomplishment, but worked to keep the achievement in perspective.
"I know everybody wants me to say my whole life was changed, but I feel exactly the same," he said. "My major comment would be I'm just happy to own a horse this good. That's what means something to me. I'm not doing this just to make a whole lot of money. It is so tough to make money in the horse business it's not even funny. I'm doing it because it's in my blood and I love it. It's all I've ever done.
"We've made some history, and I like making history. It means something to me."
As Saturday's renewal of the Derby approached, Motion was pleased with the progress of Animal Kingdom.
"I had a great feeling about running this horse this week," the horseman said. "He's done so well and I just thought if he could handle the switchover of turf form to dirt form -- I didn't know if he was a good enough horse to do it. But I had really good feeling about running this horse."
Animal Kingdom made a beautiful transition to dirt after running either on synthetic Polytrack surfaces or grass in his four previous races. The chestnut colt became the first horse in the 137-year history of the Derby to win the race in his debut on traditional dirt.
"I think a really good horse, and I think some of the good horses in the past, some of the best horses were ones who were able to handle both (grass and dirt)," Motion said. "He appears to be one of those great horses that can handle both. Maybe he is better on the grass, but he's also a horse that can handle the dirt. Brilliant horses can do that.
"I have a lot of confidence in this horse. He's the whole package, I guess, to use a term that's probably overused. He's got a tremendous disposition and is just a really brilliant horse. He handled everything so well yesterday. (Jockey) Johnny (Velazquez) said he was so relaxed that it made Johnny relax. He said he'd never been so relaxed in a race like this before as he was on this horse yesterday."
Motion said the plan is to ship Animal Kingdom from Louisville, Kentucky, to the Fair Hill Training Center in Cecil County on Tuesday. The chestnut colt is scheduled to return to the track at Fair Hill, located about 60 miles from Pimlico, on Wednesday morning. Motion, 46, has not decided when his star will ship to Pimlico but said it will be "fairly last minute."
The laid-back trainer said the magnitude of the most important victory of his career was sinking in.
"When you start doing stuff like going on the 'Today' show, it really hits home," he said. "It hits home that it really did happen. It is an extraordinary feeling."
A native of England, who moved to the United States with his family at the age of 16, Motion has been involved in Maryland racing for 26 years. He worked for Jonathan Sheppard and Bernie Bond before going out on his own in 1993. Motion quickly found success and finished among the top 10 trainers in Maryland from 1995-2001.
He was based at Laurel Park for the first 10 years of his career before moving his stable to the Fair Hill Training Center in 2002. He has Breeders' Cup victories with Better Talk Now and Shared Account (Pleasantly Perfect) on his resume. Shared Account is expected to run in the Gallorette S. (G3) on the Preakness Day undercard.
Animal Kingdom will be Motion's fourth Preakness starter. He finished third in 2008 with Icabad Crane (Jump Start), and also saddled Bay Eagle (2001, eighth) and Equality (2002, 13th) in Maryland's signature race.
The Preakness is expected to feature three of the top four finishers from Saturday's Run for the Roses, as well as betting favorite DIALED IN (Mineshaft), trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito. Kathy Ritvo, trainer of third-place finisher MUCHO MACHO MAN (Macho Uno) and Dale Romans, conditioner of SHACKLEFORD (Forestry), who finished fourth, said they are planning to run in the Preakness.
"We'll have to see him the next couple days, how he's eating, how his legs are and what his attitude is. He looks good so far," Ritvo said of Mucho Macho Man. "We're strongly thinking about it as long as everything is good."
Ritvo loaded her classic-placed charge onto a van bound for Belmont Park, where she will have a 20-horse division, on Sunday morning after reporting that the massive colt was feeling fine.
"I just wanted him to run well. This was a 20-horse field. It's only going to get easier from here, because there are no more 20-horse fields," Ritvo said. "He kept himself out of trouble and (jockey) Rajiv (Maragh) did a good job. He was running at the end. I was happy with his training and everything that went with it."
Shackleford spent part of Sunday morning walking the shedrow at Barn 4, showing no ill effects from his pacesetting effort on Saturday.
"He came out of the race fine, but I'm worn out," said Romans, who finished second in the Preakness last year with First Dude (Stephen Got Even). "He will go back to the track Wednesday and leave for Baltimore the following Tuesday."
Zito reported that Robert LaPenta's Dialed In came out of his disappointing eighth-place finish as the 5-2 Derby favorite in good condition.
"I wasn't too happy. I looked to (son) Alex and said, 'I think we're in trouble here.' We had a plan all along, and we stuck to the plan," Zito said. "(Jockey) Julien (Leparoux) did what he was supposed to do. When (track announcer) Mark Johnson said, 'Dialed In got away bad,' I was surprised, because he's good in the gate and has been getting away good all the time. So that cost us a couple lengths there.
"The race unfolded and he was in his normal position -- last. Like Julien said, they didn't come back. Once they did 13-and-change, that was tough to do. But he still tried to come on, he came with his run and only got beat 7 1/2 lengths.
"He came home faster than the winner, which means a lot," Zito added. "He was just too far back. You can't do it that way."
Zito said the plan was to go on to Pimlico with Dialed In.
"I spoke to Bob (LaPenta) and went over everything," the conditioner expalined. "He's determined. He's built this house and it's only half done, so we have to finish the job. He wants to do it, and it's good enough for me."
Dialed In has an added incentive to show up for the second jewel of the Triple Crown. With his victory in the Florida Derby (G1) last month, the dark bay is eligible for the Preakness 5.5 bonus. Last summer MI Developments Inc. (MID), the majority owner of the Maryland Jockey Club, announced a pair of historic and unique bonus programs centered around Pimlico's premier three-year old races, called the "Preakness 5.5" and "Black-Eyed Susan 2.2."
The late-running Dialed In also captured the Holy Bull S. (G3) earlier in the Gulfstream Park meet. In addition to the race purses earned in the qualifying events and the Preakness, the owner of the winning horse would receive $5 million and his trainer would get $500,000.
"The $5 million would be good enough to run in the Preakness," said Zito, who ranks second to D. Wayne Lukas in history with 20 Preakness starters. "We love Pimlico and look forward to another shot."
Zito won the Preakness in 1996 with Louis Quatorze, who finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby.
"I might have made a mistake not going with Ice Box (Pulpit) last year," said Zito, who bypassed the second leg of the Triple Crown with his 2010 Derby runner-up. "You may say, 'you didn't make a mistake with Birdstone not going,' but every horse is different. This horse, knock wood, might benefit from wheeling him right back."
Zito said shipping plans to Baltimore are not definite.
"I'm just going day by day and make sure we're doing everything right," he said. "We'll play it by ear, but it's a good possibility we'll stay here to the end."
Trainer Steve Asmussen, who has lifted the Woodlawn Vase twice in the last four years with Curlin (2007) and Rachel Alexandra (2009), told Pimlico racing officials that no decision has been made on Derby runner-up NEHRO (Mineshaft). However, Asmussen confirmed Preakness plans for ASTROLOGY (A.P. Indy), who finished second in the Jerome S. (G2) in his last start and has never been out of the money in seven career outings.
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who has saddled five Preakness winners, indicated the status of Derby 16th-placer MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE (War Chant) and Rebel S. (G2) winner THE FACTOR (War Front) would not be made until next weekend.
Connections from nine other runners, who did not compete in the Derby, have also expressed interest in the Preakness. The potential new shooters, in alphabetical order, are Saturday's Federico Tesio S. winner CONCEALED IDENTITY (Smarty Jones); Arkansas Derby (G1) third DANCE CITY (City Zip); Florida Derby fourth FLASHPOINT (Pomeroy); Blue Grass S. (G1) third KING CONGIE (Badge of Silver); Santa Anita Derby (G1) third MR. COMMONS (Artie Schiller); Wood Memorial (G1) fourth NORMAN ASBJORNSON (Real Quiet); Lexington S. (G2) runner-up PRIME CUT (Bernstein); Arkansas Derby 10th-placer SARATOGA RED (Eddington); dual Grade 2-placed SWAY AWAY (Afleet Alex).
While stablemate Twice the Appeal (Successful Appeal) was headed west following his 10th-place Derby finish, trainer Jeff Bonde's other sophomore Sway Away was scheduled to stay at Churchill for another 10 days before heading to Pimlico and the Preakness.
"I'm going to stay here with him," assistant trainer Miguel Carranza said. "He'll train here through next Tuesday, then we've got a flight up to Baltimore."
Sway Away, who had finished fourth in the Arkansas Derby in his previous start, just missed getting into the Derby lineup when he wound up 21st on the graded-stakes money list that limited runners for the Run for the Roses to 20.
The Preakness is limited to 14 starters. Sixteen of the last 19 years have seen double-digit starters.