First look at potential Preakness starters


Comes now the next phase of the Triple Crown: waiting.

Will he or won’t he? And this year, will she or won’t she? Go to the Preakness, that is.

The day after Rich Strike’s epic, 80-1 upset of the Kentucky Derby, eyes turned towards Baltimore and the Middle Jewel. Who’s coming, and who’s not?

Rich Strike “probably” is, trainer Eric Reed told Churchill Downs publicity Sunday morning. 

“I’m not going to do a whole lot with him and I don’t like to run back quick,” Reed said. “You get one like this in a lifetime and you have to protect him.”

Reed and RED-TR Racing (Rick Dawson) grabbed Rich Strike out of his 17-length maiden score for just $30,000, and he’d arrived at the Derby winless since, with three thirds. But Reed was undeterred, and when Ethereal Road scratched out of the Derby at the last possible moment, that opened the door to the son of Keen Ice.

“We were hoping and praying all week just trying to get there,” Reed said. “Then we went a step further than we could have dreamed.”

Speaking of Ethereal Road, it seems fairly likely that both he and stablemate Secret Oath, winner of Friday’s Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, will head to Baltimore. While octogenarian trainer D. Wayne Lukas obviously had designs on running the former in the Derby until calling an audible, for the latter he’s been musing about the Preakness for months.

“If we were to get a run very impressive in the Oaks, it’s not totally out of the question that we would drop into the Preakness,” Lukas said in March on Off to the Races Radio.

There’s a pretty good argument that Epicenter, the post-time favorite at 4.10-1, ran as well as any of his rivals to be second. He was eighth, just over five lengths back, after a wicked opening quarter-mile in 21.78 seconds. All of the other horses to finish in the top seven were 13th or worse at that point.

But will he come to Baltimore?

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen was noncommittal after he was unable – once again – to win the only significant race he has yet to capture.

“We’ll just try and move forward. I haven’t spoken with (owner) Ron (Winchell) yet but I will later and will figure out what we are going to do next,” Asmussen said.

In fact, noncommittal was the mood of the morning. Derby trainers all indicated that their charges had come out of the Derby in good order, but for the most part, they weren’t quite willing to commit to a next move.

“I am going to talk with the owner in the next two days and a make a decision on whether to go to the Preakness or to go home,” said Antonio Sano, whose Simplification ran a big race to be fourth.

Other Derby horses whose connections indicated Sunday they are giving thought to the Preakness include Taiba, the lightly raced Tim Yakteen trainee who finished 12th, and Happy Jack. 

“He could run in the Preakness in Baltimore, or he could wait and go to New York for the Belmont,” said Leandro Mora, assistant to trainer Doug O’Neill. Happy Jack finished 14th in the Derby, and Mora thinks he likely fits better in the Belmont.

The Preakness also could include a variety of newcomers. El Camino Real Derby winner Black Adder, Wood Memorial runner-up Early Voting, and the one-eyed Un Ojo are among the significant names likely to get consideration.

Then there are the local hopefuls, Shake Em Loose and Joe. The former defeated the latter to win the Private Terms at Laurel in March, after which owner-trainer Rodolfo Sanchez-Salomon ponied up the $6,000 to supplement the Shakin It Up gelding to the Triple Crown.

Next time out, Joe turned the tables on Shake Em Loose, winning the Tesio narrowly over Mr Jefferson, with Shake Em Loose farther back in third. But owner Stuart Grant, who races as The Elkstone Group LLC, would have to pay $150,000 to get the son of Declaration of War into the field.