Bobby Zen

BALTIMORE, MD — He’s baaack. The truth of the matter, trainer Bob Baffert never really went away. The Hall of Famer’s omnipresent influence–be it through his runners or the offspring of the stallions he helped mold–can be felt everywhere, regardless of whether the man shows up or not. Conspicuous in his absence at Churchill Downs two weeks ago, Baffert did make his first appearance on the Pimlico backstretch Friday morning, surrounded by a rockstar-caliber entourage, including his kids and his wife Jill, in addition to SF Bloodstock’s Tom Ryan and Starlight Racing’s Jack Wolf.

After the disappointing scratch of early GI Preakness S. favorite Muth (Good Magic), Baffert was on-hand to oversee his other runner, Imagination (Into Mischief), take to the track for a 1 3/8-mile gallop under exercise rider Humberto Gomez. Led to the track by assistant Jimmy Barnes aboard the barn’s already famous pony Amarillo, the flashy bay looked far more chilled out on an overcast morning Friday than he did only a day before. Barely breaking a sweat, the colt completed his task with little fuss, suggesting he might be able to replicate the feat of last year’s front-running Preakness winner National Treasure, campaigned by the same connections.

“He looks fine, I really don’t have any excuses for him,” Baffert said of Imagination, the 3-1 second choice on the revised Preakness morning line. “He should run well.”

Of the GII San Felipe S. winner, Baffert added, He is going to have to step it up a level to be there with them,” Baffert said. “I am hoping this will be his coming-out-party race. We need him now with Muth out. We really, really need him badly.”

Embodying the same ease that ushered him through his Kentucky Derby victory two weeks ago, captain cool himself, Mystik Dan (Goldencents), continued to take everything in stride, neither wowing nor disappointing. On a loop since his first Derby win, trainer Kenny McPeek has been telling anyone that would listen that the colt’s superpower is his intelligence and unflappable demeanor. Once again mobbed by the media Friday morning, Mystik Dan enjoyed nothing more than a light gallop under Robby Albarado, and has not turned a hair in the days leading up to the Preakness. The colt, who will be reunited with Brian Hernandez, Jr. in the second jewel of the Triple Crown, is the 8-5 favorite on the morning line.

“He didn’t need anything complicated,” McPeek said.

Kenny McPeek and ‘Sonny’ overseeing Derby champ Mystik Dan heading to the track | CBoss

It should be noted, however, the true star of the stakes barn was Sonny, McPeek’s robust yellow Labrador Retriever who made his first appearance Friday. Garnering the star status that has not been seen since the days of Bobby Frankel‘s Australian Shepard Happy, Sonny one-upped his predecessor by getting his own track-issued credential. The affable pooch was clearly enjoying all the attention, and all the dog biscuits, that went with it.

Also getting his share of traffic at the barn Friday morning, trainer D. Wayne Lukas sent out Just Steel (Justify) and followed by GII Pat Day Mile scorer Seize the Grey (Arrogate) shortly after 7:30 a.m., in order to accommodate the 11:30 a.m. ET post time. He stationed himself atop his pony at the very end of the stretch to watch his horses go through their final paces, as far away from the ever-growing legion of media as he could comfortably post himself. An observation that was subsequently confirmed. However, it wasn’t long before the press descended on the Hall of Famer’s barn, and he obliged the numerous requests for a quote or a sound bite. But as an errant camera operator quickly found out, don’t drift too far into the shedrow because The Coach won’t hesitate to educate you.

Preakness Talking Horses

Beyond the week’s most talked-about Preakness contenders, a few of the sophomores gave their connections some measure of quiet confidence heading into Saturday’s Classic.

Chief among them, TDN Rising Star Tuscan Gold (Medaglia d’Oro), representing William Lawrence, Walmac Farm and Stonestreet Stables. Under exercise rider Janiel Rosado, the GII Louisiana Derby third-place finisher galloped 1 1/4 miles Friday morning.

Chad Brown’s assistant Jose Hernandez, who has overseen the training of Tuscan Gold since he arrived at Pimlico Tuesday, said, “He has been handling the track really well. He did fine again today. We didn’t ask him to do anything more than he has been doing. He is just very focused right now. I am really confident going into the race.”

Making only his fourth career start, Tuscan Gold will use a similar path as Brown previously employed with 2017 Preakness winner Cloud Computing and Early Voting, victorious in 2022. Both horses won the Preakness off only three races.

According to Hernandez, Tuscan Gold will just walk the shedrow on Saturday morning. The colt will be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione, who has been aboard in two of Tuscan Gold’s three career starts.

Imagination | CBoss

Having garnered plenty of pre-Derby hype, Catching Freedom (Constitution) continued to draw rave reviews during his time at Pimlico this week. Winner of Oaklawn’s Smarty Jones S. Jan. 1, he was third in the Feb. 17 GII Risen Star S. before annexing the Louisiana Derby. The Brad Cox trainee was last seen finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

“He got here early Tuesday morning,” said assistant Blake Cox. “He jogged a mile, Tuesday, late like 9 a.m. Very quiet track. He was very fresh coming home. [Wednesday] morning, we just galloped through a mile because the track was sealed. He looked very good and came back fresh again.”

The colt was expected to school with Friday’s first race.

“He looked very good,” said Cox Friday morning. “He’s been coming off the track bucking and squealing. He’s as happy as he can be.”

With the scratch of GI Arkansas Derby winner Muth, who would have likely installed himself on the front end come Saturday, several of the remaining participants continue to ponder where the early speed might come from.

“It might change the pace scenario,” said Cox when asked about the favorite’s defection. “And obviously, he was the favorite and it’s a big scratch, and he’s a very, very good horse, but we’ll see who goes. I mean we’re going to need to set up [off the pace] to be able to get the job done and we’re, hopefully, going to get it.”

Baffert echoed his concern with the lack of a legitimate target horse for Imagination, who will be ridden by Frankie Dettori, who was also aboard for a second-place effort in the Apr. 6 GI Santa Anita Derby.

Jill Baffert showing stable pony Amarillo some love | CBoss

“If he gets out there by himself, I don’t know what he would do and how he would react,” Baffert said. “I am going to leave it up to Frankie. He’s on his own.”

In addition to Derby winner Mystik Dan, who has already proven adept on winning over a soggy track, Friday and Saturday’s forecast for rain have also seemed to improve the chances of Michael Milam and LC Racing LLC’s Uncle Heavy (Social Inclusion). The winner of two of three starts at Parx at two, he earned his graded badge with a narrow score in a muddy renewal of the GIII Withers S. at the Big A Feb. 3. Trained by Butch Reid, Jr., the late May foal finished fifth last out in the GII Wood Memorial Apr. 6.

“Well, that’s what I’m hoping for, a little wet-fast,” Reid said. “He really likes that.”

“I’m hoping for a track similar [to earlier in the week] on Saturday because he loved it, really relished it,” Reid said. “Had a good, aggressive gallop and was getting over it really well.”

Uncle Heavy will attempt to become the first Pennsylvania-

bred to win the historic Preakness since Smarty Jones in 2004.

Uncle Heavy, who went out to the track for routine morning exercise Friday, will be accompanied by Irad Ortiz, Jr. for the first time Saturday.

Undercard Action at Pimlico

A quartet of Grade III tests highlight Pimlico’s Sarturday undercard, including the six-furlong GIII Chick Lang S. for 3-year-olds. The race is highlighted by Mr Skylight (Practical Joke), the winner of his two latest starts, including a Keeneland allowance optional claimer Apr. 20. Also on the undercard, the GIII Gallorette S. features morning-line choice MGSW Fluffy Socks (Slumber {GB}), who looks to get back on track following a sixth in the Apr. 13 GI Jenny Wiley S. The remaining graded races on Saturday’s card are the GIII Maryland Sprint S. and the GIII Dinner Party S. The 14-race card kicks off at 10:30 a.m.

The post Baffert Camp Returns in Force to Pimlico appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions.

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