Preakness Reflections; Belmont Lookahead


Everyone found out Saturday why trainer Dale Romans would have been upset if First Dude was excluded from the Preakness field, which was a distinct possibility early last week. The big bay, who wouldn't have qualified to compete in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown had 15 horses been entered on Wednesday, gave Lookin at Lucky all he could handle before grudgingly yielding to the 2009 juvenile champion in deep stretch.

"I'm not disappointed at all. He had a big effort and he got beat by a champion," said Romans, whose second-place finisher broke alertly from the 11 post and showed the way into the stretch. "He did all the work up front and he still finished and they had to work to get by him."

The late-developing First Dude set solid fractions of :22.91, :46.47 and 1:11.22 for the first six furlongs of the 1 3/16-mile signature race of the Pimlico meeting but still had a lot of fight in him through the stretch run. Romans gave jockey Ramon Dominguez the option to set the pace with the Donald Dizney-owned colt.

"If he broke sharp, I told Ramon, 'Feel free and go ahead and go if no one else was going and just keep him in the clear," he said. "I didn't want him to get stopped and to try to re-start, he's such a big old horse. When he's got the momentum going, you can't have him stopped and get him going again."

His sparkling performance served as validation for high hopes Romans and his staff have held for the colt since his arrival in the barn.

"We are proud of him," Romans said. "We kept thinking all along that he was this kind of horse, but he just had circumstances that kept him from running a big, big race. Finally nothing went wrong and he put it all together and he got beat by a champion."

Romans reported that his colt, who was shipped back to his Churchill Downs base early Sunday morning, came out of the Preakness in good order and will be pointed toward the Belmont S.

"I think he's going to move forward again," he said. "The mile and a half suits him, and we're excited to go up there."

"It'll be the third time," said Romans of the growing rivalry with the stablemate of Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box (Pulpit). "Maybe the third time's the charm and we'll catch him."

Although Preakness hero Lookin at Lucky and Derby winner Super Saver are scheduled to sit it out, the Belmont hasn't lost any luster for Romans.

"I think it's a great race to win regardless. I think it's going to end up being a pretty good field of horses," Romans said. "With horses like Ice Box, Fly Down and my horse, it'll be a good race."

Romans believes First Dude could well be the horse to beat in the big race three weeks down the road.

"I think so, and so does Ramon," Romans said.

The Kentucky trainer reported that PADDY O'PRADO (El Prado [Ire]), his third-place Derby finisher who ran sixth Saturday, checked out fine Sunday morning before joining First Dude on the trip back to Louisville, Kentucky.

"I don't know if he liked that racetrack; it was kind of sandy and deep," he said. "I'm not saying he won't run on a fast, firm racetrack somewhere else, but if I'd have to say right now, I'd probably say he'll go back to the grass.

"I'll talk with Jerry (Donegal Racing managing partner Jerry Crawford) later in the day and see what we want to do with him."

Romans said he will have great memories of Preakness 135.

"It's a great event. They always treat you well at Pimlico. Even when we came up for the undercard races, they always bent over backwards to take care of us," he said. "We made it an enjoyable vacation with the two horses here. It was very exciting."

Trainer Nick Zito, who had the best two legs of the Triple Crown of any trainer who didn't win either race, may be holding most of the aces for the upcoming Belmont. Zito, who finished third to Lookin at Lucky in the Preakness with JACKSON BEND (Hear No Evil) after a good second to Super Saver in the Kentucky Derby with Ice Box, could have as many as three runners in the Belmont.

Jackson Bend came out of the Preakness in good shape, according to Zito, who said he wasn't about to make a decision about the Belmont after his colt's two tough races in two weeks. Both Ice Box and Jackson Bend, who finished a troubled 12th in the Derby, are owned by Robert LaPenta, which may make the decision easier.

"He's a tough little horse," Zito said Sunday morning, pointing to the chestnut in his stall at the near end of the Preakness stakes barn. "I can say it a thousand times -- he's very, very, very tough. He wants to fight all the time."

Zito skipped the Preakness with Ice Box to train him up to the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes, but he may now dominate the field if Jackson Bend rebounds from the Preakness and Dwyer S. (G2) winner Fly Down stays healthy over the next three weeks.

"I never say never, but I doubt it," Zito said of Jackson Bend's probability of running in all three Triple Crown events. "I think he needs a rest. But you never know with him."

Zito, who saddled Louis Quatorze for a victory in 1996, was seeking his second Preakness success, and Jackson Bend nearly delivered it. He was beaten by less than a length for all the money, finishing a head behind pacesetting First Dude for second. Ice Box was flying too late when second in the Derby.

"It's up and down; it's a lot of rewarding things," Zito said. "You try to put everything in a proper perspective, but it's so hard, because you want to have peace, you want a little peace. You get it if you win those races because that's what we do it for. On the other hand, you've got to be thankful and grateful for how good they run and how good they come back.

"It's frustrating when you get beat in these big races, and believe me, I liked Lookin at Lucky yesterday. I always salute the winner, which is the right thing to do, and I hate making excuses. But a little break here and there…it might have been a little closer or a lot closer. We could have won the thing. You give us the horse and we're going to try to get you there. The good thing, unfortunately, is that victory needs no explanation."

Jackson Bend was loaded onto a New York-bound van Sunday morning.

The New York-bred YAWANNA TWIST (Yonaguska) was vanned back to Aqueduct Sunday morning after an eventful fourth-place finish for trainer Rick Dutrow and Steel Your Face Stables.

"Not too bad," managing partner Jim Riccio said when asked how Yawanna Twist exited the Preakness after being steadied in the backstretch and racing five-wide through the stretch. "I thought he ran big. He was live. Going in, I really thought he was live. He showed up, so we were happy."

Ridden by Edgar Prado, the lightly raced Illinois Derby (G3) and Gotham S. (G3) runner-up finished less than two lengths behind Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky. It was only his fifth career start. Riccio said he spoke to Dutrow Sunday, but no decision had been made regarding his next start.

DUBLIN (Afleet Alex), who closed for fifth in the Preakness after ducking out badly at the start, is under consideration for the Belmont.

The California-bred CARACORTADO (Cat Dreams), who faded to seventh after vying for the lead at the top of the stretch, came out of the Preakness in good shape, said breeder/part-owner/trainer Michael Machowsky Sunday.

"He's fine," said Machowsky, whose Preakness runner left Pimlico early Sunday morning for a cross-country flight back to California.

Caracortado tracked the pace in fourth into the final turn, where jockey Paul Atkinson sent his mount after pacesetter First Dude. The Santa Anita-based gelding responded to enter contention at the top of the stretch, only to tire through the lane.

"He maybe got tired a little more than we thought he would," Machowsky said. "When he went head and head with them coming off the turn, it gave us a little excitement."

Machowsky said Caracortado would be given a break before returning to action.

Trainer Derek Ryan was back at his Monmouth Park base Sunday morning, his ninth-place Preakness finisher, SCHOOLYARD DREAMS (Stephen Got Even), having safely vanned back to New Jersey Saturday night.

"He shipped back good and came out of the race fine," said Ryan, who had a more satisfying trip here last year when Musket Man (Yonaguska) finished third. "Other than that, we got beat, we got beat. Take your ball and go home."

The Preakness was only the seventh career start for the bay, who will now get a break from competition, according to Ryan.

"We'll probably go in the Pegasus that they moved to the middle of the Monmouth meet," he said. "It's a Grade 3. We'll go from there. We still feel pretty good about this horse."

PLEASANT PRINCE (Indy King) came out of the Preakness in good order, but will get some rest after beating only one horse on Saturday for owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Pleasant Prince left for Louisville on a plane at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday and will not be considered for the Belmont Stakes, according to Ken Ramsey.

"I would say that my weekend was priceless," said Ramsey, a Kentucky native who almost thoroughly enjoyed his first trip back to the Preakness since Ten Cents a Shine suffered a similar fate to Pleasant Prince by finishing next-to-last in 2003. "I learned a whole lot. It was a good experience, and I think I'll be able to take something out of it and maybe come back and make a run on the Triple Crown trail next year. I always look at the glass as half-full, not half-empty."

Ramsey said he will do things a little differently next time. He said that in his haste to get to the Kentucky Derby, his ultimate goal, he may have pushed Pleasant Prince a bit too hard. He needed more graded stakes earnings after losing the Florida Derby (G1) by a nose, and failed efforts in the Blue Grass S. (G1) and Derby Trial S. (G3) left the Preakness as the more viable option.

"We had to hustle this horse to get him to the Derby," said the self-made multi-millionaire during the cell phone boom. "I'm not going to do that next year. WinStar (Super Saver owners) had it figured out. You need to put your two-year-olds and your young three-year-olds in these graded stakes races and get the money so you don't have to scramble around at the 11th hour like we did trying to make it. I learned a whole lot. I'm only 74, so most of my best memories are probably still ahead of me."

Ramsey said he will look for an allowance race at Churchill Downs and maybe have Pleasant Prince in line for a stakes like the Haskell Invitational.



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