As the prospective field for the May 21 Preakness Stakes came into sharper focus on Wednesday, the horse they will all have to beat yet again, Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, returned to the track for his first piece of light training since Saturday's Derby, jogging one mile at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, trainer Graham Motion said.
"He looks super, looks great," Motion said.
Animal Kingdom traveled by van on Tuesday from Churchill Downs to Fair Hill in Elkton, Md., which is a one-hour drive from Pimlico, home of the Preakness.
Motion said Animal Kingdom was scheduled to jog again on Thursday before ramping up to a gallop on Friday. As of Wednesday, it appeared 12 horses would challenge him in the second leg of the Triple Crown. Animal Kingdom outran 18 rivals in the Derby.
Motion, reached by telephone, still sounded worn out by the events of the past few days.
"I'm recovering, very slowly," he said. "I'm trying to enjoy the Derby before looking at the Preakness. It's all been pretty overwhelming."
Motion said his "inclination" at this point was to bring Animal Kingdom from Fair Hill to Pimlico on May 20, after training him that morning at Fair Hill.
"But I'm fluctuating on that," he said. "I'm in a state of fluctuation."
The Preakness field became more defined on Wednesday, with nearly every jockey assignment being nailed down, most notably, and of intrigue, that of King Congie, who picked up Robby Albarado.
Albarado was taken off Animal Kingdom the day before the Derby, and John Velazquez rode him to the Derby victory. Now, Albarado will try to beat Animal Kingdom.
Terry Finley, the president of the West Point Thoroughbreds syndicate that owns King Congie, noted that Albarado rode his stable's first Grade 1 winner – Flashy Bull in the 2007 Stephen Foster. Albarado also won the 2009 Stephen Foster for West Point aboard Macho Again.
"Given what happened to him in the Derby, I would have to think he'll be more focused and dialed in, plus he's won a Preakness and we want to take advantage of that," said Finley, noting that Albarado was aboard 2007 Preakness winner Curlin. "I think he's a top-class rider who is going to be in the Hall of Fame some day."
Albarado was named to ride Animal Kingdom when entries were taken for the Derby on May 4. But that day, Albarado was involved in a pre-race incident in which his mount kicked him in the face. Albarado took off his mounts on Thursday and Friday, which prompted Barry Irwin, head of the Team Valor International syndicate that owns Animal Kingdom, to make a rider change to Velazquez, who became open with the scratch of Uncle Mo.
In other Preakness jockey news, trainer Bob Baffert said that Martin Garcia would replace Victor Espinoza aboard Midnight Interlude should he run in the Preakness, a decision Baffert said he would finalize on Monday.
Also, trainer Todd Pletcher said that Ramon Dominguez would ride Arkansas Derby third-place finisher Dance City, Jeff Bonde confirmed Garrett Gomez as the rider for Sway Away, and Wesley Ward, the new trainer of Flashpoint, said that Cornelio Velasquez would retain the mount for the Preakness.
Mucho Macho Man back to track
Mucho Macho Man was so full of energy on Wednesday that trainer Kathy Ritvo opted to gallop the Derby third-place finisher rather than simply jog him.
After jogging three-quarters of a mile, Mucho Macho Man galloped 1 1/2 miles over the Belmont training track, a surface over which he trained last fall before finishing second in both the Nashua and Remsen stakes – both times behind To Honor and Serve – last November at Aqueduct.
"I'm surprised he wasn't more tired, I mean they ran a mile and quarter,'' Ritvo said. "I think he ran very hard. It's nice to be sitting on a horse that still has energy after the Derby.''
Ritvo said she might breeze Mucho Mach Man at Belmont early next week, depending on weather.
The Preakness field is limited to 14 runners. Entries for the Preakness will be taken May 18.
– additional reporting by David Grening
Preakness probables with jockeys
Animal Kingdom - John Velazquez
Astrology - Mike Smith
Concealed Identity - Sheldon Russell
Dance City - Ramon Dominguez
Dialed In - Julien Leparoux
Flashpoint - Cornelio Velasquez
King Congie - Robby Albarado
Midnight Interlude - Martin Garcia
Mr. Commons - undecided
Mucho Macho Man - Rajiv Maragh
Norman Asbjornson - Julian Pimentel
Shackleford - Jesus Castanon
Sway Away - Garrett Gomez