Then and now.
Along the drive through historic Sagamore Farm, with its idyllic pastures, gently rolling hills, and spectacular vistas, you pass a small unobtrusive barn that at first doesn’t look like a barn at all, due mainly to its garage doors that were installed years ago to replace the old existing traditional barn doors. Inside, there is little of significance, other than the remnants of five or six stalls. But this barn once was hallowed ground. The second stall from the end was the home of the legendary Native Dancer, who founded a dynasty right here in this very barn. This barn also was the home of the Discovery, one of the greatest weight carriers in the history of the sport.
Sagamore farm house and trainer's stand - Photo by Steve Haskin
Native Dancer’s stall bears little memory of the “Gray Ghost,” other than a wooden plank across the door, deformed by years of gnawing and still bearing The Dancer’s teeth marks. On the floor outside the stall is an old tack box, tarnished by the years, but still bearing farm owner Alfred G. Vanderbilt’s faded cerise and white colors and initials “AGV.”
Native Dancer's stall then - Sagamore photo
Native Dancer's stall now - Photo by Steve Haskin
Native Dancer - Sagamore Photo
This was the then. Veering off to the left, behind the old barn, is the former yearling barn that now houses owner Kevin Plank’s horses in training. Out in the large paddock, with its lush grass and carpet of clover, trainer Ignacio Correas grazes the handsome dark bay Tiger Walk, who is just days away from vanning down to Pimlico for his engagement in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
Tiger Walk and Ignacio Correas - Photo by Steve Haskin
Plank, founder of the sports apparel company Under Armour, has invested a great deal of money and effort in restoring this historic farm, located only about 20 minutes north of Pimlico. But there is still a lot of work to be done, such as renovating the large training barn adjacent to the six-furlong training track, composed mainly of Tapeta, along with pieces of colorful fabric from Under Armour shirts.
Overlooking the farm, on a hill across the road, aptly named Belmont Avenue, is the “farm” house, a sprawling estate decorated with photos and other memorabilia, mainly of Native Dancer. The house is used for guests, parties, and barbecues for the staff.
But history and restoration aside, the talk is of now and the Preakness Stakes, and the high hopes for Tiger Walk, who has to be one of unluckiest draw horses ever. In seven career starts, the son of Tale of the Cat has faced a total of 65 opponents and has drawn inside of only four of them. He has drawn either the outside post or one from the outside in every start, including post 13 of 13 in the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) and 12 of 12 and 11 of 12 in maiden races. He also was drawn in post 7 of 8 in the Wood Memorial (gr. I). Despite the bad posts and being forced wide into the first turn in almost every start, he still has managed to finish third in the Withers (gr. III) and fourth in the Gotham and Wood Memorial.
Equipped with cheater blinkers in his most recent work, he blazed a half-mile in :47 1/5 in company, and will race with the blinkers in the Preakness.
Correas, a native of Argentina and a fourth generation horseman, is no stranger to the Triple Crown trail, having accompanied Stormello to Florida on two occasions, for the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) and Florida Derby (gr. I), as assistant to Bill Currin, and then to Churchill for the Kentucky Derby.
If Tiger Walk, whose female family is a Who’s Who top-class Darby Dan breeding, can make an impact on the Preakness, with a little help from the draw this time, it will be a historic moment for Maryland and racing in general.
A Fair Hill morning
No drive down to Baltimore is complete without a stop at idyllic Fair Hill. Unlike last year and 2006, there is no Kentucky Derby winner to visit. But that doesn’t mean there are no major attractions there or even the Preakness winner.
As periods of heavy rain fell, Graham Motion was debating whether to van Went the Day Well, a troubled fourth in the Kentucky Derby, down to Pimlico later that morning or wait until the following day. He eventually decided on the latter.
At around 7 o’clock, as Went the Day Well, who had more than his share of trouble in the Derby, was being saddled, trainer Graham Motion was discussing the bizarre incident that had just transpired on the racetrack. “Thank God I didn’t see it,” he said.
Went the Day Well - Photo by Steve Haskin
Two of Motion’s 2-year-olds were galloping alongside each other when one of them reached over a savaged the other, grabbing him by the neck. The startled victim of the attack proceeded to dump his rider, as did the transgressor. With the two exercise riders standing on the tack, both colts then reared up on their hind legs and attacked each other, striking at one another with their front legs.
Thank goodness, the scene at the Team Valor barn was more tranquil. Went the Day Well looked fantastic, and it was obvious he has had no ill-effects from the Derby. His coat looked great and he was carrying excellent flesh. He went to the track in the pouring rain and galloped a strong mile and a half. This definitely is a horse to watch on Saturday.
Went the Day Well's walk in the rain. Photo by Steve Haskin
At the opposite end of the Fair Hill training center, trainer Michael Matz was applying ointment to the leg of Union Rags, who probably had the worst trip of all in the Derby, getting eliminated right at the start and returning with cuts that still required attention 10 days after the race. Matz still was visibly upset talking about Union Rags’ trip from hell after all the work they had put in getting the colt ready for a peak performance on the first Saturday in May. The fairy tale story of Phyllis Wyeth now will have to wait until the Belmont Stakes.
But Matz still will represented in the Preakness with Jose Singer’s Teeth of the Dog, a fast-closing third in the Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial (gr. I). This improving son of Bluegrass Cat made an attractive appearance in his stall, as Matz went in and fed him mints. He is a well balanced colt, and also sports a bright healthy coat. And you couldn’t ask for a colt with a kinder, more easy-going temperament.
Matz said he likely will van him down on Friday, and is just hoping for a good effort to propel him forward, possibly in the Belmont Stakes.
I’ll Have Another monster gallop
Churchill Downs or Pimlico, it doesn’t matter to Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another, who tore around the track this morning with the same high-powered energy he did in Kentucky.
I'll Have Another - Photo by Steve Haskin
Like Went the Day Well, he has bounced out of the Derby in great shape and has maintained his weight in excellent fashion.
At Churchill, he hugged the rail in his two-minute licks and open gallops, whereas at Pimlico, he took the turn a bit wider, but corned brilliantly and immediately headed back to the rail once straightened out in the stretch.
This evening’s draw should be very interesting, as we’ll see where Bodemeister breaks from and how easily he’ll get the lead. As the only apparent speed in the race, it will be up to I’ll Have Another’s rider Mario Gutierrez to decide how much slack to give him before putting the pressure on.
Doug O'Neill and friend - Photo by Steve Haskin