BALTIMORE -- These days, top-class thoroughbreds rarely are asked to race more than once a month. That's why trainers are nervous about bringing them back for the Preakness only two weeks after the Kentucky Derby. Although the quick turnaround takes horsemen out of their comfort zone, it doesn't bother most good 3-year-olds.
If a horse is in top form on the first Saturday in May, it usually comes back strong 14 days later. Seven of the previous 15 Derby winners won the Preakness, with four finishing second and one third. Only three heroes at Churchill Downs were out of the money at Pimlico -- Monarchos (sixth, 2001), Barbaro (broke down, 2006) and Super Saver (eighth, 2010). So think twice if you're betting that I'll Have Another won't be in the exacta Saturday, even if he's never run off such short rest.
Trainer Doug O'Neill likes how his first classic winner has been training here. "He looks fantastic, great energy. He's maintained his beautiful long stride," he said Wednesday. "He looks no worse for the wear."
O'Neill admits that two weeks is a concern. "In that short a period of time, you can't have anything go wrong," he said. "But -- knock on wood -- we haven't had any hiccups."
Bob Baffert was wary about going to the Preakness with Derby runner-up Bodemeister, who tired late after setting freakish fractions. Baffert waited nine days before giving the go-ahead Monday. "I was worried that he might be wiped out and just stay in the back of his stall for three days and sulk," he said, "but he never did. His coat is good and he's eating well. I see no reason not to run him."
Many handicappers figured the lightly raced Bodemeister would regress off a career-best 108 Beyer speed figure in his 9½-length Arkansas Derby runaway. Instead, he posted the fastest fractions for a quarter-mile, half-mile, 6 furlongs and a mile by a single horse in Derby history.
"He deserves a shot," Baffert said. "He was glorious in defeat. He came back in three weeks and ran great. He looks good and I don't see why he can't run another one."
If Bodemeister does that in his sixth race in only four months, he'll leave his mark for a long time.
The ultraconservative Graham Motion believes in giving horses plenty of time between starts.
"I always considered the Derby a very grueling race," Motion said, "and I was amazed how Animal Kingdom handled the two-week turnaround so well."
Despite a poor start, the 2011 Derby winner was a strong second in the Preakness, only a half-length behind Shackleford.
Motion finished fourth in this year's Derby with Went the Day Well, who had traffic problems before making an eye-catching surge in the final furlong, gaining 7½ lengths while seven-wide. In a few more strides, he might have been second.
"It's extraordinary to me," Motion said, "that with a cleaner trip, we could have come close to winning the Derby two years in a row."
Like Animal Kingdom, Went the Day Well recovered quickly, and he deserves respect Saturday.
"I'm really surprised how well this fellow has handled it," Motion said. "I gave him a gallop at Fair Hill and I couldn't be happier with him. So I guess we underestimate the hardiness of these horses."