As jockey Joe Bravo slid off Teeth of the Dog to talk to trainer Michael Matz after Saturday's Preakness, he was smiling. It might have seemed an odd expression for a jockey whose horse had just finished fifth.
But Teeth of the Dog was the highest-finishing Maryland-trained horse in the race — and it had been a glorious race. Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another came from 31/2 lengths back down the stretch to forge ahead of the betting favorite, Bodemeister, by a neck at the finish. It was thrilling. So thrilling, few noticed what was going on behind them.
Continuing a streak that's lasted since 1983, the four Maryland-based trainers in the race at Pimlico Race Course couldn't produce a winner. Tiger Walk, Ignacio Correas' horse from Sagamore Farm, finished eighth. Graham Motion's Went the Day Well finished next-to-last in the 11-horse field after taking fourth at the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier. And Chris Grove's Pretension was last.
Any of them certainly would have enjoyed giving Maryland a victory Saturday, but all of them seemed to appreciate I'll Have Another's victory.
"It's a happy day for Maryland because the Triple Crown is still alive," Grove said. "Maryland did a hell of a job. Maryland put on the show, and the show was a hit. We did our part. As far as racing, our horse tried and that's what racing is about — perseverance. My horse ran to his odds. He was the longest shot on the board."
Bravo said he was proud of Teeth of the Dog, who he said "kept fighting throughout."
And Matz did not seem disappointed by the horse's run, choosing to concentrate instead on the spectacular finish.
"It was terrific," he said.
Jockey Ramon Dominguez was given the ride on Tiger Walk on Friday after the horse's original jockey, Kent Desormeaux, failed a Breathalyzer test in New York that day. Dominguez said he felt comfortable on the Tale of the Cat colt and found him eager out of the gate.
"But he began to tire at the 3/8ths pole, and after that he just stayed even," Dominguez said. "But it's a big achievement for [Sagamore] to be in the Preakness, and for me. They were great about telling me about the horse, and we really did the best we could."
Correas, Sagamore's trainer, said his horse simply "hadn't been up to the task, but I think he's a good horse. We'll give him some time, and maybe in six months he'll be improved. But the experience for all of us was incredible.
"You know, we're big fans of Maryland racing and we feel we represent the state," he added. "Our horse was engaged in the race all the way around. We tried to win. It was probably ambitious, but we'll learn from the experience."
Went the Day Well, the third favorite at race time, broke well but didn't respond to jockey John Velazquez when he asked the horse to go.
"I put him in the race, right where I wanted to be," Velazquez said. "We were right behind the winner. But in the end, it was very disappointing."
Added Motion: "I was very surprised my horse ran such a flat race. The Derby took more out of him than I thought. But I don't think it's fair to compare the other horses in the race to the two leaders. What happened doesn't take anything away from the Maryland-[trained] horses. I'm probably a little surprised at how well those two horses ran after how hard they ran in the Derby. They appear to be pretty special."
Motion suggested Marylanders might want to claim I'll Have Another as their own. After all, he was at Pimlico longer than any other out-of-state Derby winner has been in years.
"He's a Marylander at the moment," Motion said. "But I think he'll become a New Yorker pretty fast."