Almost immediately, there was talk of lucky numbers.
Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another drew the No. 9 post at the draw for the 137th running of the Preakness. After his horse raced from the 19th position -- and became the first to win from that spot -- in Kentucky, Doug O'Neill saw no problem.
"Anything with a nine is fine for us," the gregarious trainer of I'll Have Another said.
Bodemeister, meanwhile, drew the seventh spot. That, friends joked with trainer Bob Baffert, could work; his son Bode, after all, is 7 years old.
But when the talk of good fortune and happy circumstance subsided, slivers of evidence revealing how the race will be run were left. Maryland's oddsmaker, Frank Carulli, installed Bodemeister as an 8-5 morning-line favorite. I'll Have Another came in as the second choice, at 5-2.
O'Neill has said all week that he expected -- and accepted -- that Bodemeister's startling run at the Derby would make him the favorite. He said Baffert, a fellow California-based trainer, had earned the benefit of the bet.
"He's won five of these things," he said, "and I've never even run a horse here. He really knows what he's doing."
Yet O'Neill continued to push the idea that his horse, faced with a field devoid of other speed, will run right along with Bodemeister if he needs to.
"I'm confident," said O'Neill, who believes his horse has improved since winning the Derby. "You never know, but as long as we continue to train like our horse has trained, we won't be that far off Bodemeister. If anything, Bodemeister might be behind us early. I could see him chasing us. I really could."
At the Derby, other sprinters went out after Bodemeister when the colt broke so well under jockey Mike Smith, and Bodemeister began to tire down the stretch. Baffert wouldn't bother to reminisce about that race or second-guess the ride -- "Once it's done, it's done," he said -- but he feels that a slower pace and shorter way to go will help his horse at Pimlico Race Course. And he must have learned something from watching film of the Derby. Of O'Neill's horse, he had this to say: "His rider rode a really great race. He didn't chase us. If he would have chased us, he wouldn't have finished."
When told of O'Neill's insistence that I'll Have Another could keep pace, Baffert dismissed the very idea of a "race plan."
"When the gate comes open, you don't know how it's going to be," he said.
Two other Derby finishers, Went the Day Well (fifth post) and Creative Cause (sixth post) are the third favorites, at 6-1.
"This horse, I think he could have won the Derby if he had broken right, but he didn't," said Barry Irwin, the managing partner of Went the Day Well's ownership group, Team Valor International. "Once he broke bad, he caused himself a whole bunch of trouble. We have to make sure the horse gets out of the gate this time. If he does, I think we've got a good shot."
Michael Matz, who like Went the Day Well trainer Graham Motion trains out of Fair Hill, brings the most highly regarded shooter to the race, with Teeth of the Dog going off from the No. 2 post position with morning-line odds of 15-1.
"We went into the race thinking that perhaps the two top finishers in the Derby might be off the edge a little bit and bounce a little bit," owner Jose Singer said. "I've got a lightly raced horse that is fresh, and I'm hoping he comes in to collect the spoils."
Sagamore Farms' Tiger Walk drew the inside post and received 30-1 odds.
"It's fine," trainer Ignacio Correas said. "There are pros and cons to anything, and we're just going to have to go out and race."
The outside positions have proven more difficult for Preakness runners, Sagamore manager Tom Mullikin said.
Tiger Walk will be the second Triple Crown entry for Sagamore and Under Armour owner Kevin Plank.
The 11-horse field is the smallest since only nine horses ran in 2007. Guyana Star Dweej withdrew because a left front leg injury did not heal sufficiently.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times