Is this the year a Maryland-trained horse wins the Preakness again?
Despite four Maryland-based trainers having entries, the odds aren't good
Went The Day Well is Maryland's best shot at a Preakness States title this year. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / May 11, 2012)
He is a pensioner, an icon. The oldest living winner of a Triple Crown race.
But when Billy Boniface looks at the horse in his paddock, he sees the striking colt that was born and trained at the family farm and raced to victory in the 1983 Preakness — the last horse bred or trained in Maryland to do so.
"Oh my gosh, I still get goose bumps when I look at him and remember that day," said Boniface, who was 18 then and had just taken over the breeding operation at the farm. "It's pretty special. You never forget it."
This year, for the first time in at least three decades, there will be four Maryland-based trainers with horses in the Preakness Stakes. (None were bred here.)
Bowie Training Center-based Chris Grove brings Pretension, owned by Maryland native Irving Kidwell of Annapolis; Fair Hill trainer Graham Motion has fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher Went the Day Well; Fair Hill trainer Michael Matz brings Teeth of the Dog, the third-place finisher in the Wood Memorial; and the famed Sagamore Farm has Tiger Walk, the farm's first Preakness entry under the ownership of Under Armour founder and Maryland native Kevin Plank, who is restoring the facility.
And so, the question: With four of the 11 horses in this 137th running of the race having Maryland connections, is this the year one will win and give the locals those goose bumps again?
"I suppose there is an outside chance," said Mike Watchmaker, the national handicapper for the Daily Racing Form. "But those four horses could each run their very best races and still not crack the top 2. I'm sorry to spoil the party."
The top 2 are pre-race favorite Bodemeister and Kentucky Derby winnerI'll Have Another.
Television commentator Jerry Bailey, a former jockey, isn't quite so pessimistic.
"It's not out of the realm of possibility," Bailey said. "Went the Day Well has a fairly good chance."
Bailey thinks the longer shots will have a tougher time, though.
"The thing with long shots is if there is just one outstanding horse and all the others are long shots, it's just one horse that has to have an off day," he said. "But that's not the way it is in the Preakness. There is Bodemeister and I'll Have Another, who I believe have an equal chance. And I think Went the Day Well has a pretty good chance. They'd all have to have an off day for one of the other Maryland horses to come through. When you have two or three that are better, it rarely happens that they all falter."
And, he adds, Pretension and Tiger Walk may just not be fast enough.
But it's a horse race, and anything can happen. Just ask Kidwell, who owns Pretension. He's been in the horse racing business since 1979 and is now experiencing his first Preakness.
"Any horse can win the Preakness," Kidwell said. "I'm 87 years old. It's time to win or time to go. We've won at Pimlico. We've had an extra week's rest. This is probably the best horse I've had. And, I need it."
Kidwell has been ill with a bout of pneumonia. He plans to be at the race, "if at all possible," and said he'd love to see a horse with Maryland connections win, even if it isn't his.
"I'd like to see a Maryland horse," he said. "It would be absolutely inspiring to others. The crowd proved that to me when we won [the Canonero II stakes at Pimlico on May 5]. Everyone was so excited."
Grove, who trains Pretension, is frank.