Around Maryland race tracks King Leatherbury, the third-winningest trainer all-time in the country, is known as an astute handicapper. Friday, in the Triple Crown Room at Pimlico, he said this will not be the year a Maryland horse wins — but he did leave a window of hope.
"Bodemeister will be the favorite, but I'll Have Another has done nothing wrong. He's done everything right. But can he keep it up? A lot of horses don't run well coming back in two weeks."
In the 136 previous runnings, only eight Maryland-bred colts have won the race. Since Deputed Testamony's victory, nine horses either bred here or trained here have finished in the top 5, four of those in the top two.
None have won. But Maryland breds Oliver's Twist, also bred at Bonita, and Magic Weisner, bred and trained by the late Nancy Alberts, came oh, so close. In 1995 Oliver's Twist lost by a half-length to Timber Country, and in 2002 Magic Weisner came within 3/4ths-lengths of War Emblem.
Tiger Walk ran what was viewed as "an OK race" in a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial, and even his trainer Ignacio Correas said recently at Sagamore that Tiger Walk will have "a lot of improving to do" to get the job done.
Pretension is viewed as being speed challenged and with Bodemeister, who ran some of the fastest splits in Derby history, expected to set the pace, that's not good for Pretension.
Teeth of the Dog is given "a puncher's chance" by some, but not by others.
It is only Went the Day Well that most consider realistic, and Motion, while impressed by the way his horse has recovered from the Derby, is not promising a celebration for a Maryland connected horse.
He is however, promising a great day for Maryland racing.
"Certainly I feel my horse belongs in the race," Motion said. "But he's going to have to come back and run the same race he ran in the Derby, and that's not always easy to do. And until you take him over there on Saturday, you really don't know how they're going to handle it."
Motion said Maryland racing doesn't need a Preakness winner, that the sport is strong in the state and has proven it time and again.
"What amazes me is even after how many years I've been here — and this is where I started — not much has changed," he said. "The trainers are the same and still very competitive. Through all the woes, it's still a very competitive place to race, and that speaks volumes."
He rattles off a list of names — Smarty Jones, Barbaro, Animal Kingdom. One came from just across the state line, two from the state. All amazing performers, all Kentucky Derby winners.
"When you think about the small population of horsemen in the area, to have that number of [relatively recent] Triple Crown race winners right here, is incredible," he said. "What's really great about the Preakness, whether it's a great Preakness or whether a horse with Maryland connections wins, is that it's in Maryland. It brings attention to the great racing in Maryland. Nothing can duplicate that. This is the week everyone talks about racing. It will be a great day."