All week, George Bolton told anyone who would listen that Astrology was better than a 14-1 long shot in the 136th Preakness, even if he had run only two races as a 3-year-old, and even if he smashed his head on the starting gate last time out.
Bolton, co-owner of the Kentucky-bred colt with Barbara Banke, did not tell them why, though.
"We knew one thing the bettors didn't know," the Brooklandville native said. "We knew he had the best work he ever had as a horse 12 days ago. We knew … that he was really coming into this race thriving."
Under the radar and lost in the rush to coronate Animal Kingdom and Dialed In, Astrology finished third in Saturday's Preakness with a big race running on the rail, his least-desirable path, against the big boys. He followed the winner, Shackleford, closely around the mile-and-3/16 race and beat fourth-place Dialed In by 2½ lengths.
It was everything Astrology's connections could have asked coming to Baltimore.
"We thought we had a chance to win it for sure," Banke said. "Nobody else seemed to. And he's a horse that's been on the improve. He was somewhat immature when he was 2, and he's getting better and better."
This colt was the pride and joy of Banke and her late husband, Jess Jackson, who withdrew the horse from the Kentucky Derby after missing a month of training last December. But Astrology had only hinted at his potential in five 2-year-old races. With the third-place finish here, the colt has not finished out of the money in eight career starts.
"We pointed directly at this race," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "This racehorse was playing catchup all year. This was only his third race [this year]. We were very pleased how he trained into this race and I was very pleased with the effort he gave. He competed."
Last Wednesday, Astrology's connections were stuck with the 1 post in the Preakness draw. It was the worst possible post position they could have had. But jockey Mike Smith made the most of it, hanging close to the leaders with nowhere to go. He never ran worse than fourth, and was second until Animal Kingdom passed him in the stretch.
"He's obviously a big, tall, lanky horse," Asmussen said. "He's got a lot of leg to him, and you just want him to have some room. … Mike said he had to tap on the brakes a few times, [and] that restricted him. Mike gave him a good trip from the 1."
Said Bolton: "He ran a courageous race the whole way. He had dirt in his face the entire time into the stretch."
The memory of the Jerome Handicap — when Astrology hit his head on the gate coming out — added to pre-race concern. Loading up early in the 1 post was problematic as well.
"He handled the gate great," Bolton said. "We were a little worried about being stuck in there in the heat for five minutes. But he handled that great. He also probably would have been happier in Animal Kingdom's stretch spot, five wide from the rail. … But he ran great and he never, ever quit. We're real proud of him."
"He ran dynamite," Smith said. "I wish I had a better post. I tried to let him stretch his legs a little because he has such a big stride. He ran a great race for me today."
No one in the Astrology entourage was ready to predict the next race, but it's very unlikely the colt will run in the Belmont. More likely, Bolton said, is the Haskell, the Jim Dandy or the Travers.
"The way we leave a race like this is, he deserves to be going to these races we're talking about, versus being some long shot," he said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times