A year ago Tuesday, there was high drama, with a few hearts aflutter. Silver Charm, working out for the upcoming Belmont Stakes after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, almost collided with another horse at Churchill Downs.
This time, the morning was routine for trainer Bob Baffert, who will be back Saturday at Belmont Park to try a Triple Crown sweep with Real Quiet. It's a $5-million assignment that Silver Charm couldn't pull off last year.
With exercise rider Dana Barnes aboard for Real Quiet's final workout before the Belmont, and Baffert and owner Mike Pegram watching from the box seats at Churchill, Real Quiet worked five furlongs in 1:01 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:13 3/5. The five-furlong workout was slower than Real Quiet's time last week, but Baffert said that was intentional.
"He went nice and easy," said Baffert, who monitors his horses' workouts with a two-way radio that connects him to the rider. "We were afraid he might go too fast. I slowed her down. I didn't want to do too much, because we're sitting very good. The horse would have wanted to go :58 and change. We let him do just enough to keep the tank full. He was full of himself going to the [starting] pole, and that's what we wanted to see."
After Real Quiet's workout, Baffert yelled over to Pegram, a few boxes away: "Michael, he looks good, my man."
Pegram yelled back: "I'm down [betting] on the future book, so he was already looking good."
Real Quiet will try to add the Belmont to his Derby and Preakness wins and become the 12th Triple Crown champion and the first since Affirmed in 1978. The $17,000 yearling purchase will be flown to New York today and is scheduled to arrive at his barn at Belmont Park about 10:30 a.m.
Baffert is cockier for this Belmont than he was with Silver Charm, who didn't bounce back well from the rigors of his first two Triple Crown races.
"I don't see a horse in there that can outrun him," Baffert said of Real Quiet. "If we get beat, it'll be by racing luck. We're better off than last year, because that was a better field. I think we've got only one horse to beat--Victory Gallop."
Victory Gallop, winner of the Arkansas Derby, finished second in both Triple Crown races, losing by a half-length in the Kentucky Derby and by 2 1/4 lengths in the Preakness. Victory Gallop's training had been compromised by a large body rash last week, but trainer Elliott Walden said the condition has responded to treatment and the colt will be ready to run. Walden, however, will go to the Belmont on crutches, the result of a broken ankle he suffered while playing in a pickup basketball game last week.
A field of 12 horses might run. Besides Victory Gallop and Real Quiet, others include Classic Cat, Hot Wells, Thomas Jo, Limit Out, Hanuman Highway, Parade Ground, Raffie's Majesty, Basic Trainee and trainer Wayne Lukas' pair of Grand Slam and Yarrow Brae. According to word from Lukas' barn, Grand Slam might be entered when post positions are drawn Thursday, and the decision to run won't be made until the morning of the race.
The five-day weather forecast for New York includes a chance of showers today and Friday. Saturday is expected to be mostly cloudy, which means there is a good chance for a fast track. The worst start of Real Quiet's 14-race career came on a sloppy track in January, when he finished last in the Golden Gate Derby in Albany, Calif.
Real Quiet will be accompanied on today's plane by Baffert, Pegram, jockey Kent Desormeaux and a few others.
"He's a very good shipper," Baffert said. "A lot better than Mike and me. I'm allergic to hay and straw, so I'm going to wear a mask this time. After I made last year's flight with Silver Charm [the first time he flew with a horse], I said I'd never do it again."
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Ch. 7 (Post time: 2:27 PDT)
Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.
Distance: 1 1/2 miles
Purse: $1 million
Record: 2:24 (Secretariat, 1973)