You’re a Hall of Fame trainer bringing talented stablemates into the Preakness Stakes. You’re balancing the dynamics of caring and feeding different owners and their oft-demanding needs. But you’re also balancing the needs, strategies, and dynamics of your horses.
You’re Bob Baffert, who brings Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit and Concert Tour into the 146th Preakness Stakes. You’ve got the reigning Derby winner as the 9/5 favorite and his faster, and arguably, more talented stablemate as the 5/2 second choice.
Putting aside Medina Spirit’s medication situation from the Derby for the moment, you’ve got a 5/2 stablemate who could spoil Baffert’s quest for a third Triple Crown since 2015.
Stablemates tangling with each other in the Preakness isn’t as uncommon as you might think. If we see both Medina Spirit and Concert Tour in the Pimlico gate on Saturday, we’ll see this phenomenon for the third time in the last seven Preakness Stakes. We’ll see it for the seventh time since 1970.
Baffert wrote this script last year — and in 2015
And we’ll see it for the second year in a row. Last year, Baffert sent out 3/5 favorite and Derby winner Authentic and 6/1 Thousand Words in last year’s pandemic-postponed Preakness. Authentic finished second by a head to Swiss Skydiver. Thousand Words finished eighth.
In 2015, Baffert turned Derby winner American Pharoah and stablemate Dortmund loose in the Preakness. American Pharoah won the second jewel en route to his Triple Crown. Dortmund, who finished third in the Derby that year, took fourth in the Preakness.
Baffert is known for separating his Derby contenders on the Derby trail for as long as he can. That’s why American Pharoah ran the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby, and Dortmund stayed home in California, running the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby.
But Baffert runs his charges against each other all the time at home. With a barn as large as his, it’s unavoidable.
After Concert Tour’s disappointing third in the Arkansas Derby, Baffert benched him for the Derby. He did so, knowing that at this point, Concert Tour was his best Derby prospect. But he convinced owner Gary West that saving him for the Preakness was in the colt’s best interest.
It’s about giving stablemates their opportunities
Whether it’s in the best interest of Baffert’s deep barn depends on how two pace-setting/pace-pressing horses who are both undefeated on the lead handle the pace.
“I just give everyone a chance, and that’s the way it goes,” Baffert said. “Gary West, with Concert Tour, he left it up to me. They send me those horses and I’m giving them the best chance to win. They’re both doing really well, so why not? They both might cook each other up on the lead or whatever. You never know what’s going to happen. But they’re both doing well and I want to give them the opportunity to run well.”
While Baffert’s stablemates draw the attention at whatever Triple Crown race they enter, none of them spoiled a Triple Crown bid by the other.
The ultimate stablemate spoiler alert
The same can’t be said for Thunder Gulch and Timber Country.
For that tale, we go back to 1995. Now, you’re Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and you’re at the peak of your Triple Crown powers.
Lukas brings 3/1 favorite Timber Country and 24/1 shot Thunder Gulch into the 1995 Derby. He then watches Thunder Gulch spring the upset. Timber Country finished third, 2 ½ lengths back.
Two weeks later, Timber Country turned the tables. He won the Preakness as the 9/5 favorite while Thunder Gulch finished third as the 7/2 third choice.
Lukas hoists himself on his own petard
Bye-bye Triple Crown.
“As a trainer, you get to look at them individually,” Lukas told the Maryland Jockey Club. “Thunder Gulch wins the Kentucky Derby. He comes in here and I should have been all over trying to get him to the Triple Crown. He wins the Belmont as it turned out. We could have made history. Nobody had won it in (17) years at that time. Yet, we go in here and our own horse beats him.”
Salt got added to the wound three weeks later. Timber Country entered the Belmont Stakes as the 6/5 favorite, but scratched after running a fever the afternoon before the race. Thunder Gulch doesn’t miss a beat, winning the Belmont while bookending his stablemate’s Preakness victory.
That gave Lukas his fifth consecutive Triple Crown race victory and made him the only trainer to win all three races in a given year with different horses.
No 26-year-old second-guessing here
It doesn’t, however, give the 85-year-old trainer – who brings 30/1 long shot Ram to this year’s Preakness — any regrets.
“No, I didn’t regret winning the Preakness in any way, shape or form,” he said. “And I don’t regret it now. I’d do the same thing again.”
Baffert’s chief lieutenant, Jimmy Barnes, looks at Preakness stablemates clashing the same diplomatic way. He’s managing Baffert’s horses in Baltimore this week and understands the dynamics in play here. Talented stablemates eventually will tangle. The rules of engagement demand it.
“Sure, we want a Triple Crown every time. But Concert Tour didn’t get his chance in the Derby, so this is his chance to shine,” Barnes said. “You’ve got to give them all a fair shot. The best horse will win.”