BALTIMORE - Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom had a refresher course in preparation for the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.
He stood in the starting gate Thursday morning at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., before heading off for a 1¼-mile gallop. Trainer Graham Motion said the colt is great around the gate, but the schooling is standard procedure for his horses before they race.
All in all, another uneventful morning for the 2-1 Preakness favorite, who is training in relative solitude, about 60 miles northeast of Pimlico. He will remain there until Saturday morning.
While the colt remains out of the spotlight, the British-born Motion was invited to throw out the first pitch Thursday night before the Yankees-Orioles game at Camden Yards.
"It will be kind of cool," Motion said while admitting his baseball skills were "minimal, but anyone who has an 8-year-old at least has some idea of what they are doing."
A sleeker Todd Pletcher is back for another try at winning the Preakness.
Pletcher is winless in six attempts at taking the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, including an eighth-place finish last year with Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver.
Pletcher turned up at Pimlico this week with a new haircut, a close-cropped look replacing his usual full head of impeccably styled gray hair.
"Every 43 years I change my hairstyle," he said Thursday.
He also appears to have trimmed down. The weight loss was not apparent during blustery, wet and chilly Kentucky Derby week when he was bundled up. With milder weather in Baltimore, Pletcher is sporting a leaner profile.
"A little bit over the course of the winter," he said when asked about dieting.
On Saturday, Pletcher will send out Dance City, an improving colt making only his fifth start. He is 12-1 on the morning line from post No. 8.
Dance City ran most recently in the Arkansas Derby, beaten only by 1¾ lengths after contesting the pace.
"We're optimistic," Pletcher said. "The horse has always ran well. He's trained well and the Arkansas Derby was one of the key preps. We like the post position and we like the way the race sets up. We like what we're seeing."
Ramon Dominguez will be aboard for the first time.
UNCLE MO UPDATE
Pletcher said Uncle Mo is making good progress in the recovery from stomach problems that knocked him out of the Kentucky Derby.
Last season's 2-year-old champion was scratched the morning before the race because of a lingering gastrointestinal infection first detected after he ran third in the Wood Memorial. Uncle Mo was sent to WinStar Farm in Kentucky for continuing treatment.
"He's gained 30 pounds so far, so it's going smoothly," Pletcher said. "We're letting him dictate when he may be ready to come back in."
The exact nature and cause of the illness remains a mystery.
"We are still looking," Pletcher said. "The elevated enzyme level is coming down. Everyone said it would come down slowly, and it is but it is still higher than we would like it. He's showing more energy. He's turned out four to six hours a day. He's eating grass. He's starting to brighten up a bit."
There is no timetable for a return to the races.
TRIM THAT FIELD
Bob Baffert has a suggestion for improving the Kentucky Derby: limit the field size to the maximum 14 permitted for the Preakness.
The Derby can accommodate as many as 20 horses. With so many runners, luck and a clean trip greatly influences the outcome.
The Preakness, with six fewer horses, is often viewed as a contest that delivers a truer result.
"There were 13 horses for Silver Charm and everybody got a run," Baffert said of his 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner. "If we limited it to 14, I think we'd get more of the Derby horses come back into the Preakness because everybody has a fair shot and you feel like maybe I can beat him next time. You want the best 3-year-olds in the starting gate. That would really help the Triple Crown if we had 14 horses in every race."
The major impediment to that change is a possible loss of betting money. A smaller field might attract fewer wagers.
"I don't think Churchill Downs would want to do that," Baffert said. "If I could change anything, it would be that. With 20 horses, it becomes a demolition derby and a lot of horses don't get a chance to run, especially if they draw post No. 1."
Baffert speaks from experience. His Lookin At Lucky had the rail in last year's Derby and was wiped out in the jam-up for early position. Two weeks later, the colt bounced back to win the Preakness.
A smaller Derby field would offer an added advantage: easier viewing of the horses. Midnight Interlude, Baffert's Preakness horse on Saturday, finished 16th in a 19-horse Derby.
In all the confusion, Baffert mistakenly thought the colt had finished last.
"I was so upset because I am proud of the fact that I have never run last in the Kentucky Derby," Baffert said. "I was watching the wrong silks. With so many horses in the Derby, you can't see. You don't know where you're at."