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Bob Baffert is again the center of attention at the Preakness, even without the Derby winner

Inside look at makings of Preakness, Black-eyed Susan flower blankets
Inside look at makings of Preakness, Black-eyed Susan flower blankets 02:22

BALTIMORE (AP) — Bob Baffert does not need to bring the Kentucky Derby winner to the Preakness to become the center of attention at Pimlico Race Course.

The two-time Triple Crown-winning Hall of Fame trainer is a magnet for attention as the sport's most-known figure, and he has more Preakness victories than anyone else in the race's nearly 150-year history. That was the case again Friday after Baffert was a late arrival for a second consecutive year, left with one horse in the field, Imagination, after favored Muth was scratched earlier in the week because of a fever.

Barred from entering horses in the Derby because of a ban from Churchill Downs dating to first-place finisher Medina Spirit failing a drug test in 2021, Baffert enjoys the relaxed atmosphere in Baltimore, where he's treated like a star, not a pariah.

"I just look forward to it," Baffert said. "I handle it like any other race. It's a big race. It's an important race. It's a historic race, and it's an exciting race to win. I get the same excitement. Any of the all the Triple Crown races, the classics, are very exciting."

D. Wayne Lukas, the 88-year-old elder statesman of horse racing and a longtime friend of Baffert's, raved about the camaraderie at the Preakness stakes barn, pointed down the row and joked, "Baffert will be down here and he'll come sit here and ask me how to train a horse." After holding court with reporters for nearly 20 minutes, Baffert was in his familiar plastic chair right next to Lukas, a combined 14 Preakness victories between them.

"He's an excellent horseman," Lukas said last week. "He's sneaky good. He tries to portray himself that he is just having a lot of fun, and that some of this stuff just comes his way. Nothing can be further from the truth."

Baffert winning the Preakness a record-extending ninth time is more challenging than it appeared a few days ago with Muth ruled out. Imagination, 3-1 on the revised morning line, has not run in six weeks, so he's bit of an unknown in the field of eight that features features Derby winner Mystik Dan.

"He's going to have to step it up," Baffert said. "He's got to step it up a level to be there with them. His races, they've been good, but he needs to separate himself and so he hasn't done it his last races. He's just been hanging in there with him. He's a horse I think that, off his last work, I was very encouraged by the way he's starting to realize it's OK to win, to go ahead and take off."

Sonny arrives

When Preakness officials called to invite Kenny McPeek after Mystik Dan won the Derby, his first question was whether he could bring his yellow lab, Sonny.

Sonny made his Pimlico debut Friday morning, 24 hours after members of McPeek's team brought his custom bed and water bowl into the barn.

"All the horses know him," McPeek told the Maryland Jockey Club. "They don't spook from him. At the farm in Ocala (Florida), I let him run free because it's my place. He goes from groom to groom to see if they have anything for him to eat."

Tuscan Upset?

Tuscan Gold has been picking up speed as a chic Preakness pick, based a bit off trainer Chad Brown's recent history. Just like 2017 winner Cloud Computing and 2022 winner Early Voting, Tuscan Gold is lightly raced — this is his fourth start — and did not run in the Derby.

Assistant trainer Jose Hernandez also likes how the horse is handling the Pimlico track.

"He is just very focused right now," Hernandez said. "I am really confident going into the race," Hernandez said.  

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