BALTIMORE — The racing gods giveth, and the racing gods taketh away. just ask Barry Irwin, president of the Team Valor International stable, his trainer, Graham Motion, and jockey John Velazquez, who team up with Went the Day well in Saturday’s 137th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico.
Last year, Team Valor’s Animal Kingdom won the Kentucky Derby after getting a perfect trip under Velazquez. In this year’s Derby, Velazquez had a nightmare journey aboard Went the Day well, who finished like a runaway locomotive to finish fourth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths by I’ll Have another while making up 7 1/2 lengths in the final furlong.
Getty Images ONE TO WATCH: Went the Day well (above, left of Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have another after the race) finished fourth in the Derby and is looking to pull off an upset in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.
“We didn’t break well, and it was messed up from there on,” Velazquez said. “The horse next to me clipped heels coming out of the gate, so now I’ve got to steady and go inside of him. We go to the first turn, and he gets pushed over and I have to steady again.
“Now I’m far back and I have to go around the horse in the first turn, get outrun three-wide, and went back to the inside. I was so far back I couldn’t make up that much ground, no way, not on this kind of [speed-favoring] track.’’
“I watched the overhead blimp shot and I wanted to throw up,” lamented Irwin. “He should have won the race.”
After Animal Kingdom won the Derby, Irwin hesitated before committing him to the Preakness. But this year, Went the Day well was Baltimore-bound the day after the race. why the change?
“last year, I was thinking about Captain Bodgit [who lost photo-finishes in both the 1997 Derby and Preakness],” Irwin said. “The day after the Derby, he looked like he came out of a heavyweight boxing match. I didn’t want to run him in the Preakness, but I did, and he never raced again.”
Animal Kingdom ran second in the Preakness, beaten just a half-length. That, and the fact Went the Day well — who’s on a similar schedule to Animal Kingdom’s — came out of the Derby so well, convinced Irwin and Motion he should run in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
“I was amazed how Animal Kingdom came out of [the Derby] and handled the two-week turnover getting back to the Preakness,” Motion said. “and I’m really surprised at how well this fellow [Went the Day Well] has handled it.
“He’s bounced out of the Derby in great shape. I couldn’t be happier with him. another jump in the Derby and he could have finished second, so I think he belongs in the Preakness.”
“I talk to Graham every day,” Irwin said. “He sounds so confident. given the six weeks from the Spiral [Went the Day Well’s final prep] to the Derby, we have the freshest horse.”
The fly in the ointment, Irwin admits, is that Bodemeister, second in the Derby after setting a rapid pace, is the lone speed in the Preakness.
“Bodemeister is a fantastic horse, very talented,” Irwin said. “Of course we’re concerned (that he will shake loose on the lead), but there’s not much we can do except hope he regresses. He had a hard race in the Derby, and doesn’t have the foundation of some of the other horses.”