Bob Baffert strode into the Preakness stakes barn Friday morning, shouting toward Orb's trainer Shug McGaughey loud enough so all could hear.
"OK, Shug, I'm here to take away that media spotlight for you," he said.
Baffert, indeed, is one of the few people in the sport who could have swiped some of the attention from McGaughey and his heavily favored colt this week.
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Baffert has won the Preakness five times, and on three occasions he's moved on to Belmont with a chance at the Triple Crown. Govenor Charlie, who was pulled from Kentucky Derby contention but cleared for Saturday's 138th Preakness, will be Baffert's 14th entry in the race.
Govenor Charlie is a 12-1 choice on the morning line after skipping the Derby when Baffert revealed the colt had dealt with an injury in April.
Baffert, who did not arrive in Baltimore until Thursday afternoon, wasn't convinced he'd run here until Wednesday — when final entries were due — and said he wouldn't have come if he didn't think he has a chance to win.
"Can we beat Orb?" he said. "We don't know, but I think he could be 1-2-3."
Govenor Charlie's grandsire, Real Quiet, won the Derby and Preakness in 1998 before finishing second at the Belmont.
Baffert said Orb's style — he hung at the back until the second turn in the Derby — should help him handle the Preakness, but he was not ready to anoint the Derby winner yet.
"He's got to get by this one," Baffert said. "You can't get ahead of yourself. I think it's a very competitive race. A lot of horses that didn't run well in the Derby come back and run well."
Joel Rosario rode anyway.
Upon returning to the jockey's room last May 20, he learned that his brother Marino, a police officer in his native Dominican Republic, had been killed in a motorcycle accident.
Creative Cause — and a chance to ride in his first Preakness — awaited. Rosario went out to the track.
"I just think it was really sad for me," he said Friday morning at Pimlico Race Course. "It was something that really hurt me."
Rosario took Creative Cause out with Bodemeister on the lead, but he sagged to third as I'll Have Another won a duel down the stretch.
This year, Rosario is riding heavy favorite Orb. He sat down with reporters Friday morning, answering many questions with a smile and a shrug and only a few words. At one point, he was asked if he was focused on becoming known as a big-race jockey (he's won the two biggest races in the world this year).
"Every race is the same to me," he said.
Asked to name the horses in Saturday's 138th running of the Preakness that pose the greatest threat to Orb, he said, "When I ride, I don't worry about the other horses."
McGaughey isn't one for speeches — "I'm a man of very little instruction," he said, " 'cause you never know what's going to happen once those gates open" — and he won't change that just because Rosario has to start from the No. 1 post Saturday. McGaughey has said, repeatedly, that he has complete faith in the jockey.
Rosario doesn't find pre-race strategizing all that relevant, anyway.
"A lot of trainers say things," he said. "Anything could happen."
Rosario knows that well from riding Orb. The colt jumped straight into the air — an unusual reaction for any member of the species — when the gate opened during his first race. But there are more subtle things a jockey must assess as he feels his horse take those first steps, and Rosario seems to have the innate ability to do it, as well as the craftsman's reticence to explain how.
About Orb's chances Saturday, he said only: "He looks like he's getting better. He looks like he still has some more to give."
Around the barns
Sagamore Farm had hoped to get a shot at the Grade II Black-Eyed Susan Stakes on Friday but scratched Walkwithapurpose when she took a wrong step earlier this week. But the Baltimore County operation, owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, will have four horses running Saturday: Listen Boy, with Rosario riding, in an allowance race; Heat Press in the James W. Murphy Stakes; Charged Cotton in the Grade III Gallorete and Humble and Hungry in the Grade II Dixie. … While Pimlico officials believed they were on pace to possibly break the record attendance of 121,309, set at last year's Preakness, the threat of rain could keep some of the walk-up crowd away. ... Emma-Jayne Wilson, who regularly rides in Canada, won Pimlico's annual jockey challenge Friday. This year's contest pitted four men against four women who rode in a series of races, earning points based on where they finished. Wilson won an all-female version of the contest in 2011. ... Handle on Black-Eyed Susan Day at Pimlico was $13,096,736. Attendance was announced as 38,957.
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