BALTIMORE — Trainer Mike Maker saddled three horses in the Kentucky Derby.
He’s down to one shot in the Preakness on Saturday.
General a Rod, who ran 11th in a traffic-plagued trip, returns to challenge Derby winner California Chrome in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.
In the Derby, Harry’s Holiday was 16th and Vicar’s in Trouble finished last in the 19-horse field for Maker.
Until the Derby, General a Rod had never been worse than third.
“We’re not just here because it’s the Preakness,” Maker said. “We have a lot of confidence in our horse. Having said that, we’ve got to really step up and get a fair shake this time.”
The colt, owned by the Skychai and Starlight racing partnerships, gets a new rider. Javier Castellano, the national leader with $7.5 million in purse earnings this season, replaces Joel Rosario.
Castellano was aboard one previous time: a narrow loss in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in February at Gulfstream Park.
“He rode him well,” Maker said. “Any time you can get him, you’ve got to be pleased.”
This will be the first Preakness starter for Maker, a former assistant to D. Wayne Lukas who won this race six times
General a Rod is 15-1 on the morning line.
CHROME IN THE RAIN: A driving rainstorm couldn’t deter California Chrome from an easy gallop in the slop on the day before the Preakness.
Despite the miserable weather, trainer Art Sherman stuck to the schedule he had mapped for the Derby winner. California Chrome went out early for a jog on a gloomy Friday morning for a routine tour of the Pimlico strip.
Like the other Preakness contenders, California Chrome was sent to the center of the track, avoiding the deep and muddy rail.
“I was impressed. He seemed to handle the track perfect,” Sherman said. “He’s a California-bred, so he doesn’t often see those conditions.”
Sherman would love to bottle some of the Baltimore rain and take it home to Southern California where wildfires are raging.
“Where I live is about 25 miles from where the big fires are right now,” he said.
The storm cleared the Baltimore area Friday afternoon. With luck, and good drying conditions, there could be a fast track by Preakness post time at 6:18 p.m. EDT on Saturday.
Back at the barn, California Chrome showed no signs of the previous day’s cough, the result of a small blister in his throat.
No one knows the cause of the irritation but Sherman suspects it might be something the horse ate.
“Sometimes they get a little scratchy with a throat blister and it’s not a big deal,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the feed. They don’t digest it really well. I’ll tell you, he ate up everything. His appetite has been good. Maybe he likes those crab cakes.”
UNDER PRESSURE: Victor Espinoza, California Chrome’s rider, talked about the pressure of riding the 3-5 favorite in the Preakness.
Having captured the Derby to extend his winning streak to five, California Chrome will be a marked horse with nine rivals gunning to knock him off.
Espinoza’s mission will be navigating a safe and clear trip.
“There is pressure in every race, especially when I was on the favorite in the Kentucky Derby,” Espinoza said. “That was a lot of pressure. Every time you’re on the favorite, everybody is trying to beat you. If California Chrome can handle it, then I can handle it too.”
Espinoza is no stranger to these situations. He won the 2002 Preakness also with a Kentucky Derby winner, War Emblem.
Espinoza, who turns 42 next week, has won over 3,000 races in a career that started in his native Mexico.
Like Art Sherman, Espinoza is most concerned about the two-week gap from the Derby to the Preakness.
“I have confidence in California Chrome,” Espinoza said. “If he’s come back from the Derby and is ready to go, I am ready too.”
ALL WET: Trainer Mark Casse picked a fine time to visit Pimlico for the first time, right in middle of Friday’s monsoon.
Casse stopped in to check on Dynamic Impact, his 12-1 Preakness long shot.
The horse arrived in Baltimore on Wednesday in the care of his son, assistant trainer Norman Casse.
Dynamic Impact is an improving colt having won two in a row, including the Illinois Derby. He will break from the rail with Miguel Mena aboard.
The colt is a stalker, one who prefers to sit several lengths behind the leaders.
“I think there is a lot of speed in there,” Casse said of the Preakness. “A lot of times you think that way, and it doesn’t materialize. I think it will happen. I hope he is able to sit right behind the speed.”
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