Horse racing fans looking to root for a hometown favorite in the 144th Preakness Stakes will certainly have one in Alwaysmining.
Maryland-bred Alwaysmining has won six races in a row, all at Laurel Park including an 11 1/4-length runaway triumph in the Federico Tesio Stakes. The race was 1 1/8 miles and a little less than a month ago.
When Alwaysmining heads into the starting gate at Pimlico Race Course May 18 for the 1 3/16-mile second jewel of the Triple Crown, he will be attempting to become just the ninth Maryland-bred to win the Free State's signature race. The last Maryland-bred colt who prevailed at Old Hilltop was Deputed Testamony in 1983. Deputed Testamony was also a Tesio Stakes winner prior to his Preakness triumph.
Alwaysmining is trained by Kelly Rubley at the Fair Hill training center in Elkton. Md.
"We're just going to keep his normal routine. He'll gallop [Tuesday] and Thursday and ship to Pimlico after training here on Thursday," Rubley said in a news release. "I'm undecided what we'll do, gallop or jog, but we'll decide that Friday morning."
The dark bay gelding is a son of Stay Thirsty and is owned by Greg and Caroline Bentley's Runnymede Racing. The Bentleys' farm is outside Coatesville, Pa.
Alwaysmining started his two-year old campaign in April 2018 at Keeneland in Kentucky, finishing third in this first outing. That was followed by finishes of fourth, fourth and seventh.
Alwaymining won his first race in October as a 2-year old at Laurel and then strung together five more, including three this year.
"Sure, to have him be kind of the hometown hero would be kind of neat. But, we've got to get it done first," Rubley said. "He seems to be in a very good place."
Without either Kentucky Derby winner in the Preakness field -- meaning Maximum Security who crossed the finish line first and Country House who was declared the winner when Maximum Security was taken down as the result of an objection -- one of the favorites will be Improbable.
Improbable is under the guidance of super-trainer Bob Baffert. Baffert has won the Preakness seven times, including with Triple Crown winners American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018).
This year's Baffert entry in the Preakness, Improbable, crossed the finish line at Churchill Downs fifth but was moved up to fourth following the Maximum Security penalty.
Improbable was 3-for-3 in 2018 but hasn't won in three outings this year. However, he's always put in solid performances. He did finish second twice prior to the Kentucky Derby, including in the Arkansas Derby.
"This horse has run some big races, hasn't run a bad one, always shows up," Baffert said. "That's what I like about that horse. The way the [Preakness] field is shaping up, it looks like it's going to be a big field. It's still a pretty even bunch. As we saw in the Derby, they're all right there. That's why there was so much traffic. They all have the same style, so you still have to get lucky."
The Preakness post positions have yet to be determined. That happens May 15 in a random draw. In addition, the morning line odds will be announced then.
Regarding the early designation of "favorite", Baffert said, "I just inherited it, I think. But I wouldn't say he's a heavy, heavy favorite. It's still wide open. Improbable still needs to get away [from the gate]. For some reason, the first 100 yards, he scrambles a little bit."
The Preakness field, minus an imposing favorite, promises to be a large one. As Baffert said, "it's still wide open."
Three other Derby runners are scheduled to be in the Preakness field so far: War of Will (seventh in Kentucky Derby); Win Win Win (ninth in Derby), and Bodexpress (13th in the Derby).
Win Win Win is a grandson of the great Smarty Jones, the 2004 winner of the Derby and the Preakness. Win Win Win has been training at Fair Hill Training Center under Maryland trainer Mike Trombetta.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will bring Market King to Pimlico. Trainer Lukas is 83 and the jockey will be John Court who, at 58, was the oldest jockey to ever ride in the Kentucky Derby when he rode Long Range Toddy to 16th place May 4.
Lukas has won the Preakness six times, the most recent in 2013 with Oxbow. Other likely contenders for the Preakness Stakes include: Laughing Fox, Bourbon War, Singalman, Anothertwistafate, Owendale and Warrior's Charge.
Warrior's Charge trainer Brad Cox may have sounded the theme for the 2019 Preakness where there's no prohibitive favorite. Warrior's Charge has a couple of wins at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.
"Look, if there was a Justify out there, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation or thinking about it," Cox said. "We wouldn't try to tackle a horse like that. But I think it's just one of those years that you maybe take a chance here."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Jockey Club