'Kentucky' Is Situated, Undaunted
Thursday, May 15, 2008
BALTIMORE, May 14 -- While the horses in the Preakness Stakes have begun to trickle into the stakes barn in the past few days, one has been in residence for a week.
Canadian trainer Reade Baker has had his Kentucky Bear at Pimlico since May 7, and he has been the only other entrant in the second leg of the Triple Crown who has expressed full confidence that his horse can beat Big Brown on Saturday.
"Big Brown was much the best on that day on that particular track," Baker, 62, said of the Derby winner. "He's undefeated and I respect him, but that's a long way from the Hall of Fame. He beat all those horses, but he didn't beat us."
The first time Baker and owner Danny Dion laid eyes on Kentucky Bear, at the 2006 September Yearling Sale at Keeneland, they thought he looked like a Kentucky Derby horse. Normally, the two try to target attractive horses in the sale that will command between $150,000 and $200,000. Baker figured the son of sire Mr. Greeley, who then was receiving a stud fee of $125,000, would fetch around $400,000, but the night before he was scheduled to enter the sales ring, Kentucky Bear got into trouble.
"He got loose and ran through some fences and cut himself up bad," Baker said. The breeder "John Peace had died, so the widow decided to sell him no matter what."
The superficial cuts on his body scared away potential bidders and Baker and Dion practically stole the horse for $42,000. The first thing they did was name him Kentucky Bear and set their sites on the Derby.
Kentucky Bear, however, bruised his shins as a 2-year-old training at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto and didn't make it to the races until Jan. 21. After winning his debut by 6 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream Park, Baker put him on an accelerated program. In his second start, Kentucky Bear finished seventh in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. In his third, he was thrust into Grade I company and showed his potential by finishing third in the Blue Grass Stakes at 27-1.
"We thought he was special as a 2-year-old, and once we started to work with him in Florida, we thought he was super special," Baker said.
Without the required earnings in graded stakes, Kentucky Bear was kept out of the Derby field, and Baker simply set his sights on the second leg of the Triple Crown.
The trainer can't understand why none of the other horses have been at Pimlico getting acclimated.
"I thought if everybody had a choice, they would come in," he said at the post position draw yesterday, where Kentucky Bear was given 15-1 odds. "School him in the paddock, school in the gate, get used to the racetrack -- is there a negative there?"
Big Brown Almost Done
Big Brown will be retired at the end of his 3-year-old season, and plans for his stud career are expected to be announced today, the Blood-Horse has reported. Michael Iavarone, head of the IEAH Stable syndicate that owns Big Brown, told the Blood-Horse the chances of the horse running next year are "none."