(Reuters) - American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert expects another challenging race for his Triple Crown hopeful against stablemate Dortmund and Firing Line in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.
American Pharoah, the 4-5 odds-on Preakness favorite, won for the fifth time in a row with a Kentucky Derby triumph two weeks ago that stirred hopes of a possible first Triple Crown sweep since Affirmed in 1978.
But he had to work hard for it.
“American Pharoah hadn’t had a hard race,” Baffert noted on Thursday. “That was a good, stiff, hard race for him.”
At Churchill Downs, Firing Line, ridden by 52-year-old Gary Stevens, overtook Dortmund in the stretch and battled with American Pharoah before finishing second by a length.
Baffert said the 1-3/16 mile Preakness, the second leg of U.S. thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown, could bring another exciting stretch duel between the trio.
“It’s going be very competitive. Those big three are going to be very tough again,” Baffert said. ”Dortmund is going to be tough again. The way he came out of it, he could jump up. It’s going to be interesting. What happens going into the first turn will determine everything.”
Baffert said both American Pharoah and Dortmund looked good in their introduction to Pimlico on Thursday.
”Dortmund came by first. He was really moving well,” Baffert said. “You could see he was comfortable.
“American Pharoah, as always, he just floats over the track. He looked very eager. I was really happy with the way they went over it.”
One setback came in Wednesday’s draw, which put American Pharoah and Dortmund (7-2) in post positions one and two in the eight-horse field.
Both like to run from the front and could be disadvantaged if they get boxed in.
“We didn’t like the draw,” Baffert said. “I just hate to see them next to each other like that.”
Hall of Fame jockey Stevens was elated that Firing Line (4-1) will start from the far outside eighth post.
“I’m very relaxed and confident. We got a great draw,“ he said. ”It’s a good spot to be in.”
Stevens was keen for another crack at the Derby winner.
”At the three-eighths pole, five-sixteenths pole, I would have bet all of my belongings that I was sitting on the winner,” said Stevens, who has ridden Preakness winners Oxbow (2013), Point Given (2001) and Silver Charm (1997).
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by ......