May 6 (UPI) -- The Kentucky Derby may or may not be behind us but, either way, it's time to turn our attention to the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the May 18 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore.
Setting aside the Kentucky Derby controversy -- and there will be plenty of time for that later -- the lineup for the Preakness already is starting to take shape.
The fact that Country House didn't win the Kentucky Derby on the track might dim the prospects of another Triple Crown sweep. But, who knows?
Country House, promoted to victory in the Run for the Roses, certainly is not required to contest the Preakness. Still, the tantalizing goal of the Triple Crown is a powerful attraction and trainer Bill Mott said Country House is figuring things out and is big and tough enough to stand up to a lot of racing.
"Having the Derby winner, you're pretty much forced to go into the Preakness," a smiling Mott said Sunday morning outside his barn at Churchill Downs.
Plans are up in the air for Maximum Security, who finished first at Churchill Downs before being demoted to 17th. With his owners pondering an appeal of his disqualification, he theoretically could still be a Triple Crown contender and easily could be the favorite in the Preakness. Trainer Jason Servis said Sunday no decision has been made.
Likewise, Bob Baffert said he's still drawing up plans for his Derby trio of Improbably (placed fourth in Louisville), Game Winner (placed fifth) and Roadster (placed 15th).
Others who might go? Trainer Shug McGaughey said he will leave it up to owner/breeder Will Farish whether Code of Honor, who was placed second in the Derby, will go to Baltimore. He added, "I've never won the Preakness and would love to win the Preakness. But not at the expense of the horse."
Mark Casse said War of Will, the worst victim of the Derby shenanigans, is likely for the Preakness. "As long as he's happy and healthy, we'll probably go," the trainer said. War of Will finished eighth after the interference and moved up to seventh after Maximum Security's disqualification.
Then there are the "new shooters" -- including the 3-year-olds who have been developing in the Mid-Atlantic region with the full intent of sitting out the Derby, staying home and running fresh in the Preakness.
The one sure "new shooter" is Always Mining, winner of the Federico Tessio at Laurel Park, just down the road from Pimlico. Mr. Money, winner of Saturday's Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs, also is under consideration.
And on Saturday at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, Laughing Fox earned a guaranteed spot in the second jewel of the Triple Crown with a victory in the inaugural running of the Oaklawn Invitational, an innovation attending the extension of the Arkansas track's spring season.
Laughing Fox, a Union Rags colt trained by Steve Asmussen, rallied four-wide from well back in the pack in the $300,000 Invitational and just edged Night Ops by a neck for the win. It was 3 1/2 lengths farther back to Proverb in third. Laughing Fox, fourth in the Arkansas Derby, ran 9 furlongs in 1:49.78 over a fast track with Ramon Vazquez riding in the Invitational.
"We'll just have to see how he does come bouncing out of it," said owner Alex Lieblong. "But he's a stout horse. The Preakness really had nothing to do with (the decision to run Saturday). Nothing."
The Kentucky Oaks
Serengeti Empress, the impressive winner of Friday's $1.25 million Longines Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, has nothing further on her dance card -- yet. Happy trainer Tom Amoss said Saturday morning the Alternation filly came out of the race in good shape and is due some rest.
"What's that mean? Probably nothing in May," he said.
That leaves open the possibility Serengeti Empress could resurface at Belmont Park in the Grade I Acorn on June 8. But Amoss will have to be sure a quick turnaround doesn't threaten a recurrence of the bleeding episode that stopped his filly in the Fair Grounds Oaks. After that experience, Amoss was extremely careful about vetting Serengeti Empress to start at Churchill Downs.
"There were some sleepless nights," he said. "I didn't want to do anything to harm the filly, so I thought we did everything we possibly could to make that happen."
Friday's race produced a scary moment a few strides after the start when Positive Spirit clipped heels with a rival, stumbled and fell. Neither the filly nor jockey Manny Franco was injured in the incident but the mishap might have compromised others' chances.