Firing Line seeks to end runner-up stigma in Preakness
BALTIMORE (AP) His horse has amassed nearly $1 million in earnings over six races, so owner Arnold Zetcher found no need to lament Firing Line's reputation for finishing second in big events.
''He's an unbelievable horse,'' Zetcher said. ''If you take all of his seconds and add them up all up, it's one or two lengths. And the fact he came in second in the Kentucky Derby, I'm really excited about that.''
Zetcher was wearing a broad smile Wednesday at the Preakness post-position draw, where Firing Line drew the outside No. 8 post and was made a 4-1 choice behind his biggest rivals, the Bob Baffert-trained duo of American Pharoah and Dortmund.
Coming into the Derby, Firing Line had twice finished second behind Dortmund. Firing Line finally beat Dortmund at Churchill Downs, which would have been cause for celebration except that American Pharoah finished first.
''He just got run down by a very good horse,'' said trainer Simon Callaghan, 32, who's making his first foray into the Triple Crown.
It's not as if Firing Line doesn't know how to win. The dark brown colt's two career victories are by a total of 18 1/2 lengths. But, as Zetcher pointed out, Firing Line lost twice to Dortmund by a head, by a half-length in his debut last October and in the Kentucky Derby by one length.
Maybe that bridesmaid thing will change at Saturday's Preakness.
''Always when you look back and you're a close second, you kind of think what if,'' Callaghan said. ''But I think the horse has kind of progressed from race to race, and his last race was his best race.''
Still, Baffert again got the best of Firing Line. But the Hall of Fame trainer has deep respect for the horse.
''He was tough to get by and is going to be tough,'' Baffert said. ''A lot of quality there, a lot of class. Dortmund and him, they've had their battles. My job is to keep beating him.''
Firing Line got a break at the draw. American Pharoah drew the rail and Dortmund will line up beside him, inside of Mr. Z at No. 3.
''I told Mr. Zetcher prior to that I'd love to have the outside,'' jockey Gary Stevens said. ''With the way everybody else drew, with those three being inside, it gives me a lot of options.''
That's one potential advantage for Firing Line. Another is that this will be only his second race since March 22. American Pharaoh ran in the Arkansas Derby on April 11 and Dortmund captured the Santa Anita Derby on April 4.
All of this is part of Callaghan's master plan.
''For a guy that's never been through the Triple Crown before, Simon was sorting this stuff out prior to (the Kentucky Derby),'' Stevens said. ''He knew just what he was getting into. He felt the six weeks would be to his benefit. We had the freshest horse going into the Derby and I think of the top three Derby finishers, we may have come out of the race with the freshest horse going into the Preakness.''
Callaghan knows better than to predict a victory, especially because past performances would seem to dictate Baffert making another trip to the winner's circle, with one horse or another.
But Firing Line should be in the mix as the horses head for home.
''I think we've got a really good chance,'' Callaghan said. ''We're really happy with the way Firing Line came out of the race. He's showing all the right signs.''
The team of Zetcher, Callaghan and the 52-year-old Stevens - who's vying for his fourth Preakness win - has been profitable for all involved.
''We have the youngest trainer and the oldest jockey, so there ought to be some value in that,'' Zetcher said.
As he stood at his table at the draw, soaking in the attention with his wife at his side, Zetcher, 74, looked like he wouldn't trade places with anyone.
''It's so exciting to be at the Derby and perform the way we did, then come here and have real possibilities,'' he said. ''This is why we're in it.''