Saratoga Springs

Preservationist trying to stay on a roll in Whitney

Lightly raced 6-year-old coming off big victory in the Suburban
Preservationist and exercise rider Kelvin Pahal breeze five furlongs on the Saratoga main track on Saturday.
Preservationist and exercise rider Kelvin Pahal breeze five furlongs on the Saratoga main track on Saturday.

Categories: Sports

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Some racehorse trainers relay instructions in the middle of a workout via radio to an earpiece attached to the exercise rider’s helmet.

Jimmy Jerkens is old school, so sometimes a wave of the hand is all it takes.

Like a band conductor asking for more cymbal, he stood in a small observation tower at the quarter pole of the main track on Saturday and gesticulated to Kelvin Pahal on Preservationist to pick it up.

“He was going a little slower, and I waved him on, and that guy always knows to look up where I am to do one or the other, slow him down or wave him on or do nothing,” Jerkens said. “But I waved him on, and it looked like he kicked on.”

Preservationist polished off a sharp five furlongs in 1:00.60, so Jerkens and Centennial Farms will wave him on to Saturday’s $1 million Whitney despite some initial thought of skipping it and waiting for the Woodward on closing weekend.

Because of some physical issues early in his career, Preservationist is very lightly raced for a 6-year-old, with just eight career starts. But he’s coming off a career-best performance, he’s healthy and consistent — finally — so there’s no reason not to take on the likes of McKinzie and Thunder Snow this weekend.

The time to do nothing is over.

“Yeah, it’s [Whitney] tough, no question about it,” Jerkens said. “He’s 6 years old, and as long as he acts good and is doing good, we’ll put him in a spot where there’s nothing to lose.

“It’s a long wait [to the Woodward], and a lot of things can happen. You’ve got to keep training in between, and as long as he’s doing good, you might as well run him, as long as there’s a spot.”

Post positions for the Whitney, which was first run in 1928, will be drawn at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The Bob Baffert-trained McKinzie is expected to fly in from California on Tuesday, and Thunder Snow, the two-time Dubai World Cup winner, has been on the grounds since last week.

McKinzie, the possible morning-line favorite, was a yearling when Preservationist raced for the first time, in June of 2016, but after that race at Belmont Park, he wasn’t to be seen again until over 18 months later.

He ran just twice last year, winning both starts at Aqueduct in January and February, then was off for another 11 months before building a crescendo this year that culminated in a 4 1/2-length win in the Grade II Suburban at Belmont on July 6, his career stakes debut.

Jerkens said it was gratifying for him and Centennial Farms, one of Jerkens’ top longtime clients, to finally see their patience be rewarded.

“It was the weirdest thing,” Jerkens said. “He’d get these horrible muscle cramps high in his one shoulder. And it wasn’t a case of tying up [due to electrolyte imbalance]. A lot of horses tie up, and you can take their blood and the enzymes are high. That wasn’t the case with him. So we didn’t know what to think. We didn’t know if he had a hairline fracture up high or something like that.

“So the only thing we could do was, every time we’d give him a little breeze, that would happen. You get scared and you don’t want to go on and do something that’s going to have to stop on him and go back to the farm.

“That was a long time ago.”

As had been the pattern, Preservationist, a big bay son of Arch, needed another training break this year, from early February to late May, but he returned to the track in an optional claiming race at Belmont, and he pulled away under Junior Alvarado to win by a length and a half.

That prompted the trainer and owner to take a swing at the $700,000 Suburban, against the likes of 2018 Travers winner Catholic Boy.

 “I thought, for his comeback race after that long of a layoff, that he was a work short, for that allowance race,” Jerkens said. “I thought he ran incredible. I couldn’t believe he had that much at the end.

“Then since that race, there was always some little nagging thing happen to him, one thing or the other, where we had to back off him a little bit. But this time we didn’t have any hiccups and he was able to train up to the race the right way.”

So the Whitney will be just the ninth start for this 6-year-old, who hasn’t been able to maintain any continuity or momentum in his race schedule. But he’s right now, and there’s no reason to leave him in the barn.

“It was very frustrating, because we knew he had a wealth of talent,” Jerkens said. “I mean, some of his workouts in company would take your breath away. It looked like he wasn’t doing anything. Quality Road was the only other horse I ever had that just worked sensational right from the start.”

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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