Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Aikenite's quest: Follow Summer Squall's steps

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In horse racing, everyone wants to be No. 1 at the finish -- never at the start.

Preakness entrant Aikenite gets a bath from Noya Antonio (right) with the help of Jessica Ecton following a morning workout at Pimlico on Friday in Baltimore. Post time for the race is at about 6:15 p.m. today.   Associated Press
Associated Press
Preakness entrant Aikenite gets a bath from Noya Antonio (right) with the help of Jessica Ecton following a morning workout at Pimlico on Friday in Baltimore. Post time for the race is at about 6:15 p.m. today.

But while most trainers breathed a sigh of relief when the No. 1 starting post came and went in the draw for today's Preakness Stakes, Todd Pletcher couldn't have been less concerned when the first gate went to Dogwood Stable's Aikenite.

"With Aikenite we're going to get him back off the pace and make one run with him," said Pletcher, who also trains Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. "That seems to be his most effective style. From the rail, hopefully, we can get him back a touch and get him some cover behind some horses and that will help get him back off the pace. It worked out well for him."

It's been six years since Dogwood's Cot Campbell has entered a horse in a Triple Crown series race. Limehouse finished fourth in the 2004 Kentucky Derby, also starting from the No. 1 post.

Aikenite missed the Derby, but Campbell hopes his latest horse can contribute to Dogwood Stable's short but rich Preakness legacy. Today marks the 20th anniversary of Summer Squall winning the 1990 Preakness. Impeachment -- also trained by Pletcher -- placed third in the 2000 Preakness.

"That's going to be poignant," Campbell said of Aikenite's quest to duplicate Summer Squall's footsteps. "That was a great day 20 years ago. I love the race and I think he's got a good shot."

Aikenite ran in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 10 after a 50-day layoff, fading to eighth in a nine-horse field.

"The Blue Grass was basically a disappointment and left us scratching our heads," Pletcher said. "We didn't know why he ran that way."

Campbell was eager to get him back out there quickly. Two weeks later in the Derby Trial on opening day at Churchill Downs, Aikenite finished second -- closing hard on Hurricane Ike, ridden by eventual Kentucky Derby winning jockey Calvin Borel.

Despite the effort that gave Aikenite enough earnings to qualify for the next week's Run for the Roses, Campbell and Pletcher did not consider entering him in the full Derby field on such short notice.

"Sometimes we've gone with a boy to do a man's work," said Campbell, who has run seven horses in six Derbies. "It's a great thing to shoot for. It's disappointing but I'm pleased with the decision. That was too close to the Derby, and with 20 horses in the Derby it wasn't very appealing anyway. So we felt we'd just wait and go to Baltimore."

Said Pletcher: "The Derby Trial was definitely a step back in the right direction and hopefully will put him on course for a big race in the Preakness."

Campbell made the switch from Garrett Gomez to Javier Castellano to mount Aikenite in the Preakness. Gomez rode Derby favorite Lookin At Lucky at Churchill Downs before being replaced this week for the Preakness run. By then, Campbell had already committed to Castellano, who won the 2006 Preakness on Bernardini.

"We're pleased with Castellano," Campbell said. "He's won the Preakness and is a fine rider. He'll do what we want him to do, which is to drag him back and make one big run with him."

Aikenite's placid personality should serve him well since he'll be loaded in the gates first in the field of 12.

"He's got a good chance if everything unfolds for him," Campbell said. "If there's a fast pace up front, he's going to need that so when he kicks for home some of the others will be coming back. He's beaten a lot of these horses that he's running against. I think he's as good as any of them."

Borel predicted that he'll ride Super Saver to a Triple Crown. As much faith as Campbell has in Pletcher as his preferred trainer, he doesn't share Borel's confidence in the Preakness favorite.

"I think Super Saver is a very nice horse," Campbell said. "I don't think he's the second coming of Secretariat or anything like that."

It will take a huge effort for Aikenite to be the second coming of Summer Squall. Since retiring to stud after that May triumph 20 years ago, Campbell and his wife, Ann, would go to Lane's End Farm to visit Summer Squall every time they went to Kentucky.

"He would always gallop over to the fence and pick his leg up indicating he wanted me to give him a peppermint," Campbell said.

When they saw him last fall, Campbell told his wife he believed it would be the last visit.

"He had that look of an old man in a nursing home that's close to cashing in his chips," Campbell said.

A month later they called Campbell and told him that it was time to put the 1990 Preakness winner down.

Returning to Pimlico will bring back memories. Campbell spent the days leading up to the race in Nashville attending his granddaughter's graduation at Vanderbilt. The diversion was welcome.

"I'm actually glad to have another thing to get my mind off of it for two or three days," he said.

Campbell is optimistic yet realistic about what race day will bring.

"It's the kind of race you'd love to win and he could win," he said, "but running second, third or fourth would do a lot for his highlight reel."

Campbell and Pletcher will consider sending Aikenite on to the Belmont Stakes if he closes well at Pimlico. Considering his finishing style, the mile-and-a-half test at Belmont Park shouldn't be too much for him.

"His disposition would be a plus factor for the Belmont because he relaxes during a race and doesn't need to be restrained," he said.


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