Preakness Stakes: Social Inclusion horse of lifetime for trainer, 85

By The New York Times  • 
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When California Chrome pulled away for a 1 3/4-length victory in the Kentucky Derby on May 3, Art Sherman, 77, became the oldest trainer to saddle a winner in the United States’ most famous horse race.

On Saturday in the Preakness Stakes, trainer Manny Azpurua, 85, will look to build upon Sherman’s achievement and show that Triple Crown success can come at any age. Azpurua will saddle Social Inclusion, a horse he said for which he had waited a lifetime.

“I was waiting for a big horse,” Azpurua said. “I’ve been lucky because I had a lot of good horses. But I really believe this is a special one.”

Social Inclusion was unraced as a 2-year-old because he was a May foal and needed time to develop. But his relatively small body of work suggests that he can be the big horse his trainer has always dreamed about.

He romped by 71/2 lengths when he debuted on Feb. 22 at Gulfstream Park in Florida. He then burst onto the national scene on March 12, when he smashed the track record there with a time of 1-minute, 40.97 seconds for 11/16 miles in a 10-length rout of Honor Code, a graded stakes winner.

Also working in Social Inclusion’s favor is that he earned a 110 Beyer Speed Figure during that record-setting performance; California Chrome, whose top Beyer is 108, posted a winning time of 2:03.66 in the Derby, the slowest winning time on a Derby track labeled “fast” since 1974.

Ron Sanchez, who purchased Social Inclusion for $60,000 as a yearling, said he received a number of lucrative offers for a majority interest in the burgeoning 3-year-old. But he said he rejected them, including one for $8 million, because all involved moving the colt to another trainer.

“He treats these horses like they were his sons,” Sanchez, a financial adviser, said of Azpurua.

Social Inclusion, a son of Pioneerof the Nile, the runner-up in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, showed no signs of a lingering foot problem when he went 4 furlongs in 47 seconds on Monday at Pimlico Race Course. It was the fastest of five workouts at that distance on Monday by 2 seconds. That lifted the confidence of Luis Contreras, who was aboard for the workout and will ride the colt.

“Sanchez envisions a repeat of last year’s race, when Oxbow sprinted to an early lead and was never threatened.

“He’s got speed,” he said. “We’re going to try to get the lead and go wire to wire.”

Azpurua can surpass James Fitzsimmons, who was known as Sunny Jim, as the oldest trainer to reach the Preakness winner’s circle. Fitzsimmons was 82 years, 10 months when Bold Ruler prevailed in 1957. Still, Azpurua is more focused on the prospect of his first Grade I victory.

“It’s something you were looking for many years, and now you have the chance to get it,” he said. “I am so pleased and so grateful.”

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