Animal Kingdom’s entourage saw colt’s status swing from long shot to favorite

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BALTIMORE —  Only eight horses have won the Preakness Stakes from a double-digit post position, but Animal Kingdom’s trainer, Graham Motion, isn’t worried. His horse already defied long odds to capture the Kentucky Derby.

Now, leaving from the No. 11 position in Saturday’s Preakness at Pimlico Race Course, Animal Kingdom is in a different spot as the 2-1 morning line favorite.

“He was 30-1 on the morning line [in the Derby], so now we’re a pretty solid favorite and it feels great,” said Buddy Irwin, head of Team Valor, which owns Animal Kingdom.

When Frank Carulli announced the morning line odds for the 136th Preakness, it was no surprise that Animal Kingdom was the favorite. No. 10 Dialed In is the second choice at 9-2, while No. 9 Mucho Macho Man is third at 6-1.

But being the favorite isn’t any more of a burden than already exists for this group that is accustomed to being the underdog.

“There’s no more pressure than having the Derby winner,” Motion said. “To come to the Preakness with a Derby winner, that’s pretty extraordinary.”

Drawing the No. 11 post might not be extraordinary, but Motion said he “couldn’t be happier” about being on the outside. Earlier in the week the 46-year-old said he just didn’t want to be on the far inside and force jockey John Velazquez to navigate too much to find space.

With the three top betting choices each drawing favorable post positions, there was a lot of satisfied talk coming from trainers on the infield at Pimlico on Wednesday afternoon. And the trainers of some of the top horses expressed relief that their colts aren’t stuck on the far inside like No. 1 Astrology or the far outside like No. 14 Mr. Commons.

“The only thing I don’t want is 1 or 14,” said Nick Zito, trainer of Dialed In, who likes to run from the back of the pack. “I think if you get over, you’re in good shape. Normally, a closer, you like to be inside because you’re already there. But you can get bottled up or whatever. [Jockey Julien Leparoux], he’ll have a good shot at it.”

Bob Baffert’s Midnight Interlude was a popular pick in the Derby but finished 15th. With his horse drawing the No. 7 post and starting at odds of 15-1, the expectations are lower despite the trainer’s past success at the Preakness.

“I don’t know if I can beat the winner. I think Animal Kingdom is the best horse,” Baffert said. “I don’t know if we can beat him, but I’m thinking if we can run 1-2-3, we’d be excited about it.”

That’s not gamesmanship as much as it is respect for the Derby winner, who already has earned a lot of it in the past two weeks. Animal Kingdom was a 21-1 long shot May 7 at Churchill Downs, but Motion said Irwin predicted he will be 8-5 by the time the horses leave the starting gates Saturday.

Saddled with high hopes and pressure, Motion said neither he nor anyone else knows if Animal Kingdom will be able to live up to it all in the Preakness.

“We can see whatever we want to see, but ultimately we don’t know,” the trainer said. “I don’t care how good you are. You can see the signs, but ultimately until we get there we’re not going to know how he is.”

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