Horse Racing - Social Inclusion's 85yo trainer feels time has come

After saddling more than 3,500 winners in his native Venezuela and nearly 950 in the United States, Manny Azpurua will be getting his first shot at the Preakness Stakes on Saturday.

Reuters
Horse Racing - Social Inclusion's 85yo trainer feels time has come
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Horse racing

At 85 years old, he's not sure how many more opportunities will come his way.

"I'd be proud to win this race," said the soft-spoken trainer, who will send Social Inclusion to the starting gate against nine rivals in the $1.5 million affair at Pimlico Race Course.

"This is something you have to work for. It's not easy."

The lightly raced three-year-old colt missed the Kentucky Derby on May 3 because he failed to qualify and was going to run in the Sir Bear Stakes at Gulfstream Park that same day.

But the Kentucky-bred bay son of Pioneerof the Nile missed the race because of a minor foot bruise, which Azpurua says has healed nicely.

"Since we had to scratch him, we lost five days of training," Azpurua told Reuters on Monday outside the horse's Pimlico stall. "But I don't think that's going to bother him. He showed me this morning what I expected. He looked so good."

With Preakness jockey Luis Contreras in the saddle, Social Inclusion breezed a half-mile (804 metres) over a fast Pimlico track in an impressive 47 seconds.

Among Social Inclusion's rivals will be Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome, the Preakness favorite who arrived at Pimlico on Monday from Churchill Downs.

Social Inclusion won a six furling (1200m) race at Gulfstream on Feb. 22 by 7 1/2 lengths then broke the Gulfstream track record for 1 1/16 miles (1709m) with a 10-length victory on March 12.

Moving from entry-level allowance to the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct last month, Social Inclusion raced wide on the first turn and faded in the stretch to finish third behind Wicked Strong and Samraat.

Azpurua said there "were a lot of things that really bothered" his colt, who has earned $149,000 in his three career starts.

"He had the number 11 (post) and didn't get a good break out of the gate," the trainer said. "When he left Florida it was 84 degrees (Fahrenheit) (28 Celsius). When he got to New York it was 34 (1 Celsius).

"It was the first time he'd been on the track in a while. He was like a boy the first time he has to do something and he doesn't know what to do. He just lost his mind.

"But everyday he's looking better. He's getting calm. He's maturing."

Contreras, who has ridden Social Inclusion in all his starts, said he was impressed with the colt despite the third-place finish in the Wood.

"His first two races he did it easy," said Contreras, who flew in from Woodbine outside Toronto for the workout. "In his last race, he got beat, but he was fighting right to the end.

"He tried to fight back and lost second by a nose. It's great to feel the power underneath you and know that if something happens in the race, he's still going to give you 110 percent. He showed me he could fight."

Two weeks ago, 77-year-old Art Sherman became the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby.

If Azpurua wins on Saturday, he'll eclipse the Preakness record of Jim Fitzsimmons, who was 82 years and 10 months old when he saddled Bold Ruler to the winner's circle in 1957.

Azpurua said "without a doubt" Social Inclusion is the best horse he's ever trained.

"You work your whole life for something like this," he said. "I really, really, really believe he will win the Preakness.

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