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Azpurua expects good effort from Social Inclusion in Preakness

Social Inclusion, owner Ron Sanchez and trainer Manny Azpurua are in the house at Pimlico (Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club)
The 77-year-old Art Sherman, who became the oldest trainer to saddle a Kentucky Derby winner last Saturday with California Chrome, is just a kid to Manny Azpurua. The 85-year-old South Florida-based trainer was on hand at Pimlico Thursday morning for the arrival of his stable star, Social Inclusion, who is scheduled for a run in the 139th Preakness Stakes on May 17.

Azpurua, not Sherman, will have the opportunity to become the oldest trainer to send out the winner of the middle jewel of the Triple Crown and eclipse the record of legendary "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons, who was 82 years and 10 months old when he scored with Bold Ruler for a 1957 Preakness victory.

"We'll see if we can make it," the soft-spoken Azpurua said. "I expect him to run a good race."

Social Inclusion, who finished third in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in his most recent start, arrived at Pimlico at 5:48 a.m. (EDT) Thursday following an 18-hour, 44-minute van ride from Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida. He was accompanied by assistant trainer Roberto Riasco, who has worked for Azpurua for 39 years. Hey Leroy, who will run in the Grade 2, $400,000 Dixie Stakes on the Preakness undercard, also made the trip.

The three-year-old son of Pioneerof the Nile walked the shedrow of the Preakness Stakes Barn with good energy before being bedded down in his stall. Owned by Rontos Racing Stable Corp., Social Inclusion was showing no ill effects from a foot bruise that kept him out of the Sir Bear Stakes at Gulfstream last Saturday.

"That's not a problem," Azpurua said. "He's good."

Social Inclusion is the first Preakness candidate during Azpurua's long and successful career that includes more than 3,500 winners in his native Venezuela and nearly 950 winners in the United States.

"It's my first time. You know how you feel when you do anything the first time. It's exciting," he said. "He may be the best horse I've trained. I've had a lot of nice horses in my country and here."

Social Inclusion debuted for Azpurua at Gulfstream on February 22 while running six furlongs in 1:09 1/5 and scoring by 7 1/2 lengths. The late-developing Kentucky-bred colt came back on March 12 to break the Gulfstream track record for 1 1/16 miles, defeating favored Honor Code by 10 lengths in 1:40 4/5. Making the jump from entry-level allowance to Grade 1 company, Social Inclusion raced wide on the first turn before setting the pace and coming up short in deep stretch to finish third behind Wicked Strong and Samraat.

"In the Wood Memorial, I believe he learned a lot," Azpurua said. "I'm so pleased the way he ran. I think he's going to run a good race. He's been doing everything I've asked him. He's got his mind on running."

Azpurua is planning to send Social Inclusion to the racetrack at 8:30 a.m. Friday to get acquainted with the Pimlico surface during a once-around jog and once-around gallop.

Luis Contreras, who has been aboard Social Inclusion in all three of his career starts, has the return mount for the Preakness.

In other Preakness news:

Trainer Wesley Ward said jockey Jeffrey Sanchez will ride Pablo Del Monte. It will be Sanchez's first Preakness mount.

Sanchez, 28, gets on a lot of horses for Ward and is very familiar with Pablo Del Monte, though the Preakness will mark his first time on the colt in a race.

"He's worked him throughout his whole life," Ward said. "He's a rider who has won the Breeders' Cup, the Juvenile Fillies, with Awesome Feather. He won all the races on Awesome Feather (who was 10-for-11 in her career) and he's won for me in many different countries. In Europe, he's won races in France for me at Longchamp and Chantilly. He rode Madman Diaries when he was the Sovereign Award winner as the champion two-year-old colt in Canada. He's won lots of stakes races for me, but he's the kind of guy who flies under the radar a little bit."

Sanchez was named on Pablo Del Monte for the Kentucky Derby, but Ward scratched and pointed to the Preakness rather than have his homebred start from post 20.

"He's a strong rider but that hinders him a little bit because he's muscular and he's a little heavy," Ward said. "But I've had a lot of luck with him; he works very hard and is a very nice young guy."

Pablo Del Monte is training at Keeneland and is scheduled to arrive at Pimlico on Wednesday.

Trainer Linda Rice has notified the Maryland Jockey Club's racing office that she intends to ship Kid Cruz from Belmont Park to Pimlico on Monday. Kid Cruz is scheduled to have his final Preakness work this weekend at Belmont Park.

Tampa Bay Derby winner Ring Weekend is slated to have a breeze at Fair Hill on Saturday that will be pivotal in trainer Graham Motion's decision whether or not to enter him in the Preakness.

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