FAIR HILL — Right around the time the sun began to peek through the heavy rain clouds hanging over the woods and open fields at Fair Hill Training Center on Tuesday, trainer Kelly Rubley ascended the steps of the clocker’s tower to watch Alwaysmining circle the Tapeta track in preparation for this weekend’s Preakness Stakes.
Moments later, Mike Trombetta, who will be guiding his own horse, Win Win Win, in the second jewel of the Triple Crown after a ninth-place finish at the Kentucky Derby, entered the wooden observation post, bringing together a pair of Fair Hill trainers whose thoroughbreds will be at the center of the horse-racing world on Saturday.
“I think it’s great. It speaks volumes about the quality of horses that are here,” said fellow Fair Hill trainer Graham Motion, who famously brought Animal Kingdom to the Preakness in 2011 after winning that year’s Kentucky Derby. “They’re two legitimate horses. Again, it speaks volumes about the quality of racing in Maryland, which really has sustained itself even though we kind of went through a stage where the purses weren’t strong. I think Maryland racing has stayed very stable as far as the quality.
“It’s a race that gets a lot of attention and it’s definitely a lot of pressure, but they both handle it really well.”
Tuesday proved to be one of the final opportunities for the two trainers to take advantage of Cecil County’s secluded training grounds before departing Thursday for Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The duo agreed to transport their respective thoroughbreds in the same trailer for the short drive down I-95.
Early Friday morning will mark the first time Alwaysmining and Win Win Win train on the historic Baltimore track after they were among the last of the Preakness contenders to arrive at Pimlico. The two trainers settled on the arrangement during an impromptu meeting in the clocker’s tower.
“In the old days, trainers would breeze them Tuesday, usually nine days after the Derby, but they’ve kind of gotten away from that over the years a bit. It’s a two-week turnaround, so it’s all about getting them back fresh and doing well and happy and getting ready to try again,” said Trombetta, whose horse is one of four that will race on Saturday after competing at Churchill Downs on May 4. “[Fair Hill] is a much more settled atmosphere. The horses can rest, there’s no races going on, it’s nice.”
Rubley, only in her fifth full year as a trainer, will aim to make history in her first-ever Preakness. Alwaysmining will vye to become the first Maryland-bred horse to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown since Francis P. Sears Jr.’s Deputed Testamon in 1983, while Rubley hopes be the first female trainer to ever win a Triple Crown race.
“It’s a bit overwhelming, honestly, but it’s very exciting. To have this caliber of a horse and to have this barn at this stage of my career, it’s monumental,” Rubley said. “This has always been a male-dominated experience, and so, I think to be a woman moving on in the ranks is very exciting.”
Alwaysmining, directed by jockey Daniel Centeno, will set off from the seventh position. The Wednesday morning favorite, Improbable, a Bob Baffert-trained horse that placed fourth in the Kentucky Derby, drew the No. 4 post in the field of 13.
“He loves his job,” Rubley said of Alwaysmining. “He’s a very classy horse, he’s very laid back but he’s also a very exciting horse to watch gallop. He’s got a really great way of going about him and he just keeps showing that he’s better and better every time.”
Saturday represents Trombetta’s second trip to Baltimore with a Preakness contender after he took Sweetnorthernsaint in 2006, finishing second behind Bernardini. Win Win Win, under jockey Julian Pimentel, will be in the 13th position when the gates open.
The dark-colored horse labored on the sloppy track at Churchill, but performed well enough to prompt his trainer to enter him in the Preakness.
“I didn’t feel we got the best race out of him with the surface. although I’m not discounting the fact he had to run a mile-and-a-quarter and everything. But I mean, he ran good enough and came out of it well enough that it was certainly a consideration,” Trombetta said. “It’s a big deal for us because it’s our signature race of the year. To be home and participate in it, it’s not exactly the Derby but it’s close.”
Both local trainers can leave their mark on horse racing history with a win Saturday in the Run for the Roses.
“Obviously, we both want to do well. She feels the same way. If either one of us doesn’t [win], we’re rooting for the other one. I’d love to see her do well, but not at my cost. I know the breeder of her horse well and a lot of people stand to benefit if they do well. I hope she does.”
“I look at Fair Hill as a bit of a family. Most of the trainers here, we all get along and talk. We’ve got some really great people here. Graham Motion, Mike Trombetta and Michael Matz (who trained 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro) are fabulous. They’ve all been very supportive of me kind of starting my career and helping me along. I do think that’s a great thing to have.”
Follow Jordan Schatz on Twitter: @Jordan_Whig