BALTIMORE — It is rare when the best-laid plans come to fruition in Thoroughbred racing but, in the case of Astrology, having his initial goal fall through might turn out to be a blessing.
The Kentucky Derby was the original target for the son of A.P. Indy, but his connections scrapped that idea when an illness prevented him from making his 3-year-old debut until March 27.
The fact that the Preakness Stakes is now No. 1 on Astrology's agenda is fitting for more than one reason. Not only does the second leg of the Triple Crown fit perfectly into his adjusted schedule, but a victory in the 13⁄16-mile test would serve as a tribute to a man who enjoyed some of his greatest moments on this particular stage.
Nearly a month after wine mogul and noted owner Jess Jackson died at the age of 81, the burgundy and gold silks of his Stonestreet Stables will again be present in the Preakness Stakes. His homebred colt Astrology was among the 14 horses entered Wednesday, drawing post No. 1.
The Woodlawn Vase bestowed to the Preakness winner was twice handed to Jackson during his accomplished career, first when eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin won the race in 2007 and most memorably when his brilliant filly Rachel Alexandra became the first female in 85 years to win the race during her 2009 Horse of the Year campaign.
As one of the co-owners of Curlin at the time, George Bolton saw first-hand what those classic triumphs meant to Jackson and his wife, Barbara Banke — who is continuing with Stonestreet Stables. As the co-owner of Astrology, Bolton is hoping the graded-stakes winner can emulate his late owner's knack for celebrating at the Old Hilltop.
"I think it's going to be fun, and ... Jess would want us to go back there and have a great time," Bolton said. "He would want us to have good energy and be competitive on Saturday, and I think that's the goal. If this thing came through, it would be hard for any of us to get through the trophy presentation, but it'd be a nice problem to have."
Even with the presence of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in the Preakness lineup, Astrology would not be a surprise pick to end up wearing the black-eyed Susans.
Under the guidance of trainer Steve Asmussen — who conditioned Curlin and Rachel Alexandra — Astrology has not been worse than third in seven career starts. He has a pedigree for stamina but broke his maiden going 7 furlongs at Saratoga in September, and he put himself on the map when he won the Grade III Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs in October.
When Asmussen shipped the colt to California in the winter, however, Astrology contracted a minor illness that cost him about a month of training.
But considering that Astrology made five starts as a 2-year-old, he doesn't concede much experience to his rivals. If anything, the decision to bypass the Kentucky Derby might play out in his favor because he didn't have to endure the rigors of making it to the first Saturday in May.
"Obviously, the Kentucky Derby is the worst race to put a horse in who is not absolutely at the top of his game," Bolton said. "It's a very hard race on horses, and we want to have a horse for the rest of the year. This horse is doing better than ever, and I think he'll be more competitive than his odds."
Astrology's last three outings have been competitive, if a bit frustrating. After ending 2010 with a runner-up effort in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, he has been second this year in the Grade III Sunland Derby — his first start in nearly four months — and the Grade II Jerome Handicap on April 23.
In most of his starts, Astrology has displayed the kind of tactical speed that is usually favorable at Pimlico Race Course. Whether he's good enough to earn a classic victory is still to be determined, but Bolton said that as long as he sees what he thinks is the colt's best effort Saturday, the race will be a success.
"He has finished beautifully in the Sunland race and in the Jerome; he was in a tough spot on the rail (in the Jerome), but he was flying at the end," Bolton said. "All we're praying for is an improvement. This horse is fast, though. People forget that for an A.P. Indy, he did some very precocious things."