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Official steps down for Preakness with son in mix

When Norman Asbjornson steps into the starting gate for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, Phil Grove will step out of the stewards’ stand.

Grove, one of the officials who supervises the races at Pimlico, will stand down as his son Chris sends out Norman Asbjornson in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown.

To avoid any possible conflict of interest, Grove recuses himself whenever his son runs a horse.

“We decided that in any race, whether it be a $5,000 race or the Preakness, if Chris’ horse was in it and something needed to be decided, I would step out and not be involved,” Grove said.

The former jockey who won 3,991 races before retiring in 1997 does not want to compromise the sport, or his position in it.

“The integrity of Maryland racing is here, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that,” Grove said. “I didn’t want to cast a bad light on it. I have a good reputation, too, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that.”

Grove will be replaced in the steward’s stand by Maryland Racing Commission executive director J. Michael Hopkins.

Norman Asbjornson, 2 for 7, is looking for his first stakes victory. His last two races were at Aqueduct: second in the Gotham Stakes and fourth in the Wood Memorial.

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GALLOPING: Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom had an easy gallop Wednesday as he prepares for the Preakness.

Based at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., Animal Kingdom went about 1¾ miles on a synthetic track.

Trainer Graham Motion opted not to use the center’s dirt track when it came up muddy. He remains pleased with the way the colt looks since the Derby less than two weeks ago.

“I think he’s super,” Motion said. “I feel very good.”

As usual, Animal Kingdom went out with a group of horses, typically eight to 10.

“He benefits from having company,” Motion said. “He’s better off having other horses around him than being on his own. He starts looking around a little bit when he’s by himself. He’s a relatively inexperienced horse, so I think he benefits from more activity.”

The Derby was only the fifth start for Animal Kingdom, who has three wins and a pair of seconds.

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FIRST IN: Mucho Macho Man was the first of the Preakness horses to arrive at Pimlico on Wednesday, checking in following a van ride from New York’s Belmont Park.

Several other runners trickled in throughout the day as activity finally picked up around the stakes barn.

Trainer Kathy Ritvo was pleased with accommodations for her colt.

“The stalls are huge and there is grass on the other side,” she said.

In contrast, trainer Graham Motion will wait until the last possible minute to bring Animal Kingdom. The colt is slated to arrive Saturday morning, only hours before the race.

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HOMECOMING: Larry Collmus might be a little choked up Saturday when the band plays “Maryland, My Maryland” as the Preakness horses step out for the post parade.

The Maryland native will call the state’s premier race for the first time. Collmus replaced Tom Durkin this year as the voice of the Triple Crown on NBC.

“It’s sort of real and sort of surreal,” said Collmus. “I haven’t called a race here in 25 years and now I’m going to call the Preakness. That’s pretty cool, as good as it gets. The great part is getting the Kentucky Derby out of the way. Now, it’s like old home week.”

Starting out, Collmus knocked around Maryland at Pimlico, Laurel, Timonium and Bowie racetracks. He is currently the announcer for Gulfstream Park in Florida in the winter while working summers at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

This will be another big moment following his first Kentucky Derby call.

“If you’re not nervous, you’re not doing your job correctly,” Collmus said. “In Kentucky, I think I was all right after I got through “My Old Kentucky Home.” It was very, very exciting, but you try to stay focused. You don’t want to rush things and you want to be clear, so people understand what you’re saying. When they hit the wire, I said, ‘Wow, it’s over and I’ve done it.'”

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FEMALE JOCKEY CHALLENGE: Six leading female riders are set to square off in the inaugural $30,000 Pimlico Female Jockey Challenge on Friday.

The challenge is part of The People’s Pink Party, a joint effort between Pimlico and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s largest breast cancer organization, to help raise money and awareness in the fight against the disease.

The headliner is Rosie Napravnik, who became the sixth woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. She was ninth aboard Pants On Fire, the best finish ever in the race by a female jockey.

“I’ve had just a great year so far,” she said. “I’ve been riding some very quality horses and coming off riding in the Derby is just a high that you can’t find anywhere else. I think the challenge is very unique because it’s a very select group of elite female riders. It will be very interesting and I think it’s going to be very exciting.”

She will be joined in the challenge by Vicky Baze, Forest Boyce, Chantal Sutherland, Hayley Turner and Emma-Jayne Wilson for the four-race challenge, with the winner earning $10,000.

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