A horse race like the Preakness Stakes takes about two minutes. But there are weeks, sometimes months, of work to get a thoroughbred ready to compete. The preparation falls to the trainer, who plots a course for their trainee to be in the best possible shape before the starting gate flings open and determines the best course for getting there. Each circumstance is unique.

To better understand a trainer’s thought process, The Baltimore Banner followed H. Graham Motion, a Kentucky Derby winner, four-time Breeders’ Cup winner and finalist for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, as he trained a horse for a race during the two days of Preakness and the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. Read: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

A pesky storm hangs over Pimlico Race Course in the lead-up to the Preakness Stakes, releasing rainwater in dribs and drabs, and the precipitation adds another variable for the filly Five Towns as she makes the jump to graded-stakes competition in Race 7, the Grade 3 Gallorette Stakes.

“The soft ground, if she handles that, I expect her to run her race,” says Ian Wilson, an assistant trainer at H. Graham Motion’s Herringswell Stables, less than an hour before post time.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

As Motion explained a few weeks before the Gallorette, the difference between firm turf and the dirt course used for Preakness is the same as a human trying to run on their lawn versus the beach.

“You kind of get bogged down a little bit by [the sand]; it’s more tiring,” he said.

Horses, he continued, “have to be that much fitter” to run on the dirt.

Five Towns is seen in her stall ahead of the Gallorette Stakes on Preakness Day. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Moisture makes either surface more of a slog, and the Gallorette is already going to be tough with 6-5 morning line favorite Fluffy Socks in the starting gate for trainer Chad Brown, one of the country’s best horsemen on the grass. The 6-year-old mare is the top choice for good reason. She’s run in six Grade 1 races, the highest level of competition in the sport.

The only blemish on her résumé is that she hasn’t won one of them. But Fluffy Socks has two victories in Grade 2 races and more than $1.2 million in career earnings heading into Saturday’s race.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Five Towns, meanwhile, is making her fourth start in the U.S. after being shipped from England at the start of the year. Under Motion’s tutelage, she’s notched two wins, including her last race, the 1-mile Dahlia Stakes at Laurel Park. Getting the 4-year-old filly into a graded-stakes race is, in some ways, a victory all its own, increasing her potential value as a broodmare.

But Motion is running her in this 1 1/16-mile race because he’s confident in her progress on the track.

Fifty-eight minutes before the 2:08 p.m. post time, a state veterinarian comes by Five Towns’ stall in one of the Pimlico stakes barns to collect a pre-race blood sample testing her total carbon dioxide to see if there are any traces of sodium bicarbonate, better known as baking soda. Years ago, some trainers would give horses an illicit mix of baking soda, electrolytes and sugar, known as a “milkshake,” hours before a race, believing it would chemically delay the onset of fatigue. (Some studies suggest it may not be effective in that regard.)

“You’re OK, you’re OK,” Wilson tells Five Towns as he steadies the filly for the test and pats her nose.

Wilson and other members of the Herringswell team who get near Five Towns and any other horses racing that day wear latex gloves to avoid introducing contaminants into the runners’ systems. Wilson puts his on after applying a Flair nasal strip on the bridge of Five Towns’ nose, opening her nasal way to increase airflow and decrease pressure on her lungs.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Assistant trainer Ian Wilson puts a nasal strip on Five Towns ahead of competing in the Gallorette Stakes on Preakness Day. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

A groom affixes her bridle. Last comes a small hood that goes over her ears and part of the top of her head with holes for the eyes.

“The idea here is that will keep her calm,” Wilson explained. Five Towns often gets nervous in the paddock, where all the horses are saddled. Pimlico’s is small and will be filled with people on the most important day of the Maryland racing calendar.

With more time between races, a groom walks Five Towns around the shedrow along the interior perimeter of the barn, a light warmup ahead of the hard running that’s to come.

“Race 7, let’s go,” a voice over the intercom says at about 1:43 p.m. “Race 7.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Led by her groom, Five Towns walks toward the main track — security guards hold up a rope on both sides of the path near the Old Grandstand to prevent attendees from getting in the way or startling the horse — and onto the dirt oval, where fans and bettors in the sparsely attended apron area will get their first look at her.

Five Towns is brought onto the main track to make her way to the paddock for the race. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Before heading into the paddock, a track official scans a microchip implanted in Five Towns and all the other horses to confirm their identity. Inside, Five Towns walks around the room as Motion waits in a saddling stall corresponding to Five Towns’ position in the starting gate, post No. 6.

Once the horses have had their saddles and saddle cloths placed, they are led around the walking ring looping the stalls before returning to to their trainers. A few minutes pass, and a man shouts “Riders up!” Motion gives jockey Jorge Ruiz, dressed in the silks of owner Merry Fox Stables, a leg up onto the filly. Her hood has come off.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Jockey and horse are led around the walking ring by the groom before exiting onto the track to the familiar sounds of a trumpeter playing “Call to Post.” Ten minutes until race time.

Five Towns walks out of the paddock for The Gallorette Stakes. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Four horses have scratched from the nine-horse field, two because they were only ever going to run if the Gallorette was pulled off the turf and two others due to trainer decisions. From an opening line of 6-1, Five Towns’ odds dip to 7-2 at one point, and Fluffy Socks is less than even money at 3-5 in the 1 1/16-mile race.

The rain starts to lighten up as the field completes the post parade and each horse goes to warm up with a lead pony before being led to the turf course and loaded into the starting gate. Standing in the winner’s circle along with the connections of the other horses, Wilson jokes about the reduced number of competitors: “We’ll take it. We like five-horse fields when we’re in them.”

Is he nervous?

“If you didn’t get nervous, it wouldn’t be worth being here, to an extent,” he says. He pauses a beat. “Win, lose or draw, we just want her to come home safely.”

The outside horse, No. 9 Ascendancy, is the last to load into the gate. Due to the scratches, Five Towns is three spots off the rail, an ideal position to stake out space close to the rail and avoid running a longer trip. Fluffy Socks is right next to her in post No. 7. About four seconds pass after the gates are closed behind Ascendancy.

Brrrrrrrring. A bell rings, the gates fly open, and they’re off.

All five horses break cleanly, with Five Towns — going off at final odds of 4-1 — sitting in the back of the pack, just off Fluffy Socks, as Blissful and Tequilera move to the front, followed closely by Ascendancy on the outside.

Five Towns sits in the back of the pack in the Gallorette Stakes as the field passes the wire the first time. (Jessica Gallagher / The Baltimore Banner)

Exiting the clubhouse turn, Five Towns is five lengths off the lead but still within reach of the heavy favorite — a position suiting her late-closing running style.

Tequilera takes the lead just before the half-mile pole, a spot on the course the field reaches in 50.59 seconds, a slow pace.

On the far turn, with Tequilera in front by 2 1/2 lengths, Fluffy Socks makes her move, passing through a gap between Ascendancy in the three-path and then Blissful on the rail. Five Towns follows, advancing through the same empty space.

The field enters the homestretch. Tequilera can maintain her forward position on the rail only so long before Fluffy Socks blows on by. Her Jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr., looks over his right shoulder and sees no imminent threat on the outside.

Five Towns, however, has momentum and enough stamina to give chase down the center of the track, getting up to second place. Ruiz urges her on, pumping her neck and going to the crop, and they get as close as 2 1/2 lengths to the lead.

Five Towns crosses the finish line, placing second, in the Gallorette Stakes. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

It is not enough. The 3-5 favorite opens up her lead and romps home.

Wilson, who’s watched most of the race on the giant video board in front of the grandstand, is still happy with how Five Towns performed.

“Ah, she ran super,” he says before the race even ends, adding as the field crosses the finish, “ran her race, second best.”

The board shows Fluffy Socks in first by 7 3/4 lengths and Five Towns in second, 2 1/4 lengths in front of Tequilera. Final time: 1:49.79.

“I saw the No. 7 horse the whole time, and I followed her throughout,” Ruiz says. “My filly ran really good from start to finish. Around the far turn, the 7-horse got away. My filly tried hard, but the winner was just too quick.”

Motion comes down from the box seats, where the owners and trainers sit during the race to greet his filly. He, too, is pleased.

“I didn’t know if it’d be her favorite ground,” he says of the soft turf, “but she seemed to handle it OK. And the winner’s good, and she was second best.”

Trainer H. Graham Motion speaks with jockey Jorge Ruiz after Five Towns placed second in the Gallorette Stakes. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

There were questions about how well she’d run on the wet turf based on her races in England. Now, Motion and his team have a better idea of what she can do.

Following the race, Five Towns is taken for a second blood test and a urine test to screen for numerous illegal drugs.

Before long, it will be time to go through the process again, to target a race and train Five Towns so she can build up to peak fitness and be primed to give her best effort. Motion said he’s looking to similar turf races later in the year, offering Colonial Downs in New Kent, Virginia, as a potential track where Five Towns runs next.

First comes rest for the filly.

“I think it’s huge that she can be competitive in these kinds of races,” Motion says. “I feel like I’ve run her quite a lot. You know, she hasn’t missed a month since she started, and I feel like in order to have her for some of the bigger races in the fall, I need to freshen her up a little bit. There’s not much of her; she puts a lot into it. But I don’t see why we can’t come back and be competitive in these races in the fall.”

Watch on YouTube

More From The Banner