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By Peter Schmuck, The Baltimore Sun (TNS)

It had to be one of those what-are-the-odds moments for trainer Bob Baffert, and we’re not talking about the fact that Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah was set as a 4-5 morning line favorite for the 140th running of the Preakness on Saturday at Old Hilltop.

Baffert, who said before Wednesday’s race draw that he is always “post-position sensitive,” ended up with both Pharoah and third-place Derby finisher Dortmund stacked one and two on the rail, with Derby runner-up Firing Line getting the outside post that jockey Gary Stevens said he had been hoping for all along.

So, perhaps Baffert could have been forgiven for launching into a Steve Coburn-style rant about the unfairness of it all, but that’s not his style. He didn’t want to get boxed inside D. Wayne Lucas’ speed horse Mr. Z, but it certainly beat one of the alternatives.

“At least we’re here, going for the second leg (of the Triple Crown) and that’s more important,” Baffert said. “If they had told me, ‘Look it, if you win the Kentucky Derby, we’re going to have to stick you in the one hole at Pimlico,’ I’d have said, ‘I’ll take that all day long.’ ”

Whether starting inside will be a big disadvantage depends on how well Pharoah breaks. The reason that trainers and jockeys don’t like the inside gates is because the rail positions can limit their strategic options.

“It depends on your horse,” Baffert said. “My horses are fast, so they just have to break well.”

If they don’t, there’s the possibility of getting trapped inside and impeded while the outside horses have the luxury of running whatever race suits their individual styles. Stevens obviously considers the number eight position the great equalizer for Firing Line, which has opened as the third favorite at 4-1.

“I’ve got a lot more options, a lot more options than I would have had if I’d drawn down in the one hole,” Stevens said. “If you’re drawn in the one hole, your cards are dealt to you. American Pharoah’s got speed. Dortmund’s got speed and Mr. Z’s got speed, and they’ve got to come away from there running. If for some reason they don’t, then I’ll seize the moment.”

Stevens certainly knows his way around Pimlico. Three of his nine career Triple Crown wins came here, including his comeback victory aboard Oxbow two years ago. He’s the wily veteran in his 36th year riding thoroughbreds, but Pharoah jockey Victor Espinoza is on a roll after winning the first two jewels of the crown last year aboard California Chrome.

“Victor Espinoza is pretty crafty himself,” Stevens said. “He’s been on top of his game here it seems like the last year and half. He makes all the right moves and he’s got a lot of confidence right now.”

OK, so — all things considered — who’s better positioned to win the Woodlawn Vase?

“I’ve got the upper hand where I’ve drawn,” Stevens said. “He’s 4-5, I’m 4-1 and he better be 4-5, that’s all I can say.”

It’s going to be a very intriguing race that could produce a surprise or two. The three horses that came home together at Churchill Downs are the betting favorites for a reason. But there are four longshots in the middle four post positions, which has got to provide an added measure of uncertainty about the eventual outcome.

Danzig Moon (15-1) could be a factor from the number four post position and Divining Rod (12-1) is placed well just inside Firing Line, but their chances obviously depend heavily on how much the unlucky post-position draw affects American Pharoah and Dortmund.

Baffert recognizes the challenge ahead, but it is nothing compared to the difficulty of winning the annual stampede known as the Kentucky Derby. He drew the 18th slot for that race and Pharoah still got the ride he and Espinoza wanted.

“It depends on the horse,” he said before Wednesday’s draw. “They can have a great post, but if they step back or stumble like Bayern last year…He didn’t break and got eliminated and it’s over. All we can do is get them ready and keep them healthy and happy and hope they break well and get good position.”

Photo: American Pharoah via Facebook

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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