The field is set, post positions are out and we’re just two days away from the 136th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Baltimore. The Kentucky Derby saw Animal Kingdom blow past the favorites under jockey John Velazquez to give trainer Graham Motion his first Derby winner in a long career in the sport. The Preakness, hosted by the second oldest race course in the country, is that middle jewel that has stumbled many a potential Triple Crown winner. Will Animal Kingdom be able to surmount this hurdle to arrive at Belmont in June with a shot at immortality?
We came to the Derby with plenty of questions about the enlarged field that always comes to Churchill Downs. We emerged with a few answers, though just five of the fourteen post positions will be fielded by horses that were in Kentucky earlier this month. Some notable horses will be missing from the line, including Kentucky runner-up Nehro who will be waiting around and resting up after a busy spring session. So with even more questions needed to be asked ahead of Saturday’s race for the second jewel in the Triple Crown, let’s investigate the fourteen Thoroughbreds that will be on the line on May 21st…
- 1m Jerome Handicap — 2nd (4/23)
- 1⅛ Sunland Derby – 2nd (3/27)
- 1⅟16 Kentucky Jockey Club – 2nd (11/27)
- 1m Iroquois — winner (10/31)
- 1m Garden State – 3rd (9/25)
Will Astrology finally be able to show the speed that made him look like a solid early contender in the fall? The biggest knock against the horse is the simple question marks that comes at distance, with his only win in seven career starts coming at just eight furlongs — yet he’s never placed out of the money. In both of his career starts at nine furlongs or higher, he has been a leader in the homestretch only to be outkicked at the end by another horse. But his speed figures have only been increasing all throughout the spring campaign, and at 15-1 odds this is a good longshot. Mike Smith is a hell of a jockey – he completed his career Triple Crown at Belmont last year after winning the Preakness early in his career in 1993 and the Kentucky Derby in 2005.
- 1⅛ Wood Memorial — 4th (4/09)
- 1⅟16 Gotham — 2nd (3/05)
Sired by 1998′s oh-so-close-to-the-Triple-Crown Real Quiet, Norman Asbjornson is another of those horses who has yet to win at the stakes level despite showing consistent speed gains over the winter and spring. The horse is best suited by a slow pace where he can run off the front; so if the race ends up anything like the Kentucky Derby was run out, he’s got an outside chance at the money. With Pimlico muddy on Thursday, the potential is there for a slower race… but at the same time, with both trainer Christopher Grove and jockey Julian Pimentel making their maiden trips to the Preakness, experience could be as much a factor for the humans involved as for the horse.
- 1⅛ Blue Grass Stakes– 3rd (4/16)
- 1⅟16 Hallandale Beach – 3rd (2/06)
- 1⅛ Tropical Park Derby – winner (1/01)
If only a spring illness hadn’t kept this horse out of the Spiral Stakes in March, we might very well have seen King Congie at the Kentucky Derby and have a better feel for his potential at Pimlico. But what we do know is promising. Having won the Tropical Park Derby on New Year’s Day, King Congie followed up with a win at the Hallandale Beach Stakes at Gulfstream only to be disqualified for interference and relegated to third. Showing again at the Blue Grass Stakes, beaten only by fellow Albertrani-trained Brilliant Speed and Twinspired, King Congie comes to Baltimore with a new twist to his story. After getting in a minor accident and losing what would turn out to be the winning mount in the Kentucky Derby, Robby Albarado will climb aboard King Congie in hopes of spoiling his former employer’s Triple Crown bid.
- 1⅛ Florida Derby — 4th (4/03)
- 7F Hutcheson Stakes — winner (2/26)
Flashpoint is another lightly-raced Thoroughbred that never touched the track competitively as a 2-year-old and only started racing this past January at Aqueduct. With wins at six and seven furlongs, Flashpoint came to the Florida Derby in April with hopes of a strong showing that would put it in the hunt for post positions at the Triple Crown races. But was it inexperience, or simple lack of long-distance endurance, that led to Flashpoint dropping back in the final furlong to lose by eight lengths to Dialed In? The horse did land an outside post and was swung wide during the race… but with a pedigree filled with sprinters that betrays him in a race of this distance, it would appear the Preakness is probably too much race for Flashpoint.
- 1¼ KENTUCKY DERBY — 4th (5/07)
- 1⅛ Florida Derby — 2nd (4/03)
- 1⅛ Fountain of Youth — 5th (2/26)
That 14-second final furlong in the Florida Derby that lost him the race to Dialed In apparently wasn’t a fluke, as the horse faded in the Kentucky Derby, unable to hold the pace late. The betting line would indicate a horse with the potential closing ability, but Dale Romans’ steed has been anything but a closer and just doesn’t look to have that top-end speed past eight or nine furlongs. He’s still good enough to make a splash and earn his way onto a trifecta ticket, but if you’re looking to bet straight winner the horse is given too much credit at 12-1 and is best avoided at the window.
- 1⅛ Arkansas Derby – 4th (4/16)
- 1⅟16 Rebel Stakes – 6th (3/19)
- 7F San Vicente – 2nd (2/20)
The results haven’t been out-of-this-world, but Jeff Bonde has shrewdly built up racing form in this son of 2005 Preakness winner Afleet Alex and grandson of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew with incremental increases in distance. His most recent trip around the track, in April at the Arkansas Derby, saw the horse taking a short lead through the stretch before being passed by Archarcharch in the final straight to finish just out of the money at 3¼ lengths back. Entered into the Derby field, Sway Away was passed up due to insufficient graded stakes results, but should not be discounted at Pimlico after drawing a favorable post.
- 1¼ KENTUCKY DERBY — 16th (5/07
- 1⅛ Santa Anita Derby — winner (4/09)
Few trainers in horse racing have been as successful at Pimlico as Bob Baffert. A five-time Preakness Stakes-winning trainer, Baffert brings the Santa Anita Derby winner out to Pimlico after a disappointing 16th out of 19 at Churchill Downs. Debuting only on January 29th this year, Midnight Interlude is a lightly-raced horse that might yet have more speed potential in its tank. (The Kentucky Derby was just the fourth race overall in the horse’s career.) With The Factor and Jaycito both still sidelined, Midnight Interlude is Baffert’s last hope for this Triple Crown season.
- 1⅛ Arkansas Derby– 3rd (4/16)
Todd Pletcher won the Belmont with Rags to Riches four years ago, and last year claimed his first Kentucky Derby as Super Saver won with Calvin Borel aboard to end his futility streak at 24 at Churchill Downs. Pimlico remains the one elusive jewel that the legendary trainer has yet to conquer. The two things that have kept the horse from garnering more attention? First, a total dearth of race experience increases the questions surrounding Dance City. Second, Pletcher has never been able to settle on a consistent jockey, using both John Velazquez and Javier Castellano before settling on Ramon Dominguez in Baltimore. A front-runner, Dance City will be hoping like several others for a slower pace on Saturday if he is to finish in the money.
- 1¼ KENTUCKY DERBY – 3rd (5/07)
- 1⅛ Louisiana Derby — 3rd (3/26)
- 1⅟16 Risen Star — winner (2/19)
- 1m Holy Bull — 4th (1/30)
- 1⅛ Remsen — 2nd (11/27)
- 1m Nashua — 2nd (11/6)
Some of those questions about Mucho Macho Man’s stamina were answered in Louisville, yet with another furlong tacked on we’ll find out if Maragh and his mount can continue their hot streak in the money. The horse has little in his lineage that would inspire confidence in his chances at ten furlongs, but with Mucho Macho Man having acquitted himself at the Derby to finish in the money we might be led to overlook pedigree — especially in a field that by and large faces similar questions. In finishing third behind Animal Kingdom and Nehro at the first stop of the Triple Crown, the horse returned back onto the scene after falling off the radar over the spring.
- 1¼ KENTUCKY DERBY — 8th (5/07)
- 1⅛ Florida Derby — winner (4/3)
- 1m Holy Bull — winner (1/30)
The odds-on favorite in the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, Dialed In was soundly humbled in the dirt as he finished far back of winner Animal Kingdom. But not all is lost for the one horse in this bunch of 3-year-olds that looked like a potential Triple Crown winner with the confluence of his own dominance and the uncertainty of the field’s strengths before the Derby. Zito and his crew have the motivation of winning a special bonus of over $5 million for their successes of the spring at Gulfstream and at Pimlico. The extra motivation could finally leave Leparoux with the swift horse we’ve come to expect when we see that name as it heads up to the post.
- 1¼ KENTUCKY DERBY – winner (5/07)
- 1⅛ Spiral — winner (3/26)
A horse with nary a moment spent in the dirt before the Derby, Animal Kingdom proved phenomenal on the natural surface and excelled at ten furlongs. After earning the mount late, Velazquez has remained atop the horse with a chance at making history. With his win all those black marks — the lack of experience on dirt, the lack of pedigree for the dirt, the light racing schedule — faded away as both friend and foe came out of the woordwork to congratulate Motion. With a favorable post position, still in the middle yet outside the rail spots, Velazquez could just be distilling the last three decades of failures into the long-sought Triple Crown.
- 1m Jerome Handicap — 5th (4/23)
- 1⅛ Wood Memorial — 5th (4/09)
- 1⅟16 Gotham – 6th (3/05)
Grandson of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony, great-grandson of Triple Crown winner Affirmed, the pedigree is in place that would make Isn’t He Perfect look like a solid longshot bet. His less-than-impressive results during the spring belie the fact that the horse has been competitive in every graded stakes he has contested. Jockey Edgar Prado, best remembered for his mount atop Barbaro in 2006 when the horse was injured in the Preakness, is based in Maryland and would love nothing than to finally win the state’s biggest race after fourteen misses to date in his career. A win might be out of reach for this horse unless the pace gets significantly slowed on race day.
- 1⅛ Federico Tesio Stakes – winner (5/07)
- 1m Private Terms — 5th (3/19)
- 7F Miracle Wood — 4th (2/26)
- 6F Dancing Court — 4th (1/29)
- 7½F Maryland Juvenile — winner (12/18)
Other than Mucho Macho Man, no horse coming to Pimlico for Saturday’s race has competed as much in the past six months as Concealed Identity. Working in its favor is the fact that no other horse in the field has yet to win a race on the actual Pimlico track surface; while the world was tuned into Churchill Downs for the Derby, Concealed Identity was taking the Federico Tesio Stakes in Baltimore to acquaint himself with the track in a way no other horse in the Preakness field yet has. Getting the #13 post will either prove really lucky or really unlucky. Son of 2004 Derby/Preakness winner Smarty Jones, this horse offers great value at 30-1.
- 1⅛ Santa Anita Derby — 3rd (4/09)
Mr. Commons comes to Pimlico with many of the same questions that Midnight Interlude brought to Churchill Downs earlier this month. Having raced exclusively in California prior to coming east for the Preakness, the Shirreffs-trained horse came from mid-pack to finish third in the Santa Anita Derby. With only four career races, Mr. Commons will at least arrive in Baltimore well-rested for this race. But with the far outside post, the exposure of the two horses that beat him at the Santa Anita, and a pedigree that suggests the horse is better suited to turf than dirt, the odds don’t tell the whole story about this true longshot. Expect a mid-pack finish somewhere between 7th and 9th.
So what does all of this mean? Who do I see as the favorites in this field, the best values… and who, if I were to plunk down for a trifecta bet, would I have in the win, place and show positions?
We’ve got a lot more answers than we did ahead of the first leg of the Triple Crown. The Derby finishers in the field have been given major leeway by the books that set the betting lines, with Animal Kingdom the overwhelming favorite after his win and pre-Derby favorite Dialed In being given second billing despite his mediocre performance in Louisville.
But after fumbling for picks last time around, while my wife shrewdly picked Animal Kingdom ahead of the Derby, perhaps it is time to let her take a look at the field. She’s offered two picks, so we’re going to take her choices and add my pick at the end to get our prediction for this second leg of the 2011 Triple Crown. Following his Derby victory, she still likes Animal Kingdom with Velazquez aboard to come to Belmont with history on the line. Albarado’s taste for… well, not revenge but vindication will motivate him to finish in the money atop King Congie. And after struggling in Kentucky, I really think that Baffert’s horse is going to come through to prove that the Santa Anita wasn’t as horrible a race this year as it looked earlier this month. 11-3-7, mark it now, that’s who I like in this Preakness:
Should it happen, we’ll come to Belmont Park in June with the opportunity to see if Graham Motion can be the first trainer to nurture a Triple Crown winner in over three decades…