With Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdom not scheduled to arrive at Pimlico until Saturday, the focus was on…well, everyone else.
First, let’s look at the post position draw, which was fairly uneventful. The most interesting aspect of it was the placing of the four speed/pace horses, Flashpoint (post 4), Shackleford (post 5), Midnight Interlude (post 7), and Dance City (post 8).
With all four horses bunched together, Flashpoint, by drawing inside the others, will be the controlling speed, and jockey Cornelio Velasquez will dictate what the others do. Although it was the intention of Peachtree Stable owner John Fort and trainer Wesley Ward to sit back a little and try to settle in the garden spot, the colt likely will have to commit first, and the others will react accordingly.
If Velasquez decides to reel Flashpoint in at the break, then Shackleford and Jesus Castanon should be happy to do an encore of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and dictate the pace, preferably slowing it down as much as possible.
There is also something to be said for the reverse psychology. Shackleford is one horse who has matured both physically and mentally and is now experienced enough to set a faster pace in the Preakness and try to take the others out of their game. If you string out the field and make the others run faster early than they’re used to, you could take away some of their closing punch.
Shackleford has an advantage breaking right outside Flashpoint and clocking him right from the start. The other two who are expected to be close to the pace are Dance City and Midnight Interlude, who trainer Bob Baffert said will be showing more early lick than he did I the Derby and will try to return to the strategy that won him the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). So that is your pace setup.
As for the extreme posts, 1 and 14, if Astrology can break cleanly and sharply coming out of the 1–hole, and not get bothered by Norman Asbjornson in post 2, he actually could have an excellent trip, saving ground right behind the top four. The 3-horse, King Congie, will drop back, so he should not be of any concern. Astrology is more of a long-striding horse than a nimble-footed horse, so he is going to need a little luck easing off the rail. But remember, Pimlico is a track where you want to save as much as possible, so it could work out well for him.
Mr. Commons has to overcome two obstacles from the outside post. First, Victor Espinoza is going to have to be well prepared at the break and try to prevent the colt from ducking to the outside fence, which often happens, especially at Pimlico, where the outside horse is on the other side of the crown of the track. The second obstacle is the first turn, and you definitely want to try to avoid going too wide on this turn. Therefore, Espinoza is going to need some luck finding open paths to his inside during the long run down the stretch for the first time.
Astrology and Mr. Commons are two of the more handsome colts in the field and made quite an appearance on the track this morning. Astrology has a beautiful alert head and stood for nearly a minute at the barn entrance yesterday staring at the photographers outside the barn and taking in his new surroundings.
There isn’t much to say about Mucho Macho Man, Dialed In, and Animal Kingdom, who all drew well in posts 9, 10, and 11 respectively. Mucho Man Man, who looks to be filling out and finally growing into his 17-hands frame, is the grinder of the field, and if he can put himself into contention earlier than he did in the Derby and try to out-muscle and out-stay his opponents without racing greenly, he could be a formidable presence to deal with down the stretch..
He is a horse who just keeps running his race and seems to have great lung capacity.
Several Preakness horses jogged this morning, their first morning at Pimlico, but of those who galloped, the two who looked most impressive were Midnight Interlude and Shackleford, who also schooled at the gate.
Midnight Interlude, according to trainer Bob Baffert, is sharper now than he was going into the Derby, and looked particularly impressive out there, moving with powerful strides, his head straight and focused, and ears straight up. He is a colt who was packing a great deal of flesh before the Derby, and while he still is, he looks to be more finely tuned.
Shackleford was extremely impressive in his gallops at Churchill Downs and has picked up right where he left off. He covers a great deal of ground and moves with tremendous power and authority. He also has been sharp and on the muscle since arriving, and it is apparent the Derby took very little out of him.
The Derby horses as a whole all seem to have come out of the race in great shape. Mucho Macho Man, as we said, is doing super mentally and physically, and Dialed In is as dappled as ever.
As for Animal Kingdom, his muscle tone is still pronounced and has been galloping with authority over the Tapeta and dirt surfaces at Fair Hill.
So, all in all, from a physical standpoint, we’re dealing with an extremely impressive group of horses.