Haskin's Preakness Report: Mucho Confusion

The Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) was supposed to clear up the confusing 3-year-old picture. Well, did it or didn’t it?

It all depends on whether Animal Kingdom is as good as he looked in the Run for the Roses and will continue his roll or whether he will “bounce,” as many of the speed pundits believe he will. If it’s the latter, then we’re right back to where we were before the Derby – trying to decipher the puzzle that has been the 2011 Triple Crown trail.

From all the physical signs, Animal Kingdom should bounce alright – bounce all the way to the Preakness winner’s circle. He has thrived at Fair Hill, away from the hubbub of the racetrack and the crowds. He is still carrying excellent flesh with well-defined muscle tone, he’s been enthusiastic in his training, and has not left an oat since arriving at Fair Hill.

He likes it so much at Fair Hill he will become the first Derby winner in memory to ship to Pimlico the day of the race, leaving the media to search for their big stories elsewhere.

As for the big bounce theory, Animal Kingdom made a huge jump in the Derby to run a “3-plus” on the Ragozin Sheets, faster than the vast majority of Derby winners, including Seattle Slew and Affirmed. On the Thoro-Graph figures, he went from a “3 1/2” in the Spiral Stakes (gr. III) to a “zero” in the Derby. So all logic points to a regression.

But let’s remember, in the Spiral he made big jump from a “7” to a “3 ½” and not only did he not bounce off that jump, he made another big move forward in the Derby. So, perhaps he’s just getting so good he can continue the roll he’s on. Perhaps his stay at the idyllic and tranquil setting at Fair Hill will allow him to recover easier from his Derby effort than if he were at the racetrack.

That is something we will not know until the Preakness. But from what we’ve seen over the past two weeks, there is no reason why he cannot run another big race. And even if he does regress a little off the Derby, he could do so and still win the Preakness.

But, Animal Kingdom is going to be a solid favorite in the Preakness, and of course, we have to try to find some potential bargains, of which there are several.

We have to start by saying that we have been following Astrology closely since last year and have been getting steady progress reports since he underwent minor surgery to correct an entrapped epiglottis. We loved his two efforts this year, and despite his drawing the rail, we feel as if he should be ready to take it to the next level and start fulfilling his potential. He looks great and has been doing everything right, so we definitely will be making a win bet on him, even though 23 of the last 26 Preakness winners ran in the Derby. One of the three who didn’t was Rachel Alexandra, who was coming off a two-week rest from the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I). So the “fresh horse” theory really doesn’t hold much water.

Speaking of fresh horses, the “Best hair coat” award goes to Mr. Commons. If you want to see what the term “bursting with dapples” looks like, all you had to do was watch this colt grazing Friday morning. Nobody can get a horse to shine quite like John Shirreffs. Mr. Commons’ coat was resplendent and you couldn’t help but be impressed with his overall condition.

Now, back to the hard-core analysis. We have to stick with success of the Derby horses, because they all (Animal Kingdom, Mucho Macho Man, Shackleford, Dialed In, and Midnight Interlude) all came out of the race in great shape.

No one has trained better than Shackleford, who has been machine-like in his gallops, and Animal Kingdom also has been extremely strong in his gallops. Dialed In had his best gallop on Friday and will be dangerous with a much better pace scenario.

Some question Shackleford’s inability to win the Derby after setting such a slow pace. Don’t be fooled by that pace. The track was on the cuppy side that day and that takes a toll on a horse going a mile and a quarter. From a visual standpoint, the field was not bunched up, as it should have been had that been a legitimately slow pace. Instead, the field was strung out almost 20 lengths, which normally signifies a fast, now slow, pace. That means those horses may very well have been using the kind of energy they would have had the actual fractions been faster. So, we’re not taking the slow pace all that seriously.

We haven’t seen several of the others, such as King Congie, Norman Asbjornson, and Concealed Identity, so we can’t comment on them. And we really haven’t enough of Dance City to get a good handle on him. He has tremendous potential, but is still a bit inexperienced. He’s no doubt talented and is as gutsy as they come, but is a question mark, experience-wise. Would it be a major surprise if he won? No, but as we said he will have to overcome his lack of experience, as will Flashpoint and Mr. Commons, two other gifted colts.

Taking into account pace scenario, consistency, durability, training and looks, and room for improvement, the pick at a somewhat decent price is Mucho Macho Man.

In fact, with Nehro gone, the 1, 3, 4 finishers of the Derby look strong to come back and make that a 1, 2, 3 finish, with Dialed In completing a Derby superfecta.

As we said we’re going to place a win bet on Astrology for old-time and new-time sake, and another win bet on Sway Away, because of the unknown factor and the big price he likely will be. He has never even finished in the money going two turns and could turn out to be a one-turn closer. He has a noticeable sway back, carries his head very high when he runs, and certainly isn’t as eye-catching as some of the others. But he still scares us because he just might be as good going two turns as he was in the seven-furlong San Vicente Stakes (gr. II). And he is by one of our all-time favorites Afleet Alex, who turned in one of the top two or three greatest Preakness performances of all time, maybe the best. He is a guess, but an intriguing one.

So, in summation, Animal Kingdom is going to be very tough once again and should win with a clean trip. But if you’re looking for a somewhat better price, paying in double digits, we’ll go with Mucho Macho Man and box the Derby horses in the exotics. We would be very surprised if Shackleford was not in the top three for all you across-the-board players. And he should be a fairly attractive price. The key with him is how the pace scenario plays out.

And finally, we’ll put saver bets on Astrology and Sway Away at a big price.

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