In some ways, the debate over the Kentucky stewards' decision to disqualify Maximum Security from victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) now falls into the laps of horseplayers across the country.
That's because a key question in handicapping the Preakness Stakes (G1) is: "How much was War of Will, and possibly other horses, bothered by Maximum Security coming out several lanes near the 5/16 pole in the Derby?" I believe War of Will was bothered quite a bit. He'd already started his big run to the finish when jockey Tyler Gaffalione had to take up to avert disaster, and the horse lost momentum as he was forced outside.
In terms of handicapping horses who have a troubled trip in a race, I still watch to see how the horse responds after the problems. I give Gary Barber's 3-year-old high marks. After having to halt his initial rally, War of Will regrouped and was within a half-length of the lead in the stretch before fading to eighth under the wire (placed seventh after the disqualification).
Beyond the Derby trip, keep in mind that War of Will was progressing nicely toward the Louisville classic until an off-the-board finish in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby (G2) where he appeared to lose his action early. The fine run in the Kentucky Derby should alleviate any concerns about that Louisiana Derby effort; the son of War Front appears to be back on schedule.
Oddly enough, War of Will is slated to start from the inside for a second consecutive classic. He and Gaffalione handled the inside post of the Derby well--it wasn't quite as bad as most years as the first post was left open with War of Will starting from what normally would be post 2, with the post to his inside left empty. Racing inside didn't seem to bother War of Will last time, and he figures to get a similar trip here--without the usual Derby concerns where inside horses can get crowded out of position early.
There's speed in the race, but it appears to be that disciplined, two-turn type of speed, which War of Will should be able to rate just behind. Should that pace go a few clicks faster than what I'm anticipating, Owendale most assuredly could pick up the pieces. The son of Into Mischief put together a powerful late move to score a clear victory in the April 13 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (G3) at Keeneland--an effort that suggests his form is closer to the allowance win he had at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in January than his off-the-board finish in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford (G2) there in February.
One reason Owendale is not my top choice is that he'll pick up eight pounds off that Lexington effort--quite a bit of weight for a horse also being asked to stretch out another furlong off his Keeneland score.
Morning-line favorite Improbable certainly could deliver after a solid Derby effort (ultimately fourth) that followed a pair of runner-up graded stakes finishes for the son of City Zip. Trainer Bob Baffert is going for his eighth Preakness score, and he's twice won the classic with horses who finished off the board in the Derby: Lookin At Lucky (2010) and Point Given (2001).
Preakness picks: 1. War of Will, 2. Owendale, 3. Improbable