The 2011 Triple Crown season has been a tough riddle to solve from the very start of the year, and leg two is equally as challenging. The Preakness is normally a more formful race than the Kentucky Derby, but when you have a 20-1 winner and a bizarre pace scenario, it raises major questions about how true the race was--at least for me.
The pace of the Derby was the slowest on a dry track since 1947. It was basically a turf race run on dirt. I like Animal Kingdom, but I am having trouble getting past the fact that the race set up perfectly for him. He is not a dead closer, he is probably most effective running mid-pack, and so despite what the connections have said, I think the slow pace was to his benefit. That is not to say that Animal Kingdom will not run well--he is obviously in good form and should still be fresh since he was so lightly-raced--but I am going to try to beat the favorite.
I think decent cases can be made for about nine or 10 horses in this field. Here are some brief thoughts on some of them:
Astrology-He's intriguing because he's never been off the board in seven starts and seems to be improving. He got off to that late start this year, but actually ran two pretty good races. His second in the Jerome was flattered when Adios Charlie came back to run big in the Peter Pan. Asmussen has won this race twice. He should be running right off the pace and if he can overcome the rail and good a decent trip, he has a legitimate chance. That being said, I'm using him on the bottom end of exotics, not to win.
Dance City-A real wild card in here for me because he ran absolutely huge in the Arkansas Derby. He was on the pace through testing fractions and was game in the stretch. Before that, he beat a horse that I really like--Cal Nation. He's trained well since the Arkansas Derby, and with Dominguez aboard for Pletcher, it's tough to dismiss him. He should be out there with Flashpoint on the lead. One of those two horses, I have a feeling, will have a lot to say in the Preakness outcome. I've decided on Flashpoint, but will have a saver bet on Dance City just in case he is the one that is sharper.
Midnight Interlude-Not quite sure what happened in the Derby, and Baffert isn't either. Baffert said he has trained sharper for this race, but I get the feeling his is more hopeful than confident with this horse. I think he's a bottom-end exotics type of horse and would be mildly surprised if he was any better than that. Then again, Baffert has won this race five times.
Mucho Macho Man-Showed another dimension in the Derby by closing from off the pace. Looks great and has trained well since then, so he's hard to dismiss. Should be right in the mix again, but why can't I shake this feeling that he's just not fast enough to win these top races?
Norman Asbjornson-Tom LaMarra tells me he is going to run big. He still has not told me why he thinks that way, but Tom usually has good instincts when it comes to Maryland racing. The most interesting thing about the horse is that we have no idea how good his Wood run was since the three horses that beat him were all sidelined. At 35-1, maybe he's worth using.
Shackleford-Still razor sharp since the Derby. Would not be surprised if he ran big again. Major negative for me is that he had things his own way on a slow Derby pace and still couldn't hit the board.
Sway Away-There are many here at Pimlico that like him. Getting Gomez back certainly helps, and this colt may have a better turn of foot than anyone in the race. But he is still only a maiden winner who is probably running further than he wants. I see him making a big middle move but I'm not sure he can sustain it. Bottom of exotics for me.
I have liked two horses all week--Dialed In and Flashpoint. When I envision this race in my head I see Flashpoint setting the pace, taking the lead into the stretch, and Dialed In charging at him down the lane, with Animal Kingdom and Mucho Macho Man coming late for minor awards.
There are certainly some things not to like about Flashpoint, including his non-classic pedigree and that he is the most lightly-raced horse in the race. That is why he is 20-1 on the morning-line. My thought is that he is razor sharp right now and for at least one race he can overcome his pedigree to run big. Despite finishing fourth, his Florida Derby wasn't terrible. He was involved most of the way, but breaking from the outside and being rated just didn't work for him. This time he draws an inside post and will be on or right near the lead. He's not a runaway freight train, so I think he can harness his speed, and the thought is that he will be tough to catch if he turns for home with the lead on a track where sometimes it can be very difficult to catch pacesetters.
Flashpoint makes his first start for Wesley Ward since transferring from Rick Dutrow's barn. He has trained brilliantly since then at Keeneland and I was impressed by his gallop on Friday morning. Ward's barn has been red-hot and I think he is quietly confident about this colt.
I'm not sure if he will win, but Dialed In should run big. No horse was compromised more by the slow Derby pace than he was and despite that he closed very well. The pace will certainly be more legitimate in the Preakness and he will have his chance. He should be rolling at the end.
Dialed In is probably the more logical pick and I will certainly use him on the top of exotic tickets, but I will go out on a limb and pick Flashpoint to win. It's a gutsy pick because he has the potential to get swallowed by the distance and class, but something tells me he is going to run a big one.
Last year, I gave out the Preakness superfecta on this blog but did not play it. I have been reminded of that for 364 days since. If my superfecta comes in this year, trust me, I will have it. Good luck to everyone. Let me know who you like.
50-cent superfecta-$132 bet