J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
weeks after an exciting Kentucky Derby that saw Always Dreaming cruise to a decisive victory, the field is set for
the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico, the second leg of the
Triple Crown. Nine challengers will line up to face the Derby winner, though
according to recent history, defeating him could be a task easier said than
the last twenty years, ten Kentucky Derby winners (Silver Charm, Real Quiet,
Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown, I'll Have
Another, California Chrome, and American Pharoah) have come back to win the
Preakness, an eye-catching 50% strike rate. Furthermore, on the ten occasions
when the Derby winner was beaten at Pimlico, seven of the winners were horses
that finished behind the Derby winner at Churchill Downs.
means that since 1997, only Red Bullet (2000), Bernardini (2006), and Rachel
Alexandra (2009) have won the Preakness without having started in the Kentucky
Derby, suggesting that if you want to find the Preakness winner, it's wise to
start with the Kentucky Derby runners.
all appearances, Always Dreaming will
be very difficult to defeat. The son of Bodemeister has gone 4-for-4 this year,
including clear-cut triumphs in the Florida Derby (gr. I) and Kentucky Derby.
His tactical speed gives him a major advantage, especially in the Preakness
Stakes, a race that has generally been very kind to speed horses. Reports
indicate that Always Dreaming has come out of the Derby very well, and at
Pimlico he'll meet a field with very little speed on paper-he figures to work
out another perfect trip either setting or stalking the early pace, making him
difficult to catch.
you can make a case that Always Dreaming will face a very stiff challenge from Classic Empire, the reigning champion
two-year-old. The son of Pioneerof the Nile has flashed significant talent while
winning three Grade 1 races, including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (with a
career-best 102 Beyer speed figure) and the Arkansas Derby, in which he
overcame a rough trip and a variety of winter training issues to prevail.
the Kentucky Derby, Classic Empire endured even more trouble. After being
slammed at the start, he dropped much farther off the pace than usual, finding
himself a dozen lengths off the lead after the opening half-mile. He was also
racing wide over a track that seemed to be favoring the inside paths, but to
Classic Empire's credit he fought on despite another bump in the homestretch
and rallied to finish fourth, beaten 8 ¾ lengths by Always Dreaming.
data from Trakus notes that Classic Empire ran about 9 ¼ lengths farther than
Always Dreaming, suggesting that with a different trip Classic Empire could
have finished much closer. Given that the Kentucky Derby was only his second
start following his winter training issues, there's a chance that Classic
Empire might be poised for another step forward in the Preakness Stakes, which
would make him a serious threat.
the Preakness, Classic Empire should be able to stay much closer to the early lead
than he did in the Derby, possibly stalking Always Dreaming through a modest
pace. In analyzing his Preakness chances, I can't help but think back to Lookin
at Lucky, a champion two-year-old that finished sixth in the 2010 Kentucky
Derby over a sloppy track. In the Derby, Lookin at Lucky had a very troubled start
from post position one and wound up much farther off the pace than usual. Although
his late rally never seriously threatened and he was beaten seven lengths by
Super Saver, Lookin at Lucky turned the tables and won the Preakness.
all of this in mind, I have to take a shot with Classic Empire to post a mild upset in the Preakness Stakes, though
I certainly respect Always Dreaming
and wouldn't want to leave him off any serious multi-race wagers.
the exotics, I believe Cloud Computing and
Conquest Mo Money are the primary
contenders. The lightly-raced Cloud Computing finished second in the Gotham
Stakes (gr. II) and third in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) at Aqueduct, which
earned him enough points to run in the Derby, but his connections chose to pass
the race and await the Preakness instead. Considering that he was compromised
in the Wood Memorial by a slow start and a speed-favoring track, I thought his third-place
effort was much better than it looked, and he's been catching eyes while
training for the Preakness. The four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier
Castellano picks up the mount, and in a race without much pace, Cloud Computing
has enough speed to stay within striking range of the leaders. From there, I
think he has a big shot to hit the board.
for Conquest Mo Money, he's never
finished out of the exacta and finished just a half-length behind Classic
Empire when second in the Arkansas Derby, a race in which he dueled for the
lead through a solid pace. Drawing post position ten means that he'll likely
have to gun for the lead from the start, but that might not be the worst thing
in a race like this. If he can avoid getting into a prolonged pace battle with
Always Dreaming, he should have enough left in the tank to hang around for a
spot in the superfecta.
horse that I'll play against is Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee. While his Derby effort was admirable, he received a
perfect trip rallying up the rail, covering substantially less ground than any
other horse in the race while taking advantage of the best part of the track. A
modest pace in the Preakness could compromise his chances, and thanks to his
Derby performance he won't offer much value in the wagering.
more intriguing off-the-pace runner might be Hence, who finished eleventh in the Derby after previously defeating
Conquest Mo Money by 3 ¾ lengths in the Sunland Derby (gr. III). While not the
most consistent colt, Hence has shown flashes of good form and will be a much
bigger price than Lookin at Lee-in fact, he's 20-1 on the morning line. If you're
willing to forgive his Derby effort and judge him on his Sunland Derby form,
you can make a case that finishing in the exotics isn't out of the question at
a big price.
Now it's your turn!
Who do you like in the Preakness Stakes?
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.