By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
If you thought the track for the Kentucky Derby was wet, just
wait until you see what's in store for Saturday's 143rd Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico!
The second leg of the Triple Crown is expected to be
contested over a very sloppy or muddy track. In fact, Pimlico has already been
inundated with rain, and with more on the way, it would be no surprise to see conditions
reminiscent of 2015, when American Pharoah romped to victory after a torrential
downpour left the track soaked with water.
What kind of impact the rain will have on the track this
Saturday remains to be seen, and I'll be looking for evidence of potential
track biases. In the meantime, let's take a look at the eight horses that will
line up to contest the Preakness....
Quip will be among the more popular newcomers in the
Preakness Stakes thanks to a record dotted with victories and competitive
efforts in graded stakes company. He's done little wrong this year while
winning the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) and finishing second in the Arkansas Derby
(gr. I), but I think it's important to note that Quip benefited from pressing
slow fractions in both races—the Tampa Bay Derby fractions were :49.48 and
1:13.78, while the early stages of the Arkansas Derby went in :48.60 and
Furthermore, Quip was no match for Magnum Moon in the
homestretch of the Arkansas Derby and had to work a bit to hold off the
late-running pair of Solomini and Combatant. The fact that Magnum Moon,
Solomini, and Combatant were all soundly beaten in the Kentucky Derby also
hints that the Arkansas Derby might not have been the strongest prep race on
the Derby trail.
In addition, Quip is unproven over wet tracks, and
drawing post position one leaves him with few options in terms of race
strategy. In all likelihood, he'll have to come out of the gate running to
engage Sporting Chance and possibly Justify in a battle for the early lead, a
position that is certainly less than enviable. For these reasons, I'm tempted
to side against Quip in the Preakness.
The Louisiana Derby (gr. II) runner-up outran his odds
when finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby, beaten just 9 ¼ lengths, but he
did benefit from an ideal trip in the Derby, saving ground throughout while
rallying into fractions that were very fast early and slow late. The fact that
some of his best efforts have come on sloppy tracks is a positive, but given
the near-perfect setup he enjoyed in the Kentucky Derby, I'm not sure that
there's room for much improvement in the Preakness.
Fast, good, muddy, sloppy—track conditions don't seem to
matter to Sporting Chance, who has run well on every type of going. Actually,
you can argue that Sporting Chance has never run a bad race; even his
fourth-place finish in the Pat Day Mile (gr. III) at Churchill two weeks ago
was a deceptively good run, as Sporting Chance had to check hard partway
through the race and wound up going very wide on around the far turn. His wide
trip was especially significant since the rail seemed like the best part of the
track that day and the Pat Day Mile was dominated by horses that saved ground.
That said, Sporting Chance always seems to come up short
when facing tougher company, and he's also displayed a few quirks—he bolted
sharply to the outside in the homestretch of both the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I)
and the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II), and he reportedly refused to train as
expected at Churchill Downs a few days ago, necessitating a change to his
regimen for the morning.
You have to admire a horse that has maintained a
consistent level of form the way Sporting Chance has, but overall he might be
at his best going shorter against easier company. The distance of the
Preakness, coupled with the caliber of competition, could make it difficult for
Sporting Chance to finish in the top four.
This accomplished sprinter has always had the pedigree to
succeed around two turns and stretched his speed quite well to win the
nine-furlong Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park last month, finishing the
final three furlongs in a quick :37.04 to win by three-quarters of a length.
However, he did benefit from pressing a slow early pace (:48.33, 1:13.27) that
saw the two pacesetters finish in the trifecta, and he'll be facing an entirely
different level of competition in the Preakness Stakes.
On the plus side, Diamond King is bred top and bottom to
relish a wet track; his sire—Quality Road—was a capable off-track runner and
has already sired Abel Tasman, who won the 2017 Kentucky Oaks over a sloppy
track, while Diamond King's damsire—Malibu Moon—is the sire of Orb, who prevailed
over a sloppy track in the 2013 Kentucky Derby. I think there's a good chance
that Diamond King will handle the expected conditions on Saturday better than
most, which might be enough to get him into the superfecta, though overall I
think he could find the competition a bit deep in the Preakness.
The third start off the layoff was the charm for Good
Magic, who took a significant step forward off his spring prep races to finish
a strong second in the Kentucky Derby, beaten just 2 ½ lengths after looming
with every chance to win at the top of the stretch. It was his best effort
since a decisive victory in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I), a
performance that earned him the Eclipse Award as the champion two-year-old male
Now the question is whether Good Magic can find a way to
turn the tables on Justify in the Preakness, a task that might be easier said
than done. No matter how you slice it, Justify was the better horse in the
Derby, and with similar track conditions expected for the Preakness, one would
expect the results at Pimlico to be roughly the same.
Essentially, I think that playing Good Magic to win the
Preakness requires a belief that Justify will regress in what will be his fifth
start in the span of three months. That's certainly a possibility, but will
Good Magic's odds be worth the risk? He's 5-2 on the morning line, and I'd want
a better price before betting him to close that 2 ½-length gap on Justify. I
think Good Magic is clearly the most likely runner-up in the Preakness and a
horse that can't be excluded from the exotics, but for win purposes, he's a
tough horse to back.
If I'm going to play a runner out of the Arkansas Derby,
I would rather play Tenfold than Quip. Trained by Steve Asmussen, this
lightly-raced colt opened his career with a pair of victories going 8.5
furlongs at Oaklawn Park, then took a big step up in class for the Arkansas
Derby and ran very well while recording a fifth-place finish. He was wider
throughout than Quip while coming from farther off the slow pace, yet finished
just a half-length behind Quip at the finish line in a solid stakes debut. As a
son of Curlin out of a Tapit mare, it's not hard to envision Tenfold improving
significantly with maturity and experience, and he should also handle a wet
track just fine as well. I think he has a legitimate shot to finish on the
board at a nice price.
What's not to like about the Kentucky Derby winner? Four
starts, four decisive victories by a minimum of 2 ½ lengths. He's won over both
muddy and sloppy tracks while posting triple-digit Beyer and BRIS speed figures
in every start. In the Derby, he pressed fast fractions of :22.24 and :45.77
(he actually ran faster than any Derby winner in history over the opening
quarter-mile), but still had enough in the tank to resolutely turn back
champion Good Magic and pull away at the finish.
But wait, there's more. Justify's tactical speed should
be perfectly suited to the Preakness Stakes, which tends to be less favorable
to deep closers than the Derby. Furthermore, trainer Bob Baffert has won the
Preakness six times, and in fact he's never lost the race when he's brought the
Kentucky Derby winner, going 4-for-4 under those circumstances.
While there was briefly some concern about Justify
showing minor post-Derby soreness, he's bounced back well in the days since
then and has been making a great impression during his gallops at Churchill
Downs. The only possible chink in his armor that I can see is the fact that
he's run four times since February 18th, a very busy schedule these
days, and it remains to be seen how much the Kentucky Derby might have taken
out of him, considering that he pushed such a fast pace over testing track
Even still, trying to oppose Justify could prove to be an
exercise in frustration. He'll be a short price, but thanks to the small field,
his rivals are also unlikely to offer appealing odds relative to their chances
of winning. I said before the Derby that I thought Justify has the potential to
be a superstar, so I'll stick by that assessment and play him right back to win
the Preakness, hoping that his tactical speed allows him to work out another
ideal trip and keep his unbeaten record intact.
In my opinion, Bravazo turned in a gutsy and
underappreciated effort in the Kentucky Derby. Despite racing very wide every
step of the way, a disadvantage on a day when the rail seemed like the best
part of the track, Bravazo managed to rally into fourth place passing the
eighth pole and stayed on with determination in the final furlong to finish
sixth, beaten just eight lengths by Justify.
That effort was a sharp rebound from Bravazo's distant
defeat in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and was much more in line with his
hard-fought win in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) against a quality field back
in February. While Bravazo has been known to throw in the towel on occasion for
no clear reason, overall he strikes me as a fighter that will try his best regardless
of whether he's racing on a fast or sloppy track and racing close to the lead
or rallying from behind. I hope to see him retain the off-the-pace running
style he showcased in the Derby—if Justify runs as well as expected and tires
out the other speed horses, I think Bravazo can come running late to pick up a
sizable piece of the purse.
Since I'm picking Justify
to win the Preakness at a short price, I don't want to use too many horses in
the vertical exotics, since the expected payoffs could be on the small side. Good Magic is the obvious choice to
include with Justify, but I'm just as excited about Bravazo, who should have every chance to work out a perfect trip
and finish in the trifecta at around 20-1. Tenfold
is the other that interests me for the trifecta and superfecta, while I'll
play against the four horses drawn inside, including morning line third choice Quip, who could be in for a tricky trip
from the rail draw.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Preakness
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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.