Keeler Johnson’s Preakness Stakes 143 Selections

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....

#1 Quip

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 1:13.39.

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.

#2 Lone Sailor

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.

#3 Sporting Chance

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.

#4 Diamond King

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.

#5 Good Magic

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 of 2017.

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.

#6 Tenfold

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.

#7 Justify

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 conditions.

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.

#8 Bravazo

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 Stakes?


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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

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