Keeler Johnson’s Preakness 144 Selections

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

From a sporting perspective, Saturday's $1.5 million Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico isn't particularly exciting. The first four horses to cross the finish line in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) are all skipping the Preakness, so for the first time since 1996, there won't be a Triple Crown quest on the line at Pimlico.

But from a handicapping perspective, the Preakness is shaping up to be a fantastic betting race with a large field and plenty of options for bettors to consider. Let's go through the field in horse-by-horse fashion and come up with some selections....

#1 War of Will: All things considered, this son of War Front ran a huge race in the Kentucky Derby. Breaking from the rail, he was reluctant to settle after being beaten to the lead, and when he tried to shift out and rally on the far turn, he ran up on the heels of Maximum Security when the latter ducked out sharply. Despite these obstacles, War of Will regrouped and was just one length off the lead at the eighth pole before weakening late to cross the wire in eighth place.

Unfortunately, War of Will has drawn the rail again in the Preakness, which leaves him with few options for working out a clean trip. After the Derby debacle, I expect jockey Tyler Gaffalione to aggressively send War of Will to the front, but then War of Will figures to be hounded by pressers and stalkers from start to finish, not exactly an ideal trip for a colt whose best efforts have come when employing outside stalking tactics. You can also argue War of Will's Derby performance was enhanced by racing over a sloppy, sealed track, which he clearly relishes.

I have a lot of respect for War of Will's talent, and his Derby performance was a big step forward off his troubled ninth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II). But drawing the rail again is a tough blow, so I'll limit his inclusion on my tickets to the trifecta and superfecta.

#2 Bourbon War: As a one-run deep closer, Bourbon War is reliant on a fast pace (or at least an honest pace) to set up his late rally. Two starts back, he got a perfect setup in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II) and produced a big run to finish second, beaten less than a length by the eventual Kentucky Derby runner-up Code of Honor.

But in the Florida Derby (gr. I), Bourbon War was compromised by a slow pace and a remarkably fast finish, which made it impossible for him to rally and challenge the front-runners. assigned the race a Closer Favorability Ratio of 2 on their 1-to-100 scale, indicating a race that fell within the top 2% of speed-favoring events.

To his credit, Bourbon War did churn on against this impossible scenario to finish fourth behind Maximum Security (who crossed the wire first in the Kentucky Derby), Bodexpress, and Code of Honor. For the Preakness, Bourbon War will add blinkers in an effort to stay more involved early on, but just an honest pace should be enough to get him back in the mix. Considering his deceptively good Florida Derby effort and the possibility for a better setup on Saturday, I view Bourbon War as a top contender to hit the board in the Preakness.

#3 Warrior's Charge: Talk about a wildcard! After finishing third in his first three starts for trainer Brad Cox, Warrior's Charge stepped up his game significantly in a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Oaklawn two months ago. Previously a mid-pack closer, Warrior's Charge set the pace that day and powered clear in the homestretch to win by six lengths over Rotation, who broke his own maiden at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby.

Then Warrior's Charge tackled an allowance optional claiming race (again going 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn) and won with complete authority, widening under his own power around the far turn before cruising to an unchallenged 6 ½-length triumph. For that effort, he earned a 97 Beyer speed figure, which would put him thoroughly in contention for victory in the Preakness.

Can Warrior's Charge repeat that performance while stepping up in class and distance? He's been winning so easily that there's no way to gauge how good he might be. He'll certainly face pace pressure in the Preakness, but if he can rate behind the leaders—and judging from his first three starts, there's no reason to think he can't—he could be a dangerous contender at a nice price. He'll pick up the services of the two-time Preakness-winning jockey Javier Castellano, so at 12-1, I'm tempted to use Warrior's Charge on all my tickets, even multi-race wagers.

#4 Improbable: In terms of Beyer speed figures, Improbable is the fastest horse in the Preakness field, and he's also the highest-finishing Kentucky Derby starter continuing on to Pimlico, having crossed the wire in fifth place at Churchill Downs.

But throughout the winter and spring, I've been concerned by Improbable's tendency to race sluggishly during the opening furlongs of his races. It didn't affect him much as a juvenile, when he was clearly superior to the rivals he was facing, but against tougher company this year it's become a bigger issue. I'd argue it cost him victory in the first division of the Rebel Stakes (gr. II), and it certainly didn't do him any favors in the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby, he broke just fine, but couldn't accelerate fast enough to secure good position and wound up boxed in behind and between horses for the majority of the race.

As a result, drawing post four in the Preakness could be problematic for Improbable. With fast horses scattered both to his inside and outside, he risks getting buried in traffic again. The rider switch to Mike Smith could make a difference, since Smith tends to be aggressive in securing good early position, but considering how Improbable has been the cause of his own problems this year, I'm not sure I want to rely on him winning at a short price. For the exotics, he's a must-use contender, but for win purposes I think he's vulnerable.

#5 Owendale: Visually speaking, Owendale looked fantastic in the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland last month, unleashing a sweeping rally from off the pace to win by 1 ¾ lengths with a career-best 98 Beyer speed figure. But take note, the rail at Keeneland was dead on the day of the Lexington, so outside closers like Owendale enjoyed a distinct advantage throughout the afternoon. That doesn't mean Owendale isn't a talented colt, and his Lexington performance was a nice improvement off his previous form, but considering the advantage he enjoyed I'm reluctant to play him in the Preakness, except perhaps in the trifecta or superfecta.

#6 Market King: He ran well enough when finishing third behind Omaha Beach and Game Winner in the second division of the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn this winter, but he subsequently faded to eleventh place in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland. Market King does have speed and should be a pace presence, but this is a tough spot and he might find the waters too deep against a field of this caliber.

#7 Alwaysmining: What do we do with this local Maryland-bred sensation? Alwaysmining has won his last six starts by an average margin of six lengths, and he's been particularly dominant in two-turn races, most recently winning the 1 1/8-mile Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park by 11 ½ lengths.

But it's fair to question the caliber of competition Alwaysmining has defeated. He did beat fellow Preakness contender Win Win Win by 1 ½ lengths in the seven-furlong Heft Stakes last December, but Win Win Win endured a trouble trip that day and has improved a lot since then. This year, Alwaysmining's best rivals have been Gray Magician (runner-up in the UAE Derby but last in the Kentucky Derby), Joevia (who crossed the wire seventh in the Wood Memorial), and Trifor Gold (who was defeated in three allowance races prior to finishing second in the Federico Tesio).

Granted, Alwaysmining has been much the best in his recent starts, and the 96 Beyer he posted while winning the Private Terms Stakes would put him in the mix at Pimlico. But for a horse winning easily, he's been ridden harder down the lane than you might expect, and he's also benefited from setting or tracking slow fractions in small fields. As a racing fan, I'm fond of Alwaysmining and would be happy to see him score a victory for the locals. But he'll be facing much tougher company on Saturday and figures to be part of a faster early pace, so from a handicapping perspective, I plan to oppose him.

#8 Signalman: You have to admire Signalman's unwavering willingness to run inside and between horses. Ask him to rally through a practically non-existent opening, and he'll battle his way through. But this year, the son of General Quarters seems to have hit a form ceiling, with a mild third-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II) suggesting he might not be fast enough to hold his own in a race like the Preakness.

Still, he could show improvement while making his third start of the season, and if a fast pace unfolds, you know Signalman will do his best to slice through the pack and pass tiring runners. He'll be a big price in the wagering, so I wouldn't be opposed to including him on deep trifecta or superfecta tickets.

#9 Bodexpress: He benefited from the race shape when chasing Maximum Security to a second-place finish in the Florida Derby (gr. I), and when faced with more challenging circumstances in the Kentucky Derby, he was weakening when squeezed out of contention on the far turn and ultimately crossed the wire fourteenth. This son of Bodemeister is still a maiden after six starts, and his typical pace-pressing tactics could lead to a wide trip in this speed-laden Preakness field. For these reasons, I'll play against him.

#10 Everfast: This stoutly-bred son of Take Charge Indy has shown flashes of promise, most notably when finishing second in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. II) at 128-1, but with a career-best Beyer of 83 and a nine-race losing streak in tow, he'll be among the longshots in the Preakness and would need to step up his game to hit the board.

#11 Laughing Fox: Trained by Steve Asmussen, who sent out longshot Tenfold to finish a close third in the 2018 Preakness, Laughing Fox was no match for the likes of Omaha Beach, Game Winner, and Improbable in the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) and Arkansas Derby (gr. I), but found a drop in class for the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Invitational Stakes to be a recipe for success.

On paper, it appears Laughing Fox produced quite a late rally to win the Oaklawn Invitational, gaining three lengths in the final furlong to prevail by a neck. But viewing the replay, it appears Laughing Fox's running line is incorrect; he was actually just a length off the pace with a furlong to go and was all-out to catch the runner-up while posting a Beyer of just 91. Since there are other late runners that I like better (Bourbon War, Owendale, maybe even Signalman), I'll side against Laughing Fox in the Preakness.

 #12 Anothertwistafate: From a visual perspective, I'm not sure any three-year-old has made a greater impression on me this year than Anothertwistafate. This talented son of Scat Daddy has a professional, powerful way of running that can't be discovered by a glance at his past performances. You have to see him in action to understand the potential he has.

Anothertwistafate first came to my attention when he dominated a one-mile allowance optional claiming race at Golden Gate Fields on January 4th, winning by five lengths in gate-to-wire fashion. This performance made him the favorite for the February 16th El Camino Real Derby going 1 1/8 miles, and once again he dominated on the front end, powering clear in the homestretch to defeat Bob Baffert's next-out stakes winner Kingly by seven lengths.

What struck me most about Anothertwistafate's performance wasn't his eye-catching margin of victory or his solid 94 Beyer speed figure. It was the way he ran down the homestretch—straight as an arrow, focused and powerful, sprinting the final furlong in :12.08 seconds. He didn't look wasn't your typical El Camino Real Derby winner—he looked like something greater, something special.

Unfortunately, rating tactics backfired in the Sunland Derby (gr. III), though it wasn't due to any shortcomings on Anothertwistafate's part. The colt was perfectly content to settle behind the leaders, but unfortunately, he got boxed in behind horses and had to wait in traffic at a key point on the far turn, losing ground while the eventual winner Cutting Humor swept by unimpeded on the far outside. It was a discouraging bit of bad luck, but Anothertwistafate didn't give up, shifting outside in the homestretch and charging through a final furlong in about :12 flat to fall just a neck short of catching Cutting Humor. Once again, Anothertwistafate ran straight and true down the homestretch—he just ran out of ground.

Three weeks later, Anothertwistafate tackled the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland in a last-ditch effort to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, but if anything, he received a worse trip than in the Sunland Derby. On a day when the inside at Keeneland was noticeably dead, Anothertwistafate spent the entire race boxed in behind and between horses, running closer to the rail than most of his rivals while unable to settle into his own rhythm and put his stride to good use.

Once again, Anothertwistafate had to wait in traffic while the eventual winner (this time Owendale) swept to the front with a clean outside run on the far turn. When a seam opened up turning for home, Anothertwistafate actually shifted closer to the dead rail, where he had little chance to match the momentum of Owendale, who sprinted the final sixteenth of a mile in :06.09 seconds while remaining outside. But to Anothertwistafate's credit, he did close the gap a little bit despite his unfortunate trip and posted a career-best 95 Beyer.

Perhaps Anothertwistafate's luck will turn around on Saturday. He already received a bit of good fortune when he drew post twelve, which should ensure that he finally receives a clean outside trip and can run his own race without getting boxed in behind horses.

Call it an educated hunch (or just a crazy hunch if you prefer), but I'm siding with Anothertwistafate to win the Preakness Stakes. Simply put, he looks like a special horse and I don't think we've seen the best he has to offer yet. I'm excited to see how he runs on Saturday.

#13 Win Win Win: He's shown flashes of brilliance while sprinting, but since stretching out around two turns his late rallies have lacked the same sparkle. He was aided by slow finishing fractions when rallying to finish second in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II), and in the Kentucky Derby, he didn't produce much of a run and split the field to cross the wire tenth. Part of Win Win Win's problem is his tendency to break slowly, and while the addition of blinkers might help him get into the race sooner, the winner's circle could prove elusive until he cuts back in distance. I think he could be a beast in one-turn races up to a mile in distance.


First: Anothertwistafate
Second: Improbable
Live Longshot: Warrior's Charge

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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