By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Some 4 1/2 months after its originally scheduled date,
the 145th running of the Preakness (G1) will take place on Saturday at Pimlico without
spectators in attendance.
The historic 1 3/16-mile race will serve as the final leg
of a unique Triple Crown restructured due to COVID-19. While an upset in the
Kentucky Derby means there isn't a Triple Crown chance on the line, the quality
of the Preakness field has arguably benefited from the postponement, with ten
talented colts and one elite filly slated to compete.
Let's take a horse-by-horse look at the field:
a big step forward when rallying to finish second in the Mar. 14 Rebel (G2) at
Oaklawn Park, but he befitted from chasing hot fractions over a sloppy track,
and he hasn't run since. His previous efforts were less inspiring, so I have to
oppose Excession off the 6 1/2-month layoff.
Mr. Big News: Much like Excession, Mr. Big News displayed
dramatic improvement when charging hard to finish third in the Kentucky Derby
(G1), beaten just 3 1/4 lengths with a strong 101 Beyer. Will this level of
form be the new normal for Mr. Big News, who had never previously earned a
Beyer higher than 88? Or was the effort a fluke? It's not uncommon for
longshots to hit the board in the Kentucky Derby and regress in subsequent
starts, so I'm tempted to lean against Mr. Big News until he proves he can
repeat his Derby performance.
Art Collector: I've been excited about Art Collector since
last fall, and so far the son of 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini hasn't disappointed.
The steadily-improving youngster has gone 4-for-4 this season, beating up on
such quality opponents as Swiss Skydiver (see below), Pat Day Mile (G3) winner
Rushie, and Indiana Derby (G3) winner Shared Sense during a productive
Art Collector has displayed the ability to win with any
running style, but he's arguably best when using his blend of speed and stamina
to grind his opponents into defeat. A tracking trip in the Blue Grass (G2) saw
Art Collector score by 3 1/2 lengths with a 103 Beyer, and front-running tactics
in the Ellis Park Derby contributed to an easy 3 1/4-length victory with a 100
Art Collector missed the Kentucky Derby with a minor hoof
issue, but he's since bounced back with three sharp workouts and should be
ready for a strong effort at Pimlico. Breaking from post three, I hope to see
Art Collector come out running and challenge 9-5 favorite Authentic for the
early lead. Letting the Kentucky Derby winner secure an uncontested advantage
probably isn't in Art Collector's best interests, so why not make a race of it
from the start? I think Art Collector has the resilience to put up a winning
fight on the front end.
Swiss Skydiver: Admirable filly crushed a strong renewal of
the Alabama (G1) and enters off a runner-up effort in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
She has tactical speed coupled with tractability and brings competitive Beyer
speed figures to the equation, but she's been racing non-stop since her debut
last November and has already competed eight times in 2020. She'll need
improvement to turn the tables on Art Collector, who defeated her by 3 1/2
lengths in the Blue Grass (G2), but can she produce the needed step forward after
a long campaign? Swiss Skydiver can hit the board if she brings her A-game, but
winning will be a tougher task.
Thousand Words: Fired off a 104 Beyer when wiring the Shared
Belief S. at Del Mar, but benefited from setting a slow pace in a small field.
Sold for $1 million as a yearling, Thousand Words was a late scratch from the
Kentucky Derby after acting up in the paddock and will enter the Preakness off
an unintended two-month layoff. He's adding blinkers for his Grade 1 debut, but
he doesn't appear to have the same pure speed as some of his rivals. Without
the benefit of an uncontested lead, I suspect Thousand Words may take a step
backward off his gritty Shared Belief effort.
Jesus' Team: Admirable colt has tactical speed and hit the
board in the Haskell (G1), Pegasus Stakes, and Jim Dandy (G2) during the
summer, but he comes in a bit light from a Beyer perspective and will be
chasing some pretty formidable opponents on Saturday. Jesus' team has already
been defeated by four of his Preakness rivals, suggesting he'll need a step
forward to vie for a spot in the superfecta.
Ny Traffic: Speedy colt came within a nose of upsetting Authentic in the Haskell (G1), but
weakened off a pace-tracking trip to finish 13th in the Kentucky Derby. If you
draw a line through his Derby effort, Ny Traffic looks like a viable contender.
But the son of Cross Traffic has been running hard all year-cracking the
trifecta in four Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races-and might be starting to
regress off his long campaign.
Max Player: I'm surprised this son of Honor Code is 15-1
on the morning line, because he's been competing strongly against tough
competition all year long. A late-running winner of the Withers (G3) during the
winter, Max Player utilized his consistent pick-up-the-pieces style to finish
third in the Belmont Stakes (G1), third in the Travers (G1), and fifth in the
Kentucky Derby (G1).
Steve Asmussen took over training duties for Max Player
shortly before the Derby and didn't have much time to work with the dark bay
colt, but Asmussen has been tightening the screws since Derby Day, sending Max
Player through a trio of workouts in preparation for the Preakness. I suspect
we'll see a sharper effort at Pimlico, and if the pace is hot, Max Player can certainly
rally to finish in the trifecta.
Authentic: Here's a fun fact-Hall of Fame trainer Bob
Baffert is undefeated saddling Kentucky Derby winners in the Preakness, going
5-for-5, and Authentic will have every chance to keep Baffert's perfect record
intact on Saturady. The speedy son of Into Mischief has won four graded stakes
races in gate-to-wire fashion and was particularly impressive in the Kentucky
Derby. After carving out a quick pace, Authentic was severely tested on the far
turn by heavy favorite Tiz the Law, who appeared to stick his head in front for
a few strides. But Authentic responded gamely to the challenge battling back to
win by 1 1/4 lengths with a 105 Beyer.
This effort has stamped Authentic as a clear favorite to
win the Preakness, though he does have one potential chink in his armor.
Authentic enjoyed an uncontested lead at Churchill Downs and could be
vulnerable if challenged for early supremacy at Pimlico. Authentic suffered his
lone defeat when beaten to the lead in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), so if Art
Collector gets aggressive pushing the pace, it's unclear how Authentic will
Pneumatic: Stoutly-bred son of Uncle Mo out of a Tapit mare
has been specifically pointed to the Preakness since rolling to an easy triumph
in the Aug. 15 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park. Pneumatic gave the impression he
had something left in the tank and posted a solid 98 Beyer, so with another
small step forward on Saturday, this Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred can fight
for a spot on the board. Remember, he finished just 2 1/2 lengths behind Max
Player when fourth in the Belmont Stakes and appears to have improved in the
Liveyourbeastlife: Son of Ghostzapper has shown meaningfully progression
since stretching out around two turns and produced a determined late charge to
finish second in the Jim Dandy (G2) last time out. He holds the potential to
improve even further while stretching out over 1 3/16 miles, though with a
career-best 94 Beyer, he's technically the slowest horse on paper. The
Preakness looks like a tough assignment.
For the purpose of single-race and multi-race exotic
wagers, I'm tempted to use Art Collector and Authentic in equal strength. The
latter is a deserving favorite and should win if he isn't pressured early, but
Art Collector-with his blend of speed and stamina-could make things very interesting
if breaks running from post three.
If forced to choose between them for a win bet, I would
side with Art Collector, whose resilience and upside makes him an appealing
play at 2-1 or higher.
1st: Art Collector
3rd: Max Player
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, videographer, voice actor, 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.