Keeler Johnson’s Preakness 147 Selections

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

Technically speaking, the 147th renewal of the $1.5 million Preakness S. (G1) at Pimlico is missing a pretty big name. Kentucky Derby (G1) hero Rich Strike has opted to skip the 1 3/16-mile second leg of the Triple Crown, leaving the Preakness without the star power it typically possesses.

But even without the Derby winner in the fray, the 2022 Preakness is shaping up to be an exciting race. Nine horses have been entered, including four graded stakes winners, and there are plenty of intriguing storylines in the mix.

From a handicapping perspective, any Preakness analysis must begin (and possibly end) with #8 Epicenter (6-5). A dominant winner of the Risen Star S. (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) during the winter and spring at Fair Grounds, Epicenter started as the 4-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby and came up just shy of victory in a deceptively strong performance.

Think about it: Epicenter normally races on or near the lead, but that strategy would have been disastrous in the Kentucky Derby, which saw the opening quarter-mile elapse in a record-breaking :21.78 seconds. Instead, Epicenter showed an entirely new dimension, rating comfortably in eighth place before rallying to lead in midstretch. In the end, he was only beaten three-quarters of a length by the rallying Rich Strike.

This effort is all the more impressive when you consider how Epicenter, despite his change in tactics, raced closer to the pace than all the other top finishers in the Derby. The horses who finished 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th were racing 17th, 13th, 15th, 19th, 20th, 14th, 9th, and 16th after the opening quarter-mile.

The Kentucky Derby pace meltdown was so extreme that you can argue Epicenter ran the best race of any horse in the field. If he produces a similar performance in the Preakness (and I can't think of a reason why he won't), Epicenter will be very difficult to defeat.

Who are the other key contenders in the Preakness? Well, we have to give #5 Early Voting (7-2) a long look. The Chad Brown trainee made a powerful impression during the winter, smashing the Withers S. (G3) at Aqueduct by 4 1/2 lengths over next-out Rebel S. (G2) winner Un Ojo. Then Early Voting ran too well to lose in the Wood Memorial (G2), carving out a steady pace before succumbing in the final strides to finish second by a neck.

The Wood Memorial was a fast race, and Early Voting produced a powerful finish down the homestretch, running the final three furlongs in approximately :36 2/5. He skipped the Kentucky Derby to pursue the Preakness, a path that previously carried Brown's Wood Memorial third-place finish Cloud Computing to Preakness glory in 2017. Early Voting enters off a bullet workout at Belmont Park, and all signs suggest he'll be a dangerous front-running threat at Pimlico.

The filly #4 Secret Oath (9-2) is another to consider. The Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner boasts a terrific turn-of-foot that she consistently puts to use around the far turn, when she sweeps past rivals like they're standing still. A previous foray against males produced a third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby (G1), but Secret Oath suffered a challenging trip that day and is eligible to run better with a clean journey in the Preakness. This is her toughest test to date, but Secret Oath can't be dismissed from contention.

#1 Simplification (6-1) capitalized on the fast pace when rallying to finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby, but the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) winner can run well from any position and might show more speed against a smaller field in the Preakness. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez is taking over the mount, so look for Simplification to be right in the thick of things down the homestretch.

But if you want to use a longshot in your Preakness plays, I recommend taking a chance with #2 Creative Minister (10-1). Runner-up in his debut sprinting seven furlongs at Gulfstream (where he gained 5 1/4 lengths in the final furlong to miss by a neck), Creative Minister has since gone 2-for-2. Stretching out over 1 1/16 miles for a Keeneland maiden special weight produced a 1 1/2-length triumph, and Creative Minister ran even better in an allowance optional claimer over the same distance at Churchill Downs, rallying to victory by 2 3/4 lengths.

Creative Minister's allowance win came back reasonably quick on the speed figure scales, producing a 92 Beyer and 101 Brisnet. Since he wasn't nominated to the Triple Crown by the early or late deadlines, Creative Minister had to be supplemented to the Preakness field at a cost of $150,000, which speaks to the confidence his connections must have in his talent. Creative Minister is progressing steadily in the right direction and still has a ton of upside, so who's to say he can't crash the Preakness trifecta at a big price?


1st: Epicenter
2nd: Early Voting
3rd: Creative Minister
4th: Secret Oath

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.

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