Keeler Johnson's Preakness 148 Selections

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

The 148th running of the $1.5 million Preakness S. (G1) at Pimlico has drawn an unusual field by historical standards.

Only one starter from the Kentucky Derby (G1) has turned out to contest the 1 3/16-mile race, that being the victorious #3 Mage (8-5). But Mage appears at least a little vulnerable at Pimlico, so the stage is set for a horse who skipped the Derby to snatch the Preakness for the fifth time in the last seven years.

The progress Mage has made this year is remarkable. The son of Good Magic didn't debut until Jan. 28, when he overcame a slow start to rush up and wire a seven-furlong maiden special weight at Gulfstream Park by 3 3/4 lengths. Another slow start compromised Mage in the Fountain of Youth (G2), in which he raced wide before flattening out to finish fourth, but his slow-starting tendency proved a blessing in both the Florida Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby.

In the Florida Derby, Mage trailed early as the pacesetters carved out a quick pace, but then he unleashed a sweeping rally around the far turn to seize the lead in midstretch. While Mage was run down late by champion Forte, he timed his move better in the Kentucky Derby, capitalizing on a pace meltdown to unleash another giant far-turn rally and continue on to beat the pace-tracking Two Phil's by one length.

The problem is, the Preakness seems likely to unfold at a slower tempo. The Maryland-bred Miracle Wood S. winner #4 Coffeewithchris (20-1) routinely presses and tracks the pace, but only occasionally goes for the lead and hasn't set especially quick fractions as of late. The only other runner who seems likely to vie for early supremacy is #1 National Treasure (4-1), a multiple Grade 1-placed colt adding blinkers for seven-time Preakness-winning trainer Bob Baffert. National Treasure has been settling a couple lengths off the pace as of late, but he wired his debut when wearing blinkers and figures to show speed from the rail draw.

But even if National Treasure comes out running, the Preakness pace is unlikely to be quick. A slow start from Mage could be problematic in this instance, placing him at a tactical disadvantage. There's also the fact that deep-closing Kentucky Derby winners rarely come back to win the Preakness; the last to do so was Alysheba in 1987. All subsequent horses to complete the Kentucky Derby/Preakness double (Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown, I'll Have Another, American Pharoah, and Justify) settled no farther back than midfield at any point of call in the Derby.

Taking all of these factors together, the 2023 Preakness looks like a race ripe for conquest by a new shooter with tactical speed. The above-mentioned National Treasure is one candidate, but I prefer the chances of #8 First Mission (5-2), a Godolphin homebred conditioned by high-percentage trainer Brad Cox.

First Mission caught my eye when he finished second in his debut sprinting six furlongs at Fair Grounds, beaten less than one length by stablemate and recent Peter Pan (G3) runner-up Bishops Bay. As a son of Street Sense out of a Medaglia d'Oro mare, First Mission is bred to relish running long, and he understandably improved when stretching out for a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight at Fair Grounds. After tracking the pace from second place, First Mission took over to dominate by 6 3/4 lengths over a field including next-out Churchill Downs maiden winner Quaternion.

Off that flashy maiden victory, First Mission stepped up in class for the 1 1/16-mile Lexington S. (G3) at Keeneland, where he tracked the pace before battling gamely through tight quarters along the rail to prevail by half a length. Finishing 4 3/4 lengths behind in third place was Disarm, who returned to run fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

The Lexington produced solid speed figures of 98 (Beyer) and 103 (Brisnet), the best numbers First Mission has posted so far. He's an improving colt who enters the Preakness off a pair of fast five-furlong workouts, suggesting he can take another step forward in his toughest test to date. I'm optimistic First Mission will track the pace from his outside draw, get the jump on Mage at the top of the stretch, and stay on to spring a mild upset victory.

Beyond the two favorites, I like the chances of #7 Blazing Sevens (6-1) to snatch a spot in the trifecta. Last year's Champagne (G1) winner could have contested the Kentucky Derby, but opted to pass the race after finishing third in the Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland. Trainer Chad Brown has successfully employed a similar strategy with Preakness winners Cloud Computing (2017) and Early Voting (2022), who skipped the Kentucky Derby after recording top-three finishes in the Wood Memorial (G2). Blazing Sevens is eligible to improve in his third run of the season and outrun his odds under four-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz.


1st: First Mission
2nd: Mage
3rd: Blazing Sevens
4th: National Treasure

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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