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
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
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
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
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
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.