Nearly two weeks ago, official race results for the 147th Kentucky Derby were etched into history books.
Not so fast, my four-hooved friend!
To say that a lot has transpired since would be an open-lengths understatement. Derby winner Medina Spirit’s initial post-race drug tests revealed an apparent rules infraction based on the presence of a legal medication above a zero-level tolerance. Assorted theories and allegations about how the drug may have made it into the Derby winner’s bloodstream have been proffered but, currently, we’re not even 100% sure it was even present in the post-race test until split sample results return. FYI, it’s rare that split samples don’t match original findings.
Chances are that by the time you read this, and, even by the time horses load into the starting gate Saturday for Preakness, the official ‘official’ Run for the Roses result won’t be any clearer, as Medina Spirit’s connections anxiously await the other shoe to drop in the form of DNA and split sample test results.
Therefore, as the field loads into the Preakness starting gate, we won’t really know if Medina Spirit is attempting to clear the second hurdle of the Triple Crown--one of the most difficult achievements in all of sport—or is merely racing for redemption.
And what about Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert--the man who two Saturday’s ago appeared to have earned his seventh and record-setting Kentucky Derby victory? He’s entered 9-5 Preakness morning line favorite Medina Spirit and 5/2 second choice Concert Tour in Preakness. The popular trainer won’t attend the race in person. Probably best. Following a hurried Churchill Downs backstretch press conference, presumably organized to announce the original test results and ‘to get ahead of the story,’ Baffert has, subsequently, appeared on television just about everywhere from CNN to Fox News to present his version.
While the drama plays out offstage, a pressing Preakness production requires immediate presentation. The show must go on!
Tens of millions of dollars will be wagered on Preakness and, according to what transpires at Pimlico, that ancient and tired emporium that will once more prove she’s still ‘got it,’ a year before she is scheduled to finally surrender to bulldozers for a revitalization that will serve both racing fans and community citizens.
NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL franchises move into new homes about every 20-30 years. That’s extravagance. They’ve been picking ‘em up and laying ‘em down at Old Hilltop since 1870. For non-history buffs, that’s about four years after Lee cried ‘uncle’ to Grant at Appomattox!
Through the years her grit and determination have been remarkable. Millions have partied on her infield belly, she’s out-lived decades of assorted death sentences, a gambling ban, and TWO every-100-years pandemics!
As Alfred G. Vanderbilt, apparently, once told Wikipedia, “Pimlico is more than a dirt track bounded by four streets. It is an accepted American institution, devoted to the best interests of a great sport, graced by time, respected for its honorable past.”
Obviously, a COVID-restricted 2021 crowd won’t inhabit the original late-1800s grandstand. However, they will tread the same grounds. Recently, Pimlico came to the rescue of sister track Laurel when the latter experienced surface issues. The equine circus moved to Pimlico earlier and for longer than anticipated and she has provided a suitable emergency big top.
It will be impossible to completely eliminate post-Derby drama from Saturday’s happenings. Still, we would be mistaken to not try. There will be a 146th Preakness at Pimlico and the event shapes up as an interesting renewal--as both sport and wagering proposition. It’s the weekend’s surest bet that patrons wearing hats and masks will cheer, groan, cash and mutilate mutuel tickets while consuming mass quantities of food and drink. And once more, like clockwork for the 146th time, in that ancient and determined Pimlico edifice, fashionable shoes will create an afternoon’s worth of assorted painful blisters.
On track or at home, we should embrace the moment and enjoy the show. If our existence over the last year-plus has taught us anything, it’s that we should savor life’s major moments. The journey’s awfully empty without them.
Below is one man’s horse-by-horse opinion of the Preakness Stakes, including a suggested wagering strategy.
1. RAM (LUKAS/SANTANA JR.) - 30/1
What’s Preakness without ‘Coach?’ Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has pulled off some major upsets at Old Hilltop, but this shouldn’t be one of them. This son of American Pharoah has distinguished himself in his last two races, winning a maiden $50k claiming heat and a first-level allowance test. Before and including those, there’s nothing in his past performance lines to suggest he can threaten in here. Love ya, Coach, but we’ll pass.
2. KEEPMEINMIND (DIODORO/COHEN) - 15/1
At two this guy displayed a world of talent. He finished in the money in a maiden race, the Gr. 1 Breeders Futurity and the Gr. 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He also finally won the Gr. 2 Kentucky Jockey Club as a maiden! That’s a strong resume. Heading into his 3-year-old season he was reportedly knocked off schedule by poor weather in Arkansas and hasn’t regained his best form. The big question with this one is: Was he a precocious 2-year-old that didn’t develop much at three or did the missed training really affect him? This son of low-profile sire Laoban ran well in the Kentucky Derby. After blowing the start and racing in last of 19, he was one of the few in the field to close ground in the stretch while about 10 lanes wide. Ultimately, he finished seventh, less than nine lengths behind winner and 9-5 Preakness favorite #3 Medina Spirit and just a neck behind 5-1 Preakness foe #5 Midnight Bourbon. This guy has the look of a Preakness exotics price play. He will need to show more speed than he did in Louisville, but he seems prepared to run a big race at a big price. Use him where you can, especially underneath in exotics.
3. MEDINA SPIRIT (BAFFERT/VELAZQUEZ) - 9/5
At this writing, he’s still the Kentucky Derby winner, pending additional testing, a possible official disqualification and possible subsequent lawsuits. What he did on the racetrack Derby Day was impressive. He went to the front under Hall-of-Fame jockey John Velazquez, rationed his speed over a mile and one-quarter, and fought like hell when threatened by a quartet of capable challengers. In six starts, he hasn’t permitted a horse to pass him when it counts. On the reverse side, the once $1,000 yearling and $35,000 2-year-old by Protonico hasn’t passed a foe when it counts, either. He’s never been worse than second and only been defeated by top-class foes. He doesn’t figure to have an easy lead in this race, though. Stablemate Concert Tour should see to that. Also, the Kentucky Derby effort probably will have taken something out of him. We expect him to run well, but not nearly as well as he did in Kentucky and he won’t be much price. Use him if you must. Bold players expecting a reaction from the Derby effort will toss him and swing for the fences.
4. CROWDED TRADE (BROWN/CASTELLANO) - 10/1
Eligible to start in the Kentucky Derby based on Points, trainer Chad Brown (like Baffert with #10 Concert Tour) elected to skip a Roses try and aimed for Preakness with this one instead. The extended Derby mile and one-quarter distance was offered as part of the reason for the move. The colt has had just three career races and his last performance in the Gr. 2 Wood wasn’t electrifying as he was third to Derby also-rans Bourbonic and Dynamic One. This son of More than Ready ran well but was caught late in the Gr. 3 Gotham to be second by a nose. He’s liable to be racing from off of what could be a decent early Preakness pace. He seems to have talent but may be in a bit deep based on his abbreviated experience. Exotics only.
5. MIDNIGHT BOURBON (ASMUSSEN/I. ORTIZ JR.) - 5/1
He’s the most experienced runner in the field with eight starts. In those appearances, at five different tracks, he’s managed a pair of wins—a maiden race and the Gr. 3 Lecomte--two seconds and three thirds. His only off-the-board finish came last out when sixth, beaten less than nine lengths in the Kentucky Derby. In Louisville, under Mike Smith, he didn’t show his usual early speed but did well to finish with interest. His Thoro-Graph speed figure pattern is interesting because he’s never taken a backward step and his races are fast enough to fit in here. That’s a great sign for a 3-year-old colt. One drawback is that he hasn’t really shown a fighting spirit at the conclusion of races. Derby aside, the only times he’s ever passed a horse or gained ground in the stretch were in his maiden win and in the Lecomte—both virtual wire-to-wire efforts. With an even break, he’s not fast enough to outrun #10 Concert Tour early and doesn’t appear swift enough to comfortably clear #3 Medina Spirit either. However, we expect him to run well and the price could be right. Include him in your plays, especially in exotics.
6. ROMBAUER (MCCARTHY/PRAT) - 12/1
Connections of this son of Twirling Candy enjoy a bit of a free roll in Preakness based on an El Camino Real victory going one mile and one-eighth on synthetics at Golden Gate. That tally earned the colt a no-fees berth in the run for the crab cakes. Last out, the colt showed some spunk by finishing third behind Derby favorite Essential Quality and Derby also-ran Highly Motivated. This colt is another that was eligible to start in the Derby but passed for Preakness. Trainer Michael McCarthy does good work and jockey Prat is one of the nation’s best. Overall, this guy is moving in the right direction and could be included on the bottom of superfectas at a big price. He has no early speed and, if things get heated up front, he’ll be finishing with interest. Bottom of Exotics at best.
7. FRANCE GO DE INA (MORI/ROSARIO) - 20/1
This guy last started in the Gr. 2 UAE Derby in Dubai in March. He’s no stranger to travel; bred and born in Kentucky, raced in Japan, Dubai and, soon, the United States. A more than four-length winner of two of three starts at Hanshin in Japan at one mile and one-eighth, he and Preakness jockey Joel Rosario broke slowly in the Dubai field of 14 and pretty much lost all chance. They closed ground to be sixth, beaten more than 10 lengths. It’s difficult to gauge how much talent this son of Will Take Charge might have but we’ll have to watch this Japan-by-way-of-Dubai import beat us. During a Pimlico breeze Wednesday, he stumbled and lost his rider. Horse and rider were reportedly ‘fine.’ There are too many other known factors that look good. Pass.
8. UNBRIDLED HONOR (PLETCHER/SAEZ) - 15/1
Newly minted Hall-of-Fame trainer Todd Pletcher’s not known for running horses in Preakness. This one finished second last out in the Lexington Stakes behind Derby also-ran King Fury. It was a decent effort, but he’ll need a bit better to threaten in here. He broke maiden going two turns at Tampa Bay Downs in his third start. He has no early speed and has a win and a second to his credit in five starts. Pass.
9. RISK TAKING (BROWN/J. ORTIZ) - 15/1
After some careful consideration by trainer Chad Brown, this son of Medaglia d’Oro was added to the Preakness roster. Scratched, as morning-line favorite, from last Saturday’s Gr. 3 Peter Pan at Belmont, connections believe this colt will enjoy racing two turns and at the one mile and three-sixteenths Preakness distance. Risk Taking, a somewhat suitable name, has had just five starts—three at two and two at three—with a maiden mile one one-eighth win at Aqueduct in December and a Gr. 3 Withers tally over the same surface and distance in February. Last out he disappointed as favorite in the Gr. 2 Wood. Trainer Brown notes that if you draw a line through the colt’s last race, he fits in Preakness based on numbers. Brown’s not incorrect. If this colt were to return to his Withers Thoro-Graph figure in Preakness (a bit of an ask, but not impossible), he’d have a legitimate shot. Respect for the Wither’s Thoro-Graph figure and trainer Brown’s judgement force us to use this guy some. Sprinkle him in wagers at what should be a decent price. Exotics use.
10. CONCERT TOUR (BAFFERT/SMITH) - 5/2
A top Kentucky Derby prospect until a disappointing third-place finish as heavy favorite in the Arkansas Derby caused trainer Bob Baffert to alter plans and to skip the Louisville party with him. May have been the best thing for the son of Street Sense’s Preakness chances. He’s looked fine training for the race and brings a sparking record of three wins in four starts into the race, including the Gr.2 San Vicente and Gr. 2 Rebel. He’s got speed and a Hall of Fame jockey in Mike Smith to dole it out. Count him in just about everything you do wager-wise in Preakness. He should have enough speed to get to the early lead by Pimlico’s first turn. He’s the ‘One to Beat’ but not unbeatable.
This is an intriguing race because Derby winner and morning line 9-5 favorite #3 Medina Spirit enters Preakness with a bullseye on his back and tornado-level drama whirling around him. We’re not against him in Preakness because of any of that. We think he may have fired his bests shot in the Derby. He’s been a steady performer with a fine resume, but he won’t make a comfortable lead in here and off that big effort in the Derby he could be vulnerable at a short price. Stablemate #10 Concert Tour should gain the early lead and ought to take this group a long way. He’s fast, fresh, lightly raced and talented. Jockey Mike Smith will need to get him running from the far outside and there’s a chance the colt could get too eager, too early. In that case, things would get interesting. #3 Medina Spirit probably will track that one in concert with #5 Midnight Bourbon.
One to Beat: #10 Concert Tour
Should Run Well: #2 Keepmeinmind, #5 Midnight Bourbon
Against: #3 Medina Spirit
Exotics at a Price: #4 Crowded Trade, #9 Risk Taking
$2 Trifecta ($16 Total)
Second: #2, #5
Third: #2, #3, #4 #5, #9
$1 Trifecta ($24 Total)
First: #2, #5, #10
Second: #2, #5, #10
Third: #2, #4, #3, #5, #9, #10