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Preakness 2011: Breaking Down the Field

Saturday marks the 136th running of the Preakness Stakes, the middle jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown. Animal Kingdom scored an upset in the Kentucky Derby at 21-1, but this handicapper had him tapped as a top contender, and 2nd choice overall. Can he win again in Baltimore, and head to the Belmont as racing’s Next Great Hope?

Racing in Maryland is dying. The Preakness has pretty much become the only meaningful day in a state rich with thoroughbred tradition. Still, over the past decade, the Preakness has emerged as the key race among the three Triple Crown events. While the Derby has produced a string of winners that went on to accomplish little else (Giacomo, Mine That Bird, Super Saver), the Preakness has produced a host of champions that include Rachel Alexandra, Curlin, Afleet Alex, Bernardini, and Lookin at Lucky. Lately, the Preakness has not been producing flukes.

The New Guns: There was a time when running in the Derby was a key factor to winning the Preakness, and while I still think that there’s some merit to that, Bernardini & Rachel Alexandra are recent examples that it can be done without the Derby experience. 9 of this year’s 14 Preakness contenders enter the fray without a Derby start. Dance City and Sway Away both enter off the Arkansas Derby, finishing 3rd and 4th, respectively. While Nehro’s Derby performance flatters that race, I still see neither as likely to show the required improvement to compete here … Flashpoint was an impressive winner of the 7f Hutcheson Stakes earlier this year, and will be a pace factor, but doesn’t seem capable of carrying them the full 1 3/16 … Norman Asborjson is the local horse, and Maryland trainees often crack the bottom part of the exotics. Based on his last two New Tork races, he’s at least playable…The same cannot be said of King Congie (poor dirt form), Isn’t He Perfect (overmatched), and Concealed Identity (huge step up in class). Any of those three hitting the board would surprise me, but would certainly juice up the payouts … Astrology is an intriguing contender. The Steve Asmussen trainee got going late this year due to injury problems, but has finished second in both his 2011 starts. Draws the rail, and if can make an easy lead, could be a major factor … The most promising newbie is Mr. Commons. The lightly-raced colt has been training marvelously – so marvelously that he caused John Sheriffs, who trained no less a superstar than Zenyatta, to exclaim, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horse come out of a work as well as he did.” Eligible for a big improvement, I think he’s a dangerous longshot.
The Derby Boys: In labeling Animal Kingdom a top contender in this spot two weeks ago, I said that he would “offer fantastic value at the betting window.” That he did. The same can’t be said for the Preakness, where he’ll likely be 3-1 or less. Still a top contender no doubt, but without much value … Shackleford figures to run a similar race to his Derby, which means he’ll make the pace. Without much speed to contend him, he held on for 4th in Louisville. A lot more speed here probably means a fade job … Midnight Interlude finished a disappointing 16th in the Derby, but is back for more. Trainer Bob Baffert says the race took nothing out of him; perhaps the Santa Anita Derby winner just needed a Derby prep … Mucho Macho Man rallied for third at Churchill Downs, and has every look of a horse peaking at the right time. With a more serious pace to run at, he is serious threat to wear the black-eyed susans … Beaten Derby favorite Dialed In should also benefit from a more honest pace. Jockey Julian Leperoux waited forever to make his move in the Derby, and indeed ran a blstering final half-mile – but still finished 8th. Every possible factor points to the colt continuing to improve, as well as facing a much more advantageous pace scenario.

And The Winner Is: Dialed In. He had a lot going against him two weeks ago, but much of that can be chalked up to lessons. Both he and Animal Kingdom figure to be flying down the Pimlico stretch, and whichever gets the first jump will likely win the race. Leperoux won’t be so patient this time. Dialed In gets the win, with Animal Kingdom, Mucho Macho Man, and Mr. Commons filling out the superfecta.

Good luck, may they all come back safe…and All Hail Kegasus!

 

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