Horse Racing: In Depth Preview of the 2014 Preakness Stakes

All eyes, of course, will be at Pimlico Racetrack in Maryland this weekend for Horse Racing’s second jewel of the Triple Crown, the 2014 Preakness Stakes, where Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome will try to become the 34th horse in history to win the first two legs of racing’s ultimate prize.

Of the prior 33, 22 have failed in the “Test of Champions”, The Belmont Stakes; while 11 have been able to sweep all three races….that’s a tidy 33% winning percentage.

Will California Chrome be among the 33% or the dreaded other 67%? We’ll find out June 7, but first, he must get past this race.

A side from such an enormous amount on the line in the Preakness at Pimlico this weekend, I’m going stay at right at Pimlico because there is no bigger (two day) card anywhere. … Really, Pimlico makes the Preakness a two day event.

Today’s (Friday) card at Pimlico is jammed packed with stakes races starting with a stakes race for two year olds in the $75,000 Rollicking Stakes. Spanish Pipedream, an impressive first time out winner at Keeneland, has been listed as the 2-1 morning line favorite and where trainer Wesley Ward will have four of the eight combatants.

Also on the card is the Jim McKay Stakes. The race, which is named for the late great ABC sports announcer, is a five furlong turf sprint with 7/5 favorite Ben’s Cat looking like the one to beat in that race.

The two blockbuster races are the $500,000 Black Eyed Susan for three year old fillies going nine furlongs and the $300,000 Pimlico Special for four year olds and up going the Preakness distance, one and three sixteenths miles.

The Black Eye Susan drew a field of 11 with no real clear cut favorite. More than half the field (six) are 8-1 or less.

I mean Stopshoppingmaria has the lowest opening odds at 7/2, but to have the early favorite at 7/2 speaks volumes to me in the sense that this race is wide open.

Stopchargingmaria won a pair of graded stakes at Aqueduct to top off her 2013 campaign but has not bounced back the same in 2014 yet. So far, she shows a fifth in her 3-year-old debut in the Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park and fourth in the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park April 5.

“I think like a lot of horses, her running style didn’t suit the way Gulfstream was playing at that time of the season,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We shipped her to Oaklawn and she ran a little better, although I didn’t think she ran to her full capabilities. Now, she seems to have moved forward and has been training very enthusiastically, indicating to us that she’s back in form. Hopefully, that turns out to be the case.”

Others to consider in the Black Eyed Susan include, Euphrosyne who has never been off the board in her (seven race) career and came second twice to the talented Sugar Shock, Sloane Square, who won her debut, then won her second race by a country mile before finished a good second in her third start, the Bourbonette Oaks, when trying the synthetics for the first time. (I expect a good race from this filly with the return to the dirt surface) and Image of Anna (at 20-1) looks interesting as she’s won her last two races in New York by a combined 11 ¼ lengths.

Lastly, before you make any wagers on this race, be sure to take a long look at #1 Joint Return. This filly by Include, with the exception of one race, has been outstanding thorough out her career while registering daylight wins in four of six of them.

Joint Return won the Busher Stakes (at Aqueduct) in January and the Calder Oaks (at Calder) in her last start but sandwiched between those two races is a fifth place finish in the Gulfstream Park Oaks on a surface trainer John Servis said the filly didn’t care for.

“She just didn’t run her race,” Servis said. “She just didn’t show up. (Jockey) Kendrick (Carmouche) said she never took a hold of the bit at any part of the race and, for whatever reason, she just wasn’t there.

“I’m looking forward to this race, big-time. She has run well against some decent fillies. The only time she ran against real quality fillies was at Gulfstream, and she didn’t show up. I’m anxious to see how she performs this week against the better fillies.”

She looks like an intriguing horse to me, readers….especially at 15-1.

The Pimlico Special drew a field of nine, headed up by Revolutionary. This well bred colt made a big splash debut four year old debut at Gulfstream, failed to show up in his next race (The Donn Handicap…possible bounce race?), but came right back, charging hard down the lane to get beat half a length to Will Take Charge in the Oaklawn Handicap. He’s the horse to beat in this race for sure.

Other contenders include, Cat Burglar, who ships in from Santa Anita (via Churchill Downs) for trainer Bob Baffert and, albeit taking a class rise, has been either first or second in 5 of 6 career starts, the speedy Moreno, who ran well in his 2014 debut (third in the Charlestown Classic) and appears to be sitting on a big race, Golden Lad, who had a four race win streak snapped in the aforementioned Oaklawn Handicap, and also keep on eye on Valid especially if the track comes up wet on Friday. Valid, by Medaglia d ‘Oro (Rachel Alexandra’s dad), is coming off two monster wins in Florida in his last two races and shows a colossal (23 length) win over a wet track back in November.

 

May 17, 2014

Pimlico Racetrack

Race: 12

The Preakness Stakes

Purse $1,500,000.

For Three-Year-Olds

One and Three Sixteenth Miles

 

P# PP Horse A/S Med Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L
1 1 Dynamic Impact 3/C L M Mena 126 M E Casse 12/1
2 2 General a Rod 3/C L J Castellano 126 M J Maker 15/1
3 3 California Chrome 3/C L V Espinoza 126 A Sherman 3/5
4 4 Ring Weekend 3/G L A Garcia 126 H G Motion 20/1
5 5 Bayern 3/C L R Napravnik 126 B Baffert 10/1
6 6 Ria Antonia 3/F L C H Borel 121 T M Amoss 30/1
7 7 Kid Cruz 3/C L J Pimentel 126 L Rice 20/1
8 8 Social Inclusion 3/C L L Contreras 126 M J Azpurua 5/1
9 9 Pablo Del Monte 3/C L J Sanchez 126 W A Ward 20/1
10 10 Ride On Curlin 3/C L J Rosari 126 W G Gowan 10/1

 

Analysis (By Post Position Order, Selections Below)

 

PP#1- Dynamic Impact- is well bred (by Tiznow out of a Smart Strike mare) and has won his last two while showing career best speed figures in both wins.

However, albeit an obviously improving horse, the first win was against maidens and the second was a win in the Grade: 3 Illinois Derby, but it was an all out, life and death battle to win.

Simply put, there is a huge difference in the Illinois Derby field (again, in a race he was all out and barely won) and the Preakness Stakes….nice horse, I just don’t think he is ready for this caliber yet….pass

 

PP#2- General a Rod- is fast and game, which is a deadly combination in this sport.

He displayed both of those characteristics in his first four starts, which included a pair of stride for strides, head to head, nose to nose battles with the equally as good Wildcat Red while getting the better of that foe in the Gulfstream Park Derby (one mile) on New Years Day only to lose by a head to him in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (one and one sixteenths miles) on Feb 22.

But it wasn’t until the March 29 Florida Derby, at a mile and eighth, that this colt by Roman Ruler showed a kink in the armor.

In that race, this horse took a perfect stalking position (second) early on through sensible fractions and maintained it all the way to the quarter pole. But when they straightened away for the drive this dark bay “weakened” down the lane and finished third….I walked away thinking “distance limitations”.

He was nowhere to be found in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago and while you could blame the traffic and all around melee of the Derby, the truth is there was no way this horse is (or was) getting 10 furlongs. I believe this horse’s sweet spot in distance appears to be a mile, possibly a mile and a sixteenth, but that’s it….that’s all of it.

Even though the Preakness is a sixteenth of a mile less than the Derby, I still believe it’s out of his distance range. …another nice horse…but I cant back him with any confidence until he proves to me he can win at longer distances and so far, he’s 0 for 2…..next.

 

PP#3 California Chrome- assuming he’s healthy the 2014 dominant Kentucky Derby winner obviously looks to be the one to beat again come this Saturday.

I still have some mixed emotions about his Derby win, he looked sensational winning it but I didn’t like how the numbers came back. That being said, he’s remain the one to beat but I was surprised to see him listed at 3/5 on the morning line ( I was thinking even money maybe a touch higher) and evidently trainer Art Sherman agrees.

“I never thought I’d be that kind of price,” Art Sherman said. “I really thought I’d be 6-5.”

The big chestnut arrived here this past week, settled in nicely in Stall 40, traditionally the Pimlico home of the Kentucky Derby winner, and went to the track the next day.

“He jogged and he was great,” said assistant trainer Alan Sherman

“I didn’t have to do too much, just keep him happy and fresh,” trainer Art Sherman said. “He just ran a mile and a quarter, and his next race is going to be a mile and three-sixteenths.”

With his tactical speed, this race seems to set up perfectly for the son of Lucky Pulpit. In fact, when asked about drawing post #3 Art Sherman said it perfectly:

“Three is fine with me,” Sherman said. “Most of the speed is on the outside of me If they go too slow in front, he’ll take it right to them and push the horses in front of him. If they are going fast in front, he can just sit off the pace,” he said. “That’s the good thing about him; that he doesn’t have one style of running. He’s pretty push-button. If you ask him he’ll do it.”

Jockey Victor Espinosa must be careful being that the early pace should be a quick one. He can not, under any circumstances, get too close to that pace….if he does, he could set it up for one of the several late runners entered in here.

Other than that, once again, provided he’s healthy…..I’m taking him right back this Saturday.

 

PP#4- Ring Weekend- this chestnut gelding has been laudably consistent through out his career topped off by an open lengths, upset win in the Tampa Bay Derby (March 8) followed up by an even, albeit distant, second in the Calder Derby (April 5).

Sired by Tapit and trainer by the very capable Graham Motion, this horse missed the Derby due to spiking a fever shortly before but breezed six furlongs in 1:13 1/5 at Fair Hill Training Center last Saturday, signaling he’s feeling better.

“He galloped out a mile in 1:41. That’s what I was most pleased about, how he galloped out,” said Motion.

Even if he is 100%, and I’m sure he is, he looks outgunned to me. This is an enormous step up in class and he hasn’t shown me visually, or anything on paper, to make me think he can win this……pass.

 

PP#5 Bayern- this Bob Baffert trainer colt certainly began his career with a splash while winning his first two career starts over the winter by a combined 18+ lengths.

He developed a minor foot injured that forced him to miss some critical time (and eventually the Kentucky Derby too) shortly after that second win.

Baffert entered him in the Arkansas Derby where he, like normal, was gunned to the early lead but had enough by the quarter pole and tired to finish a fading third. “He needed that race…bad” Baffert said afterwards.

Baffert then turns him around just two weeks later and runs him back in the Derby Trial where, once again, he’s put on the early lead, but was involved in a pitched battle down the stretch. He prevailed by a nose but was taken down for interference.

This colt by Offlee Wild reminds me of General a Rod in the sense that in his one and only race over a mile, he did not fair well. Did he really need that race badly (it had been about two months since his last race) or does he, too, have distance limitations?

I don’t think I can make a fair decision based on just one route race, however I do know this much. If he thinks he can go out and kamikaze on the lead in this race, it wont work for him…..the distance and the enormously talented Social Inclusion will make sure this horse won’t take the field wire to wire.

Evidently Baffert sees that to as he is removing the blinkers for the race, a signal that he intends to take back off the early pace….wise choice.

“If we’re going to get him to track horses, track the speed, he needs them off,” Baffert last weekend.

This colt also continues to burn up the racetrack in the morning (take a look at his works dating as far back as the past performances will go, all impressive) as he ripped five furlongs in a bullet :58 1/5 May 5 at Churchill and on May 12, he breezed five furlongs in 1:02 3/5 (also at Churchill Downs) with fractions of :13 3/5, :26 2/5, :38 4/5 and galloped out six furlongs in 1:15 1/5.

“I love that horse. He always relaxes for me and does what you ask,” jockey Rosie Napravnik said. “California Chrome is very impressive. But (Bayern) definitely will be a challenge for him.”

Maybe Ms. Napravnik….maybe….it all depends on two things. One, how he reacts to being rated off the early pace for the first time in his career and two, can he handle the distance?

Lastly, don’t forget Handicapping Horse Racing Rule #1, which is never bet on a horse who is being asked to do something he or she has never done before….this guy, really, is being asked to do two things he’s never done before.

 

PP#6 Ria Antonia – not quite sure what this filly is doing in here. I mean she still has only crossed the finish line just once in her now eight race career.

In her last race, the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Derby, she stalked the pace early but absolutely spit out the bit down the lane and finished sixth, beaten a whopping 15 lengths against fillies and now she is taking on the boys?

This filly, by Rockport Harbor, is also on her fifth trainer in less than a year…what gives there?

“Here’s the thing: Untapable is the best 3-year-old in the country, boy or girl, in my opinion. California Chrome is a great horse, but I believe if Untapable was in the Derby, she’d have won.” Part owner Ron Paolucci said. “With Social Inclusion going, Bayern going, I think there’s going to be a lot of speed in the Preakness, and (being a late running horse) it could really set up for her.”

“I think this is right up my alley and right up her alley,” Ron Paolucci added. “Anybody who has watched her train (would think so). If she runs as half as good as she trains, I wouldn’t want to trade places with anybody.The way she works and trains, she thinks she’s 3-5.”

Ria Antonia wore blinkers in the Oaks but will race without them in the Preakness, she worked a strong half mile last week (:47.2) and her only chance in this race is to hope for a complete and utter pace meltdown so she can run past everyone down the stretch….but I just don’t see it.

 

 

PP#7 Kid Cruz- upset alert here!

I’m not really a long-shot player myself, well, I mean now and again I am and this is a now time.

This former $50,000 claimer has now won three of his last four by open lengths and demonstrated enormous stretch runs in all three wins.

I mean, his last two races just jump off the page at me.

March 8 in the Private Terms Stakes, this well bred colt (By Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid out of a mare by the wickedly fast Tale of the Cat) was some 20 lengths behind early at one point, but showed a burst of power you don’t see very often while putting himself into contention on the far turn. He continued to accelerate and just devastated his opponents in that race while drawing off to win by 4.

Then, in the April 10 Ferderico Teso Stakes, he did almost the same thing except he wasn’t as far back early on. He was actually fifth down the backside but came roaring off the turn to win by 3+.

“He has obviously performed very well in his last two races, and we thought he deserves a chance in a race like this,” trainer Linda Rice said. “We’re probably in a better position with a closer like him in the Preakness than we would have been in the Derby with a 20-horse field. So, we’re going to take a shot. He hasn’t had a fast pace to close into yet, and I’m sure we’re going to get one Saturday. So I’m excited.”

You should be Ms. Rice, because that last monster race was over this very track and his speed figures match up very well….20-1 on the morning line? I’ll take that all day long as this horse poses a serious upset chance.

 

PP#8 Social Inclusion- is amazingly talented….period…end of sentence.

This colt, by up and coming sire Pioneerof the Nile, won his first two races in spectacular fashion as he broke his maiden first time out in winning by 7 ½ lengths and finishing six furlongs in 1:09.1.

He came back just three weeks later and absolutely destroyed a good allowance field (that included the highly touted Honor Code) as he won for fun while putting 10 lengths between himself and Honor Code.

His connections, trainer Manny Azpurua and owner Ron Sanchez, then throw him to the wolves and enter him in the $1 million Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 5. Yours truly was there that day and got a good look at him…he is one good looking animal.

Anyway, he goes out and sets the pace to just inside the sixteenth pole. He was still battling on but could do no better than third (and was nosed out for the place spot).

I mean, he ran a solid third in a grade: 1, $1 million race in just his third lifetime start? That’s impressive to me readers.

This speedster will undoubtedly be the early leader come Saturday afternoon and is yet another that if he can get the distance; he might prove difficult to run down in the late stages.

“We’ll be in good position in the early stages,” Sanchez said. “My horse is more experienced now and he is multi-faceted. He has speed and strength. Everyone is impressed with California Chrome. I think he’ll run a good race, but this is a better field (than the Kentucky Derby).

The handsome colt seems to be comfortable here and continues to train lights out.

He went a half in :47 last Monday and “He was full of energy. He really likes the track. He galloped a mile-and-a-half and came back with good energy (the other day). He was full of himself. He’s settled in at Pimlico really nice” said Sanchez.

“He did it very easy. Manny told me to give him a good work with a good finish. He did it easy and so strong,” regular pilot Luis Contreras, who was aboard for the work as well, said. “He’s such a good horse. When you watch him, he looks like he’s running on air.”

“I’m never afraid of nothing,” owner Ron Sanchez said. “We have a great post position. We have slow horses to our outside. That’s going to help us a lot.”

 

PP#9 Pablo Del Monte- is a fairly consistent colt by the great Giants Causeway as he’s never really been embarrassed in any of his six career starts.

He finished a tiring third in the Bluegrass Stakes in his last (over the synthetics) on April 12 and shows a steady stream of solid six furlongs works going back a ways.

Trainer Wesley Ward was especially upbeat when he talked about Pablo Del Monte’s  last work (breezing six furlongs in 1:12 1/5 at Keeneland) the colt’s final workout for this race

“He’s looking great. Couldn’t be doing any better” said Ward.

Jockey Jeffrey Sanchez, who will ride Pablo Del Monte in the Preakness, was aboard for the breeze as together they cut fractions of :12 1/5, :24 4/5, :36 3/5, and :48 4/5, and he galloped out seven furlongs in 1:25.

“It’s everything you’d want to see in the last two works. He’s coming into this race as good as he could possibly be and doing everything right.” Ward added.

It certainly does look like this colt is coming into this race well. But several things are making me shy away from him including his speed figures don’t match up very well, he has yet to register a win on any surface other than synthetics and he’s taking a major league step up in class.

 

PP#10 Ride on Curlin- might be the unluckiest horse in this race.

Good looking and yet another well bred colt (by Curlin out a Storm cat mare), this colt has hit the board in eight of his 10 career starts and has been extremely unlucky in three of his last four or he might have done even better.

Going all the way back to the Feb 17 Southwest Stakes, where he was stalking the pace early and running very well. But at the quarter pole, he encountered some traffic issues was forced to go about seven wide. He backed up and got beat by 10 while still being able to hold third.

The March 15 Rebel was next and he ran a very good third, beaten just one length by Hopportunity and Tapiture for all the money in a very roughly run race. That race was actually what I like to call “sneaky good”.

The Arkansas Derby (April 12) was next up. He was rated back into seventh position early but came with a good run around the turn only to find; once again, he had to go about five wide. He was still able to catch everyone but the winner, Danza, who was third in the Derby.

His next (and last) race was the Derby itself. He was last going down the backside but again rallied to put himself in striking distance but again was forced to go a ridiculous eight or nine wide on the turn and could do no better that seventh.

The Derby was another sneaky good race as in the end he made up some 12-13 lengths before running into problems.

After this colt breezed an easy half mile (:49.3) this past Wednesday trainer Billy Gowan said: “He was 110%; all systems are go.”

The bottom line is this horse is consistent and possesses a good closing kick. If they go too fast too early, he could be heard from in deep stretch. I won’t argue with you if you use him in any exotics play.

 

Selections


1)
California Chrome

2) Kid Cruz

3) Social Inclusion

4) Ride on Curlin

 

Thanks for reading and as always good luck

2014 Record: 10-27 = 37% 

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