Round 2: Projecting the Preakness

It’s already time to start trying to handicap another horse race, and in this case, that would be the second leg of the coveted Triple Crown, the Preakness. Traditionally, this isn’t a race that offers the same value as the Kentucky Derby, since the field is smaller and the Derby winner usually goes off at short odds. Nevertheless, I’m going to take a short look at this race, which features four returning starters from the Derby (the first three finishers and the sixth place finisher) along with five hopeful newcomers who have had varying levels of success already this year. As always, I’ll organize them based on the pace scenario. The Preakness is just a touch shorter than the Derby at 9.5 furlongs, but it is still a race where having some gas at the end is going to make a big difference.

PACE

Hard Spun, 5-2 Morning Line, PP #7, 107 Beyer

This horse proved me wrong and ran an incredibly strong race in the Derby, and probably would have won it had Street Sense encountered any traffic trouble whatsoever. He used a lightning quick 5f workout at Churchill (which scared many away, including myself) to build a foundation for a blazing trip that nearly wired the field. He’ll have fresh, fast horses to compete with on the pace this time, and they aren’t likely to let him control it as easily as he did in the Derby. And as much as a monster as he’s proven himself to be, I still have a sinking feeling that his recent efforts will weigh on his endurance. This will be even more of a problem if he can’t get loose on the lead like he did in the Derby. Admittedly, he was second best without any competition last time out, so he’ll either have to take a huge step backwards or another horse will have to improve vastly for him to miss the board. But I’ll still try to beat him for the win, and would be betraying my own instincts to play him at 5-2 when I passed at 8-1 in the Derby.

King of the Roxy, 12-1 Morning Line, PP #5, 99 Beyer

This one will battle hard for the lead and has the talent to control it early if he wants to. He was sharp and speedy early this year in winning the 7.5 furlong Hutcheson and then was caught at the wire of the Santa Anita Derby by a charging Tiago after taking the lead down the backstretch. It’s tough to know what he is really capable of beyond 9 furlongs. If he’s getting caught like that in a subpar field, I can’t imagine a extra half of a furlong is going to be to his benefit, although he will be coming into this one on a lot of rest. I expect him to tire down the backstretch, but he’s a live longshot if he can improve on his last race, and worth a play at 10-1 or better. Pletcher skipped the Derby and saved him for this race, which has to mean something.

Xchanger, 15-1 Morning Line, PP #2, 95 Beyer

He will battle for the pace as well but probably doesn’t have quite the speed of the first two, so I expect him to settle back in third early. He looked good in winning his last start, but I can’t shake his 7th place in the Arkansas Derby, a full 12 lengths from the winner, who is running here. His performance against the competition he’s faced doesn’t bode well against the top horses here, and he’d need to improve vastly to hit the board in my opinion.

JUST OFF THE PACE

Curlin, 7-2 Morning Line, PP #4, 103 Beyer

Curlin’s third place finish in the Kentucky Derby was a massive accomplishment as far as I’m concerned, both because of his inexperience in a race with such quality and because of the fact that he didn’t exactly have an ideal trip. I played against him hard in that one, and I still don’t think that he would have gotten up for second even with a perfect trip as he was still a good 4 lengths behind second place finisher Hard Spun. He wasn’t exactly mowing horses over down the backstretch, and I can’t believe that two races in two weeks so early in his career will be to his liking. I’m also not convinced that he’ll benefit from the shorter distance, and am turned off by the idea that he’ll be the “trendy” pick to win here. He seems the least likely to improve of the returning Derby starters in my opinion, so that would put him third place at best. He has the talent to get the job done, but he’ll need to improve on his 98 Beyer in the Derby to hit the board in this one. He should have a better trip, which will help, but I’m still waiting for the bounce that didn’t happen in the Derby.

Flying First Class, 20-1 Morning Line, PP #20-1, 82 Beyer

D. Wayne Lukas makes a reappearance at the Triple Crown after skipping the Derby completely. This colt comes into the Preakness riding high off his victory in the 7.5 furlong Derby Trial. I am not sure he has the speed to risk staying up with the pace, so I expect him to sit back 4th or 5th early. Overall, his speed doesn’t look all that competitive here; he’s only run beyond 8 furlongs twice in his career, and both times Curlin beat him by more than a dozen lengths. Unless you love Curlin, you have to pass.

CP West, 20-1 Morning Line, PP #9, (no races this year past 8 furlongs)

I’m not crazy about horses making a huge jump in class here, although this one has shown ability to close ground quickly in shorter races. Whether or not he has the speed down the stretch to compete with the top ones here remains to be seen. His only career race past 8 furlongs was in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year and he was beaten 22 lengths by the top finisher and 12 lengths by the runner up. Did I mention they’re both here? Pass.

Mint Slewlup, 30-1 Morning Line, PP #1, 75 Beyer

He’ll be the longest shot in the field, and for good reason. His only lifetime wins are allowance races, he’s never won past a mile, and CP West beat him handily last time out. The pedigree looks good (by Slew City Slew, a Seattle Slew colt) but nothing else does. He needs to be over 50-1 to spark my interest, and that will never happen in such a small field.

CLOSERS

Street Sense, 7-5 Morning Line Favorite, PP #8, 110 Beyer

The Preakness is historically a race that is won by horses who come from off the pace, so why can’t my boy do it again? It’s not Churchill Downs, but he has a competent jockey aboard that can get the job done. I don’t have any worries about the trip he’ll get in a smaller field after the one Calvin Borel gave him in a crowded Derby field. He’s been training well since his Derby win and has to be considered the one to beat here. I really think the only way he gets beaten here is if he somehow encounters traffic trouble and starts his move too late. Once he decides to go into that second gear of his, he’s simply faster than all the others in the race. Unfortunately, he’s likely to be 2-1 or lower, so only bet him on top of your exotics, as I wouldn’t say he is unbeatable quite yet.

Circular Quay, 8-1 Morning Line, PP #3, 102 Beyer

This was somewhat of a last second entry for Todd Pletcher, so I’m taking a long, hard look at this decision. I liked this horse a lot off an eight week layoff in the Derby and he didn’t run a bad race to finish 6th from the auxillary gate after some considerable traffic trouble. He likes to come from way back which shouldn’t be a problem here with less horses to get in his way. It almost feels as though he used the Derby as his prep race, and he should be in perfect form for this one. So why not run him? I’m really glad he’s in here because it adds a whole other element to the competition. In a race that seems poised for a pace meltdown, don’t leave him out of your exotics. He has the talent, the agility and the turn of foot to surprise. If he’s anywhere near his morning line odds, I’ll be all over him, and right now he looks like the overlay of the race.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:

  1. Street Sense
  2. Circular Quay
  3. Hard Spun
  4. King of the Roxy
  5. Curlin
  6. Flying First Class
  7. CP West
  8. Xchanger
  9. Mint Slewlup

HOW TO BET $25 ON THE PREAKNESS

$5 Exacta Box- Street Sense, Circular Quay ($10)

$1 Exacta Box- Street Sense, Circular Quay, King of the Roxy ($6)

$9 Place- Circular Quay ($9)

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