PREAKNESS PICKS

Five Kentucky Derby starters, including winner Animal Kingdom, will run back on only two weeks rest in Saturday’s Preakness in an attempt to deny that one his shot to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. So what kind of a chance do they have to pull the upset? Let’s dig into the ponies!

Looking back a week and a half at the result of the Kentucky Derby, there is one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb (and in all seriousness stuck out like a sore thumb during the live running of the race as well). The pace was unbelievably slow by Derby standards. To be more specific, the opening 3/4 of a mile were run in a crawling 1:13.20, the slowest pace on a fast track in 67 years. The opening half, which many expected to be run in :46 and change as it often is in that race, came in at :48.3. So what does this mean from a handicapping standpoint? Well, for starters, any horse that chose to sit well off of this pace was completely done for early, regardless of any late running heroics (see Dialed In). The winner managed to sit midpack during these early fractions and was close enough to make an impressive move at the top of the stretch, but that move might have been buried in the also-ran category if the horse wasn’t so forwardly placed. As an aside, I credit Corey Nakatani aboard runner-up and personal favorite Nehro for recognizing the slow pace and adjusting accordingly, putting his horse in striking position and making a strong move that the horse simply could not sustain over the last eighth of a mile after running a wide race from an outside post. Additionally, you have to wonder if the horses near the lead could have had any easier of a trip. Shackleford was essentially handed the Derby on a silver platter and could not hold on.

This time around, we get some new faces, and it is doubtful that the early pace will be anything even slightly resembling that of the Kentucky Derby. Early speed is expected from Flashpoint, who trailed Shackleford through :46.2 in the Florida Derby, as well as Dance City, who showed early speed trailing just off a :46.3 opener in his third place finish in the Arkansas Derby. After all the handicapping I did only to break even on the Derby from my place and show bets on Nehro, I might as well use that same strategy, add a bit of new knowledge from the Derby, all while assuming what I did for that race: that the pace will be somewhere in the :46 and change range. I’m not crazy about any of the newcomers this year, so I will focus mostly on the returning Derby horses. And it bears repeating that 23 of the last 26 Preakness winners have come from the Derby. The other three you ask? Red Bullet in 2000, Bernardini in 2006 (after Barbaro’s eventually fatal injury prevented him from competing), and Rachel Alexandra in 2009, who likely would have won that Derby.

PICKS:

1) Mucho Macho Man, 6-1, #9 PP: He was my fourth pick in the Derby, and with the three I had ahead of him not returning for the Preakness, he moves up into the top spot after his impressive third place effort. Despite making up ground quite late in that race, the cutback in distance may actually benefit him, as he should be able to sit closer to the pace this time and get the first run as the speed falls back. What was most impressive about his effort was that he seemed to find a burst of energy so late in the race after running a long distance, and although his closing fractions weren’t the fastest of the bunch, it seemed like something clicked over the last half of a furlong. He continues to work well, and has the type of running style that just keeps coming at you at a steady, driving pace and gets a perfect post. Of all the horses in the field, I worry the least about the short layoff for him, as he had a six week break and trained huge before the Derby, and since he is a young foal arguably has the most room for improvement race to race. The pick.

2) Dialed In, 9-2, #10 PP: I took a stand against him as the favorite in the Derby and was right to do so, but apparently did so for the wrong reasons. I didn’t consider his closing kick to be as effective as many in that field, but the reality is that he came home faster in the Derby than any other horse, including the winner. After falling back to last early behind an impossibly slow pace, he was twelve lengths behind the winner with a half mile to go and left himself a ton of work to do, but still passed eleven horses and finished his final half mile in :47 flat and his final quarter in :23.79. Suffice to say, if he had stayed closer to the pace as Animal Kingdom did and was able to duplicate that move, he would have been right there with the winner every step of the way and may even have won the race. At better relative odds this time around, he may be a decent play if the pace collapses as I expect it to.

3) Animal Kingdom, 2-1, #11 PP: While deep closers were at a disadvantage in the Derby, the closers that were able to stay midpack found themselves in great position to make a move. No horse made a better move than Animal Kingdom, and you can’t take anything away from his win as he closed hard into a slow pace to overtake the four horses in front of him down the stretch, finishing his final half in :47.64 and his final quarter in an impressive :24.09. He will certainly be a force here especially with a hot pace up front, but after posting a career effort while switching to dirt for the first time and bouncing back quickly at short odds, I think he is worth trying to beat for outright bets. If he runs as close to the pace as he did in Louisville, he could get cooked, and who knows how well his body adjusted to the surface change. While impressive, he wasn’t dominant enough in the Derby for me to back him at 2-1 or 5-2 if I didn’t want to take a shot at him at 20-1 in that race. Still, it would be foolish to leave him out of the win spot in exotics as the only horse in the field with a plus 100 Beyer around two turns, even though the shortened distance won’t be to his benefit.

4) Shackleford, 12-1, #5 PP: Many will play this horse on top in this race and cite the cutback in distance as their reasoning. I tend to take the opposite approach. While he fought gamely down the stretch in the Derby after being challenged by Nehro, the race couldn’t have set up any better for him. He got away on the lead with the slowest fractions in decades and had no excuses as he tired. He won’t have it so easy this time with more competitive speed up front so he seems like a play against to me. Still, I have to admit that I was impressed he was able to hang on as long as he did even with the slow fractions, so it is hard to imagine him not being at least competitive here, and if he somehow gets away with a similar pace scenario, who knows. I’ll use him on the bottom of my superfecta just to be safe, as he would have ruined a pretty good payday for me if I had chosen to use six or seven horses in a superfecta last time, but I’d be surprised to see him in the exacta. I’ll also be surprised to see him at 12-1.

5) Dance City, 12-1, PP#8: Of the newcomers, this one intrigues me most. He demonstrated tactical speed in the Arkansas Derby and fought off a strong move by Sway Away around the final turn to beat that one by a length in a half for the show spot. He’s lightly raced, but it bears mention that his Tomlinson Distance Rating of 395 is higher than Animal Kingdom’s (365) who was tops in the Derby and won. Therefore there isn’t any reason to think the distance will be an issue other than that this will be only his fifth career race. His running style risks burning out early, but he showed ability to rate in the Arkansas Derby and is probably worth using here as he didn’t tire too terribly down the stretch in that race. He draws outside the speed so should settle in right behind the pace.

6) Sway Away, 15-1, #6 PP: He has shown impressive turns of foot in some of his races, but after taking the lead heading into the stretch in the Arkansas Derby, he tired badly and was unable to hold off Dance City, who had run near the lead the whole way and chased a fast pace. As much as I love his pedigree, I am starting to think that this is beyond his ideal distance despite his high Tomlinson Distance Figure of 410. He certainly has room for improvement and some stamina influences, but there are others I like better.

7) Astrology, 15-1, #1 PP: He may be the wise guy horse of the newcomers, coming off of two impressive runner-up finishes and boasting an impressive pedigree that is quite similar to Preakness winner Bernardini. However, I can’t seem to get past his second place finish to Twice the Appeal in the Sunland Derby, as four horses here finished ahead of that one in Louisville. He actually had the lead into the stretch in that race and couldn’t hold off a mediocre horse for the win. Given that and the fact that he’ll be running the longest race of his career, I find it hard to use him. He’ll have to vastly improve, and his post won’t do him any favors inside of the speed.

8- Concealed Identity, 30-1, #13 PP: He showed some ability to stalk and close over this track in last start, a victory in the 8.5f Federico Tesio two weeks ago. He takes a big leap up in class, but his pedigree and running style suggests he should relish the extra distance. His Tomlinson Distance Figure of 385 is also greater than Animal Kingdom’s. As the only horse here with a win over the track (he has two actually), he could offer some value at juicy odds, being seasoned with five races already this year and posting four straight improving figures- albeit low ones compared to the best of these.

9) Midnight Interlude, 15-1, #7 PP: The upset Santa Anita Derby winner was one of my strongest tosses in the Derby, and his 15th place finish proved me correct as he never really got into gear. He has been training well and is due to improve, but not enough has changed since then to get me onto his bandwagon. His tendency to be rank early in his races could do him in as well with a hotter pace than he is used to seeing.

10) Flashpoint, 20-1, #4 PP: This speedster wasn’t able to make the lead in his last start and finished fourth in the Florida Derby. Expect him to be more forwardly placed here, as he may very well try to steal it on the lead, but I have serious doubts about his stamina. He also has only three starts to his credit, the fewest in the field, so there are seasoning issues as well.

11) Mr. Commons, 20-1, #14 PP: Ran on well for third in the Santa Anita Derby, but the two that finished ahead of him didn’t impress at all in the Kentucky Derby. The Santa Anita Derby form hasn’t held up well after the defection of the two favorites in that race, and although he is improving, it would be tough to make a case for him here, especially breaking from the far outside.

12) King Congie, 20-1, #3 PP: Third over the polytrack in the Blue Grass stakes, he faces a big test here stepping up against the big boys on dirt. He does have three straight improving figures, but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass.

13) Isn’t He Perfect, 30-1, #12 PP: Figure wise, he seems a cut below the rest of the field. He also stretches out in distance, coming off an unimpressive fifth place finish in the Jerome behind the winner Astrology. It’s hard to find any reason to use him outside of his massive Tomlinson Distance Figure of 419, which tops the field.

14) Norman Asbjormson, 30-1, #2 PP: Who? Automatic toss for having a human name.

HOW TO BET $50 ON THE PREAKNESS

As stated above, we’ll focus in on the top finishers in the Kentucky Derby for the top three spots, and include a runner or two underneath in the Superfecta, which is worth playing here more so than it was in the Derby in my opinion, and the dime limit present an affordable (and fun) way to have a shot at a decent payday. We’ll try to find value outside of Animal Kingdom for outright bets as well, focusing on our top pick in order to not spread wagers too thin.

$0.10 Superfecta Key: Mucho Macho Man, Dialed In, Animal Kingdom/ Mucho Macho Man, Dialed In, Animal Kingdom, Shackleford/ Mucho Macho Man, Dialed In, Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, Dance City/ Mucho Macho Man, Dialed In, Animal Kingdom, Shackleford, Dance City, Sway Away $8.10

$2 Exacta Box: Mucho Macho Man, Dialed In, Animal Kingdom $12

$10 WPS: Mucho Macho Man $30

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