Pimlico: The Grade I, $1.5 million Preakness at 1 3/16 miles
#1 American Pharoah (4-5): Kentucky Derby hero parlayed a perfect post and dream trip to glory when he pulled away from Firing Line in deep stretch, but will be afforded no such luxuries Saturday from what is nothing short of a very treacherous draw. Homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile has shown in his last two that he’s versatile enough to stalk the pace, but with this inside draw, Espinoza is probably going to be forced to go or run the risk of losing some key ground if he takes back, not to mention that he could have trouble getting out as well. And that’s all before we even mention that he’s coming back on two weeks rest, which is a big wildcard for a horse that has been going right along at a steady clip since mid-March. Of course, if anyone knows how to negotiate the quick turnaround, it is Baffert, as he’s won this race five times and three of those came after winning the Derby. But the real question is whether you want to take a very short price on a horse who really isn’t any faster than his two main rivals and goes from getting all the best of it in Louisville to taking all the worst of it in Baltimore; making him prove it.
#2 Dortmund (7-2): Baffert’s “other” runner saw his unbeaten record end at six when he was third after setting the pace in the Derby and will need to make up three lengths on his stablemate next door. And while that run wasn’t bad at all, let’s be honest, it also wasn’t all that good because if you were holding a win ticket on this son of Big Brown and we told you he was loose on the lead through a very slow 47 1/5 half-mile, wouldn’t you be counting your money? Baffert did mention that he battled a minor bout of colic the week before the Derby, so maybe that sapped some stretch strength out of him, but for a horses that showed time and again all winter and spring that he wants to beat you, he gave it up pretty badly in deep stretch. The good news is that he drew outside his main pace rival, which will allow Garcia to likely press the proceedings as opposed to dictate them, which does give him an advantage. The other positive, if you’re a fan, is that he’s very likely going to be the third choice in the wagering at about 7-2, so if you took only a peg higher in an 18-horse Derby, you almost have to string back along in a Preakness with 10 fewer runners. If there’s a worry, it would be that all that those tough races this winter and spring are finally taking their toll, which seemed a bit evident in deep stretch of the Derby, but there’s also no doubt that he’s got the talent to turn the tables; figures to make his presence felt.
#3 Mr. Z (20-1): The wildcard doesn’t have a shot at winning but is a very interesting entrant in that he was purchased privately by Brad Kelley of Calumet Farm after running 13th in the Derby for Zayat, who also owns American Pharoah. Why is that a big deal, you ask? Well, there’s a lot of speed here, but he endured a brutal start in the Derby and couldn’t show, and even if he did break alertly, he certainly wasn’t going to press the pace and amp up the splits, which could have been detrimental to Zayat’s more fancied runner. But all bets are off today and he’s draw perfectly outside the other two speedsters to his inside, so, if nothing else, he’s going to ensure that they go quick up front, and with Lukas calling the shots, you know that he’s not taking away this colt’s biggest asset, his speed. Son of Malibu Moon has actually run well in spots and was only beaten a head when third to Dortmund and Firing Line in the GI Los Alamitos Futurity in December, but while those two have obviously moved forward, he’s been stuck in neutral, which doesn’t bode well for his chances today; tough to tout.
#4 Danzig Moon (15-1): Price player was a very solid fifth in the Derby after a bumper car trip where he never really could do a ton of running. But before you give him too much credit, don’t forget that it was a crawling pace and he basically ran around the track, as he was never worse than sixth and never higher than fourth, in a race where the top three were 3-2-1 early. Casse has no doubt done a nice job with this son of Malibu Moon, and he’s obviously improving with both age and maturity; the Derby was yet another step forward for a horse that was a maiden when the calendar clicked to February. He’s got some work to do to make up the 6 1/2 lengths he was beaten in the Derby, but he gets a better pace scenario to stalk today and who knows? If the two Bafferts duel each other into the ground, he’d find himself in a mighty salty spot when they come off the far turn; hardly impossible for a piece.
#5 Tale of Verve (30-1): Giant longshot was on the AE list for the Derby but didn’t make it because the two scratches came after the deadline, so Stewart regrouped and aimed for Baltimore. Why, is anyone’s guess, as he exits a MSW win that was timed with a sundial at Keeneland and has never run fast enough to run eighth in this race, let alone win it. His pedigree–he’s by Tale of Ekati and out of an Unbridled mare–works and his running style as a deep closer could be flattered by the pace, but at this point, there’s no reason he should be in a race like this; get home safely.
#6 Bodhisattva (20-1): The lone local hope exits a very game win in the Tesio last month and is another who wants to mix it up early, though his usual splits put him several lengths off the classy speed to his inside, so expect more of a stalking position today. Corrales has had a nice meet and this son of Student Council is similar to a lot of the working-class Maryland horses that have run in the Preakness, and some have even hit the board, though this is a monumental rise in class today. On paper he’s not nearly good enough to win this, but there’s talent here, which means he’s probably good enough to keep the top guns inside entertained early, which won’t do much good for anyone’s chances late; can’t see it.
#7 Divining Rod (12-1): The best of the new shooters exits a polished win in Keeneland’s GIII Lexington last month and enters fresh and on the upswing for Delacour, who is probably the best trainer in the country that you’ve never heard of. There’s no doubt that this son of Tapit will need to improve again to play with these, but he’s also started just five times, so there’s no reason to think he can’t do it, and there’s also some karma in his corner, as fans of Lael Stable will be rooting hard for him after Barbaro’s ill-fated run here in 2006. The rub is that he’s never beaten anyone of any consequence and got drilled pretty handily by Carpe Diem in the GII Tampa Bay Derby in March, and that runner was exposed badly in the Derby, not to mention that newcomers have a dismal record in the Preakness over the years, so that doesn’t bode well for his chances. But when the toteboard goes your way and the race flow figures to hit you right between the eyes, you’re allowed to overlook all of that and swing away; price players have their hero.
#8 Firing Line (4-1): Game runner-up in the Derby ran huge as he was pressing Dortmund for much of the running with American Pharoah sitting just off of him waiting, so the fact that he only relented in deep, deep stretch after failing to change leads speaks to his enormous talent. He does have a length to make up on his rival, but that seems almost inconsequential when you look at today’s shorter distance and his draw related to the favorite’s, as it could not possibly be any better and gives Stevens a ton of options with this Line of David colt who has shown to be very adaptable during his career. Relative newcomer Callaghan has called all the right shots so far, and, unlike ‘Pharoah and Dortmund, he brings a fresh horse to the party as the Derby was his first start in six weeks after a romp in the GIII Sunland Derby. And while he’s openly said that he does like spacing between his races, it’s all relative, too, as the road less traveled should work perfectly today. Don’t expect anything near this 4-1 ML price (think 2-1 or 5-2), but when you’re every bit as fast as the favorite and drew the absolute perfect attack post for a race that could fall right into your lap off the far turn, you’re allowed to take a peg or two less on the tote than you’d like; absolutely love his chances.
#8 Firing Line
#1 American Pharoah
#7 Divining Rod