When 20 horses are entered for a race, which in this country happens only once a year, it is assumed a fast pace will ensue. Two weeks ago, at the Kentucky Derby, the favorites were strangely allowed to pace themselves, no pressure was applied, and what appeared to be the three best horses waltzed around the track together unhurried and finished one, two, three.
Could the same thing possibly happen in Saturday’s Preakness Stakes which will feature a much smaller, eight-horse field?
The knock on Derby winner American Pharoah prior to his win at Churchill Downs was that he never felt pressure. Now with five wins in six lifetime races, Pharoah answered the bell on the first Saturday in May, and did indeed grapple with two good horses which sparred with him over the final half mile. That being said, the quarter and half mile times were much slower than his race in April at the Arkansas Derby.
In sum, the win in Kentucky was impressive, but he shouldn’t get the same sort of trip at Pimlico.
Like American Pharoah, Derby runner-up Firing Line and third-place finisher Dortmund raced at a slow pace in what essentially amounted to a three-horse scrum during the final eighth of a mile. As a tandem, Firing Line and Dortmund have now run first or second when competing against each other in three separate races, and neither horse has been worse than third at any point during the three races. American Pharoah has been outside of first, second, or third during roughly 2-percent of his racing career, and not once during his five race win streak.
With only eight horses running at the Preakness, somebody must, and almost surely will, attack the three favorites. Baltimore-based Bodhisattva is one possibility, though his prep races indicate he just isn’t fast enough to tire the front runners.
Mr. Z has not proven as classy as the top contenders, but has early speed, and trainer D. Wayne Lucas has won the Preakness six times, including wire-to-wire at a big price with Oxbow two years ago.
Divining Rod has the top jockey in the country, Javier Castellano, and has routinely flashed speed, including a win almost five weeks ago at Keeneland in his last start.
Danzig Moon, who finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby, must continue improving, but dealt with some bumping early in the race two weeks ago, and has the right style for the Preakness. Tale of Verve is probably the deepest closer of the bunch, but has never faced anywhere close to this quality of competition.
If you believe someone will push the tempo, the question is who is the best of this bunch at coming from either just off the pace or somewhere back in the field? The three favorites have all won from being second or third, and whoever finds the clearest path, or gets the first jump could be victorious.
Of the newcomers, Divining Rod feels like the highest quality horse, but his need to be up front does not seem like a good strategy seeing as how the top contenders also want to be near the lead. If Danzig Moon is 10-1 or more, he offers value and the right running style.
Because Dortmund slowed down the stretch in Kentucky, we’ll relegate him to the bottom of a trifecta. Play American Pharoah, Firing Line, and Danzig Moon, with the same three horses, with the keyed trio plus Dortmund and Divining Rod. On a fifty cent wager, it will cost $9.
(Photo credit: Maryland GovPics (Flickr: The 138th Annual Preakness) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)