It would be easy to get lost in the preview for the Preakness talking more about the positive drug test of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit than the Preakness.
Let’s not do that in this space, but instead focus on the race and only the race.
Medina Spirit has been given the green light to compete Saturday meaning for now, we still have a Triple Crown possibility alive.
The winner of the Derby has been installed the 9/5 morning line favorite and deservedly so. Nine other horses, including stablemate Concert Tour, will line up in the starting gate for the 13th race on the Pimlico Card.
Post time is scheduled for 3:47 p.m.
Time to run through the field of 10 setting up the field in terms of favorites, contenders, longshots, field fillers.
Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert/John Velazquez/9-5): The favorite and easily the one to beat. Simple facts – the horse has never been passed once he has the lead in his six race career (three wins, three seconds) and is one of only two horses that shows speed pretty much guaranteeing him to get the early lead. In the Derby he enjoyed an easy lead with no pressure, and he held on the win.
Concert Tour (Baffert/Mike Smith/5-2): This is the only other horse in the field that has shown consistent early speed. The most interesting aspect of this race will see how Baffert instructs his jockeys. Baffert has said he expects his horses to be sitting first and second early, unless something unexpected happens. Given the experience of Velazquez and Smith, it’s unlikely to see them lock into a speed duel as that would be the end for both horses. The desire to not force a fast pace could allow another horse or two to become part of the pace factor.
Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen/Irad Ortiz/5-1): His race in the Derby was over not long after the start when he was bumped and shuffled back. From there he was forced wide throughout trying to navigate the 19-horse field. He did manage to get back to 6th, but that came picking off tired horses in the lane. With Smith jumping to Concert Tour, Ortiz picks up the mount. A good break here and this could be the horse that factors in to the pace. I liked him to hit the board in the Derby and do so as well here in the Preakness.
Crowded Trade (Chad Brown/Javiar Castellano/10-1): This appears to be the wise guy horse of the Preakness. Lightly raced with only three starts – all three starts at Aqueduct. He won his initial start in late January, then was second in the Gotham and third in the Wood Memorial. Usually, two places in Derby preps warrants consideration in any of the Triple Crown races. But neither the Wood nor the Gotham were tough fields and I have never been a fan of the New York prep series, so I will look past this horse.
Risk Taking (Chad Brown/Jose Ortiz/15-1): His first two starts were horrible, then he came back and won two in a row, including the Withers. In the next start he bobbled at the start in the Wood, never got into it and finished 7th. So where does that leave us here? Well, he’s certainly better than some here, but I don’t think good enough to be a major factor. Might be someone for your exotics if you are going deep.
Unbridled Honor (Todd Pletcher/Luis Saez/15-1): An interesting runner. His last two starts were in preps and they are worth looking at. In the Tampa Bay Derby, he had trouble early, fell back, got caught 5-wide, and still managed to get up to fourth, seven lengths off the winner. Then he went to the Lexington on a sloppy track and battled to a second-place finish. Take out the top two horses here and this field is similar to the Lexington, so another that could find his way on to your exotic tickets.
Rombauer (Michael McCarthy/Flavian Prat/12-1): This one got an automatic berth to the Preakness by virtue of his win in the El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields. That day he came from well off under a great ride from Kyle Frey to get the win. After a couple months off the connections put him in the Blue Grass. He ran an even effort, breaking third then running third throughout the race. He was beaten five lengths, but he figures to be in better shape and set for a good run.
France Go de Ina (Hideyuki Mori/Joel Rosario/20-1): I would have this horse in the “Field Fillers,” but I have some friends that are solid horse players who are saying they like this one. I don’t see it, but they see something they like, which warrants a pause for cause. After winning a pair in Japan, the connections shipped the horse to the UAE Derby where he laid an egg. He started slow, never engaged and was well-beaten sixth in a very pedestrian field. If he beats me, I will live with it, but I just don’t see it happening.
Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro/David Cohen/15-1): All I can say here is this horse keepsenteringstakes races and keepsrunningpooroutings. You go back to late November when he won the Kentucky Jockey’s Club and at that time there looked top be a bright future. Since then he was sixth beaten 8-lengths in the Rebel, fifth beaten 16-lengths in the Blue Grass, and seventh beaten 8-lengths in the Derby. See a pattern?
Ram (D. Wayne Lukas/Ricardo Santana/30-1): It’s nice to see the old gunslinger running a horse here but this a monster-step up from an allowance race. He didn’t break maiden until his eighth start and most of those were ugly races. To make matters worse, he drew the rail for the start.
I just think everything points to Medina Spirit making it two straight here, and for picking up the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Concert Tour appears to be the biggest threat, especially on the front end. I cannot even imagine a scenario where Baffert has his two horses engaged in a speed duel. It would be poetic justice to see that play out, but let’s be realistic!
By Dennis Miller