Grade 1 Preakness | 1 3/16 Miles, Dirt, 3-year-olds | Pimlico, Race 13, 6:48 p.m. (ET) | TimeformUS PPs
Most Likely Winner: Justify (#7)
Justify’s quest to become racing’s 13th Triple Crown winner takes him to Baltimore on Saturday for the Preakness Stakes. The conditions figure to be similar to those he encountered in the Kentucky Derby, as rain is predicted to continue throughout the week, intensifying in the 24 hours before the race.
The main difference between this race and the first jewel of the Triple Crown is the size of the field, as only seven rivals will line up to face the Derby winner. Half of the field is composed of so-called “new shooters,” who come into the race fresher than those exiting the Kentucky Derby. Among the septet of challengers, Justify’s only serious threat is expected to come from last year’s 2-year-old male champion, Good Magic. The Chad Brown trainee will be looking to erase the two-length deficit that separated the pair of blazed chestnut colts in Louisville.
Despite the smaller field size, there is no lack of speed signed on for this race. The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace and shows Justify (#7) clearly in front early in the race. A similar scenario was predicted in the Kentucky Derby, where Mike Smith used Justify’s tactical speed to rate just outside of the leader for the first six furlongs before forging to the front. One would imagine the game plan would be the same here given his advantageous outside draw. Diamond King (#4) is widely regarded as the most likely leader given his sprint speed. He’s shown the ability to rate in recent starts, but he likely needs to secure the early lead to have his best chance against a field of this caliber. Others who figure to be attending the pace are Sporting Chance (#3) and Good Magic (#5). Quip (#1) and Tenfold (#6) also have run their best races when on or near the lead, but neither has encountered a pace scenario this taxing.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, QUIP (12-1): This colt goes out for the same owners as Justify. His connections decided to skip that race, feeling that the Preakness would be a more realistic goal at this stage of his development. He ran well to beat the gritty Flameaway in his seasonal debut at Tampa back in March, and he battled on willingly when second in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby last time. The form of the Oaklawn race was not flattered in the Kentucky Derby, as Magnum Moon, Solomini, and Combatant all put in dismal efforts. However, that may be partly due to the circumstances under which the Derby was run. Quip appears to be as talented as a few other challengers in this race, yet the expected dynamics of this Preakness are unlikely to suit him. He’s shown that he needs to be forwardly placed in order to run well, having performed poorly the one time he was forced to rate behind horses in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Given his grinding style, it’s hard to imagine him keeping up with horses like Justify, Diamond King, and Sporting Chance early in this race. In fact, TimeformUS assigns him the second-lowest Early Pace Rating in the field, only ahead of Lone Sailor. He’s going to take some money due to his strong recent record, yet I doubt he’s up to this challenge. Pass.
#2, LONE SAILOR (15-1): His trip in the Derby was not the worst, nor was it the best. Sent to the rail soon after the start, he stayed there for basically the entire race, saving ground while others had to go around tiring runners. The first six furlongs went perfectly, but he found himself in a difficult position once the field moved into the far turn. He had been racing side-by-side with eventual third-place finisher Audible on the backstretch. However, whereas that one was able to move up between horses, Lone Sailor got stymied in behind the tiring Free Drop Billy while pinned down on the rail. Jockey James Graham was unwavering in his determination to squeeze through a tight hole inside of that runner, but it took Lone Sailor about a sixteenth of a mile to cooperate. Once he did find a clear inside path, he burst through and quickly advanced into sixth. He tired somewhat in the last furlong, by which point almost all runners were laboring. All things considered, it was a solid effort for a colt who had put in his fair share of poor performances on the road to the Derby. I get the feeling that Lone Sailor is finally figuring the game out after a series of missteps. Furthermore, he’s made two starts over sloppy, sealed racetracks, and he handled both as well as could be expected. Since he’s the one true closer in a field filled with speed, new rider Irad Ortiz Jr. is likely to take him well back and just hope to pick up as many pieces as possible. Given the amount of dubious pace players in this field, don’t be surprised to see him flying past a lot of tiring runners in the lane. It would take a herculean effort to beat Justify, but Lone Sailor is a candidate for all of the slots underneath the favorite. An exacta threat.
#3, SPORTING CHANCE (30-1): Little has gone according to plan this year for the 2017 Hopeful winner. He missed his chance to make it into the Kentucky Derby when he reverted to his juvenile antics in the Blue Grass, swerving wildly through the lane while hampering his foes. Entered in the Pat Day Mile as a consolation prize, he actually ran quite well to be fourth. He was shuffled out of position on the backstretch and did well to rally past many rivals in the lane despite racing wide. However, that effort came going one turn, and now he’s being asked to stretch out again. I believe that shorter distances are what Sporting Chance needs at this point, so it’s hard to envision him as more than a pace factor here. Pass.
#4, DIAMOND KING (30-1): While he didn’t run badly in the Federico Tesio, his winning performance was not nearly strong enough to suggest that he can compete against the top 3-year-olds in the nation going two turns. It’s a shame that he’s running here because Diamond King is actually a pretty talented sprinter who is missing opportunities to shine. He ran an amazing race to win the Heft Stakes back in December and was hindered by a poor start two back in the Swale. He’s probably going to play the role of Promises Fulfilled in this race, and that hasn’t been a successful strategy against a fast horse like Justify. Pass.
#5, GOOD MAGIC (3-1): He’s the one standing in the way of Justify’s Triple Crown bid. Whereas the others would all need to improve significantly to beat Justify, Good Magic has already shown himself to be a worthy challenger. His 3-year-old campaign began in unspectacular fashion, but he really matured into his role as defending champion leading up to the Run for the Roses. Justify did beat him soundly and fairly, but there is no doubt that Good Magic ran the second-best race. His performance was far superior to those of closers like Audible and Instilled Regard, who were merely picking up pieces at the end. The pace of the Kentucky Derby was extremely taxing, and Good Magic was always within a couple lengths of the lead. Aside from him and Justify, every other horse near the early lead lost by 23 lengths or more. Good Magic made a serious bid at the top of the stretch but could never quite get on even terms with the eventual winner. While it’s certainly possible that he could make up that two-length deficit in Baltimore, I wonder if the horse can mentally and physically rebound from his exertion in Louisville. After all, Kentucky Derby second-place finishers do not have a strong record in this race. Over the past 50 years, the top two finishers in the Derby have squared off in the Preakness 33 times, and Derby runners-up have only managed three wins to the Derby winners’ 16. Furthermore, as great of a trainer as Chad Brown is, wheeling back in two weeks is not something that he prepares his horses to handle. Nevertheless, I’m glad to see Good Magic in the race because he certainly deserves to take his shot. The second-likeliest winner.
#6, TENFOLD (20-1): In many ways, he’s just like Quip, except he’s probably going to be a better price. He’s run well under favorable circumstances and has never faced the taxing pace scenario he will encounter in this race. While he earned a respectable speed figure in the Arkansas Derby, I have lingering doubts about the overall quality of that race. He’s shown the ability to rate behind horses, so perhaps they will elect to place him farther off the pace this time. Yet, regardless of tactics, he hasn’t yet proven he’s up to the task of competing against elite 3-year-olds. Pass.
#7, JUSTIFY (1-2): His Kentucky Derby victory deserves every bit of the praise it has elicited. The early pace was historically fast. The 170 TimeformUS Pace Rating for the half-mile split was the highest in the past 15 years. Furthermore, most of the Derbies that have featured extremely fast paces were won by horses who rallied from far off the pace, such as Orb, Street Sense, and I’ll Have Another. Justify’s 169 Pace Rating at the half-mile (1 point lower than that of leader Promises Fulfilled) is an astounding 19 points higher than any other Derby winner during that 15-year period. Some have misguidedly cited the slow closing fractions of this Derby as evidence that Justify may be vulnerable. However, closing fractions are relative in these situations, and Justify’s final quarter-mile was among the fastest of any of the 20 runners in the race. It’s not as if the closers were making up significant ground over the final quarter-mile, and many were actually losing ground to the winner. If Justify had a weakness, it would have been exposed in the Derby. As long as he breaks cleanly, he figures to work out the same outside stalking trip in this race. It’s unlikely that the fractions will be nearly as fast this time, yet he showed in the Santa Anita Derby that he’s perfectly capable of adapting to a less-frenzied early tempo. It’s hard to find any serious flaws in this horse. If he runs his race, he’s going to win.
#8, BRAVAZO (20-1): Considering that many believed he didn’t even belong in the Derby, he actually ran a pretty strong race to be sixth. He never got an opportunity to save ground, chasing four to five wide around both turns. Despite losing valuable position around the bends, he never stopped running, finishing just as strongly as Lone Sailor, who had taken a shorter path around the oval. He clearly relished the wet going, so rain in the forecast should aid his cause. He could get somewhat overlooked here, yet he has better credentials than many of the other challengers. An exotics player.