This is an unusual Preakness Stakes. The official Kentucky Derby winner Country House is absent, as is the disqualified first-place finisher Maximum Security. Even the second and third-place finishers are not in attendance. Only fourth-place Improbable, as well as also-rans War of Will, Win Win Win, and Bodexpress will participate in this second jewel of the Triple Crown. Instead, the race is dominated by new shooters. In most years, such runners are relegated to longshot status, but this Preakness seems as wide-open as any in recent memory. It’s highly likely that one of those nine horses that did not contest the Kentucky Derby will have a say in the outcome.
The Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace, but it’s not the sort of overwhelming pace characterization that you will sometimes see in races of this magnitude. Only Market King (#6) is assigned a running style of Leader in TimeformUS PPs, whereas all of the other speed types are labeled as Trackers. Market King is indeed depicted on the front end with a host of pursuers in behind, including Warrior’s Charge (#3), Anothertwistafate (#12), War of Will (#1), and Alwaysmining (#7). Yet given many runners’ preferences for stalking tactics, this is not a Pace Projector that would lead me to believe that closers will have a significant advantage.
The only mild surprise in this Pace Projector is that morning line favorite Improbable (#4) is expected to rally from midpack once again, just as he was forced to do in both the Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby. Improbable has run some of his best races when he’s been forwardly placed early, but he hasn’t displayed the requisite early speed to put himself in that position in recent starts. If an especially fast pace develops, it would likely benefit closers Bourbon War (#2), Laughing Fox (#11), and Win Win Win (#13), all of whom possess Late Pace Ratings of 110 or above.
Let’s make our way through the entire field:
#1, WAR OF WILL (4-1): This colt has been the subject of much discussion within the racing community in the aftermath of the Kentucky Derby. While it’s futile to relitigate Maximum Security’s disqualification at this point, it is necessary to assess the negative impact of the incident at the five-sixteenths pole on War of Will’s performance. War of Will was clearly bumped off stride when Maximum Security veered out and was cost about a length of position on his rivals. Yet, what is more difficult to quantify is the extent to which such a jarring collision might have deprived him of energy later in the stretch. Maintaining a steady rhythm is an important component of racing successfully, and War of Will’s rhythm was clearly interrupted on the far turn. I personally believe that War of Will would have attained a higher placing in the Kentucky Derby if not for his trouble, and it’s not inconceivable that he may have even finished in the money – ahead of Improbable – had he not been fouled.
Yet there is more to trip handicapping than scrutinizing one isolated half-furlong out of an entire race contested over 1 1/4 miles. The fact that War of Will encountered some trouble should not give us permission to ignore the fact that he had gotten a fantastic trip and ride from Tyler Gaffalione up until that fateful point on the far turn. If he had avoided Maximum Security’s antics and snuck through along the rail – as Code of Honor did – we would be praising Gaffalione for executing one of the greatest Kentucky Derby rides in recent years.
It is also necessary to consider the possibility that War of Will relished the sloppy going he encountered at Churchill Downs two weeks ago, especially since he had handled a similar surface in his maiden win last November. He seemed to always be traveling in the bridle through the sea of slop, whereas others – such as Improbable – never appeared to be striding out as comfortably. I was not one of War of Will’s supporters heading into the Kentucky Derby, and I did not see him overcome enough adversity for me to completely revise my opinion of him ahead of this Preakness. He projects to once again work out a great trip while facing what is undoubtedly an easier task. I readily concede that he’s a main player, but he’s likely to be a close second choice in the wagering, and I believe others will offer better value this time. One of the contenders.
#2, BOURBON WAR (12-1): He gained many supporters following his late-running second-place finish in the Fountain of Youth, but a disappointing effort in the Florida Derby left him without sufficient points to advance to the Derby. Bourbon War is a difficult runner to assess from a trip perspective, since there are as many reasons to play against him as there are to support him. He had everything go his way from a pace standpoint in the Fountain of Youth and was unable to reel in winner Code of Honor. Yet, as fortunate as he was in that March prep, he was utterly luckless in the Florida Derby, rendered unable to mount a rally due to an extremely slow pace over a track that was playing to speed. His top TimeformUS Speed Figure of 110 is a cut below those of the main contenders, so he needs to improve to attain a top placing in this prestigious event. Mark Hennig is adding blinkers in hopes of getting this runner to produce a career-best performance, but this is not a strong move for the barn. Over the past five years, Hennig is just 5 for 51 (10%, $1.08 ROI) with horses adding blinkers for the first time. The added distance should work in his favor and his TimeformUS Late Pace Rating of 115 is tied for the highest in the field. I’m just concerned that he will be left with too much ground to make up in a crowded field. Expecting a minor award.
#3, WARRIOR’S CHARGE (12-1): Ever since his connections made the decision to allow this colt to use his natural early speed, he has been a completely different animal. He never seemed totally comfortable rating in his first attempt around two turns in February, and he responded enthusiastically to the change in tactics when he broke his maiden in March. It’s awfully ambitious to ask a horse to make his stakes debut in the Preakness, but the 114 TimeformUS Speed Figure that Warrior’s Charge earned in his allowance score last time suggests that he possesses the raw ability to compete against a field of this quality. Yet there are two obvious concerns for this son of Munnings: trip and distance. He’s run his best races when able to secure a clear early lead, and he may have trouble attaining that position with Market King and other speed types signed on. Furthermore, he’s never raced beyond 1 1/16 miles, and his pedigree does not inspire much confidence that added ground will work in his favor. Over the past five years, progeny of Munnings have earned just 2 wins at distances of 1 3/16 miles or farther, and this colt’s damside pedigree fails to counter that narrative. There’s obviously some serious ability here, but it’s hard to look past those considerable obstacles. A fringe player.
#4, IMPROBABLE (5-2): The Kentucky Derby favorite’s performance on the first Saturday in May was a disappointment. Irad Ortiz did everything possible to give Improbable a chance to win the race. He hustled him into a forward position early, saved ground on the turns, and worked him into the clear as soon as the field straightened away for the stretch drive. Unfortunately, Improbable was unable to finish the job, failing to accelerate in the final two furlongs. Yet, in spite of that loss, he is once again considered to be the presumptive favorite in this field, owing to the fact that none of the rivals who crossed the wire ahead of him in Louisville have made the trip to Baltimore.
Despite his lackluster Derby effort, there are some reasons to be optimistic about Improbable’s Preakness prospects. Whereas his main rival from the Derby, War of Will, appeared to relish the sloppy going at Churchill, Improbable never seemed to be quite as comfortable racing over the rain-soaked strip. One of Improbable’s most appealing attributes is his fluid, loping stride. Yet he has not fully extended himself over sloppy, sealed tracks in either the Arkansas Derby or the Kentucky Derby. If he was indeed hindered by the track condition in those races and projects to run better over fast going, he is unlikely to lose this Preakness. His last two TimeformUS Speed Figures of 116 and 118 are already two of the highest numbers in the field. Bob Baffert knows how to win this race better than any other trainer, so the fact that he has not hesitated to run this colt back in two weeks has to be viewed as a positive indicator.
Improbable is the most likely winner of this race, but it’s still a fairly wide-open affair, and I’m reluctant to settle on the favorite. The horse to beat.
#5, OWENDALE (10-1): Like stablemate Warrior’s Charge, he’s made remarkable progress over the course of just a couple of months. This robust colt still appeared to be figuring things out when he first came to Fair Grounds over the winter, finishing second in an N1X allowance before breaking through at that level in January. Trainer Brad Cox thought enough of him to throw him right into the Risen Star on the heels of that victory, but Owendale was not yet up to the task. The colt seemed to lose focus while racing wide throughout and was hopelessly beaten by the time they reached the quarter pole. Yet something changed in the two months following that performance, as Owendale began picking up the pace in his workouts. He looked like a matured animal when he returned in the Lexington, running a far more professional race than in his prior stakes attempt. Florent Geroux wisely made the choice to launch an early rally on the far turn, catching some of his main rivals off guard as he rushed into the lead at the quarter pole. The short stretch going 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland ensured that he was never in danger of getting caught and he maintained a solid advantage even on the gallop-out.
Owendale has to stretch out an extra furlong, but his size and pedigree give me confidence that it will not pose a problem. He’s continued to train with enthusiasm in recent weeks, so it appears that his Lexington performance was anything but a fluke. The only major variable is the trip, and navigating a jumbled field of 13 rivals is no small matter for a colt of his size. I’m not convinced that this race stands to fall apart in the late stages despite the fast pace prediction, though it’s not as if Owendale needs to rally from as far back as he did in the Lexington to be successful. He’s coming into this spot in career form and I believe he has an excellent chance to win. A major player.
#6, MARKET KING (30-1): The projected pacesetter has never earned a speed figure that suggests he can compete against a field of this quality. It’s unlikely he’ll be a factor beyond the quarter pole. Pass.
#7, ALWAYSMINING (8-1): The locally based runner has captivated Maryland racing fans. Winning streaks will tend to have that effect, and this gelding has compiled six consecutive victories coming into the Preakness. He has completely transformed for trainer Kelly Rubley, who has done an excellent job getting him to this point with an unblemished dirt record. There’s no doubt that this gelding belongs in this Preakness. Yet extending his streak will be no easy feat. While Alwaysmining has won five consecutive stakes events, all of those victories have come in listed or restricted races. This will be his first start in a graded stakes of any kind, and he will be facing what is easily the largest field he has encountered since the streak began. Alwaysmining did display a new dimension last time in the Federico Tesio, rating off a pair of rivals in the early going before forging to the lead on the far turn. That versatility gives jockey Daniel Centeno needed options in this Preakness, since Alwaysmining may not be fast enough to wrest the lead from Market King heading into the clubhouse turn. His recent TimeformUS Speed Figures of 112 and 115, both of which were earned in two-turn races, certainly put him in the mix. While I’m highly skeptical of the quality of the fields he’s been beating, I do concede that he’s a contender in this Preakness. My main concern is one of value. Horses that win as often as he has tend to get overbet, and I sense that his inflated morning line price of 8-1 will only serve to entice more supporters to come over to his side. I’ll use him defensively, but I prefer others in the top slots. Using underneath.
#8, SIGNALMAN (30-1): This colt got great trips in both the Fountain of Youth and Blue Grass and had no apparent excuses to lose to a couple of today’s rivals. There are more talented closers in this field, so I’d be surprised if he’s able to hit the board. Pass.
#9, BODEXPRESS (20-1): The lone maiden in the field was involved in that melee caused by Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby, and he arguably endured the worst of the trouble. It’s unclear whether Chris Landeros was actually out of horse at that point, as Bodexpress encountered additional traffic while trying to rally again in the stretch after he was robbed of his momentum at the five-sixteenths pole. Regardless of where he ultimately would have finished in the Derby, this remains a very ambitious spot for a horse of such limited experience. There’s clearly talent here, but the connections would likely be better served in the long run to have taken a more patient approach. Possible for the superfecta.
#10, EVERFAST (50-1): Dale Romans loves to enter longshots in major races. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find anything positive to highlight about a horse who belongs in a N1X allowance event, not a Grade 1 stakes. Pass.
#11, LAUGHING FOX (20-1): This son of Union Rags is one of just three runners in this field to have won going as far as 1 1/8 miles, so the distance does not figure to be a problem for him. He was hardly disgraced in the Arkansas Derby, finishing just one length behind eventual Kentucky Derby winner Country House. Yet that rival clearly improved at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, and it appears that Laughing Fox’s form may be hitting a plateau. The 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned in his most recent score in the Oaklawn Park Invitational was equal to his Arkansas Derby figure and one point lower than the number he earned against allowance company in February. He’s one of the closers to consider if the pace falls apart, but I don’t believe this is a Preakness that is likely to be won by a deep closer. Exotics player.
#12, ANOTHERTWISTAFATE (6-1): If you have been following my TimeformUS analysis or have listened to the TimeformUS Pacecast, you are probably aware that I have been pretty hard on this colt. I labeled him as a synthetic specialist with turf proclivities following his visually impressive score in the El Camino Real Derby, and was stoutly opposed to him in both the Sunland Park Derby and Lexington. I doubted that he would be able to make the transition to dirt given his decidedly turf-oriented pedigree. While there have been a few notable exceptions, Scat Daddy is best as a turf sire and this colt’s female family is loaded with classy turf influences. He even moves like a turf horse, loping over the synthetic surface at Golden Gate like a gazelle romping across the plains.
Yet sometimes horses are not exactly what they appear to be, and handicappers must admit that their first impressions may have been wrong. I misjudged Anothertwistafate. He ran very well in the Sunland Park Derby, and probably would have won that race had his rider steered him into the clear any earlier. The speed figures out of that event, which seemed high at the time, have withstood scrutiny. Winner Cutting Humor returned to run just one point lower with a wide trip in the Kentucky Derby, and fourth-place finisher Wicked Indeed repeated the same speed figure next time out. In retrospect, there was no reason to dismiss the Sunland race as a fluke, and Anothertwistafate’s performance in the Lexington suggests that we probably underrated him. While Lexington winner Owendale lost ground going wide on the turns, he also benefited from the opportunity to gain momentum at a critical juncture of the race. Meanwhile, Anothertwistafate had been placed in a precarious position between and behind tiring horses approaching the top of the stretch. By the time Javier Castellano had worked him into the clear, Owendale was already long gone.
The 117 TimeformUS Speed Figure that Anothertwistafate earned in the Lexington is the second highest number in the field, only behind Improbable’s 118. He’s twice proven that he relishes nine furlongs, so he is arguably better suited to this Preakness distance than any of his rivals. His connections have handled him admirably through the prep season, and the decision to tab Jose Ortiz as his rider is highly encouraging. Breaking from an outside post position with a long run to the clubhouse turn, Ortiz should have plenty of time to get a feel for the colt, steadily coaxing him into a good rhythm while stalking the pace. If he kicks for home with the same finishing power that we have seen out of him in all of his prior starts, he will be a force to be reckoned with in the last furlong.
Anothertwistafate will be a more enticing price than both Improbable and War of Will, and there’s evidence to suggest he may be just as talented as those favorites. The selection.
#13, WIN WIN WIN (15-1): He split the field in the Derby, never really threatening to get involved at any point after a somewhat tardy start. Michael Trombetta adds blinkers for the Preakness, but this plodding son of Hat Trick may need more than an equipment change to turn the tables on rivals like Improbable and War of Will. He appears to have lost all of the early speed that he once possessed, and I believe Bourbon War is a more talented late runner with greater upside. Using only on deep exotics tickets.
Selections: 12 – 4 – 5 – 1
Improbable (#4) is a deserving favorite and the most likely winner of this Preakness, but I’m not willing to accept a very short price on him in such a competitive race. My top pick is Anothertwistafate (#12), and I will bet him to win at odds of 5-1 or higher while also keying him in exotics wagers. I’ll primarily use him with the likely favorite, War of Will (#1) and Owendale (#5).
Exacta Key Box: 12 with 1,4,5
Exacta: 12 with 2,3,7
Trifecta: 4,12 with 4,12 with 1,2,3,5,7,11,13
Trifecta: 4,12 with 1,2,5,7 with 4,12
Trifecta: 12 with 1,5 with 1,2,3,5,7
Superfecta: 4,12 with 4,12 with 1,2,5,7 with 1,2,3,5,7,9,11,13