Pharoah looks like the Preakness winner

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What looked to be a short field signing on for this year’s Preakness Stakes seems to be getting bigger as we move closer to the big race this Saturday. We will take a look at the ones who we think will go and some that could go.

One thing we know for sure is Baffert will be sending out his two big runners – American Pharoah, the winner of the Kentucky Derby, and Dortmund, who finished third after leading most of the way. The second place finisher Firing Line, who ran huge despite never changing leads down the lane, will also be in the lineup and his jockey, Gary Stevens, says he will change leads in the Preakness. Danzig Moon, who finished fifth in the Derby, was thought to be going to Canada to run in the Queens Plate since he was bred in Ontario but his connections said they will take one more shot. We think they should have crossed the border and gone to Canada.

Some others we know for sure that are going will be Divining Rod, winner of the Grade III Lexington. He ran third behind Carpe Diem in the Grade II Tampa Bay Derby but will lose his jockey Leparoux, who will ride Danzig Moon. The connections as of Monday were searching for a jock.

Also confirmed is recent maiden breaker Tale of Verve, a big closer. He will need to be shot out of a cannon to win this race; no cannons allowed at Pimlico!

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas really wants to run Mr. Z and it looks like Zayat gave him the go. Why, is the question on my mind, but Lukas is who he is. This colt, who has just one win in 13 lifetime starts, needs some time off; come on D. Wayne, that’s not Maulden.

Also in the lineup will be a colt by the name of Bodhisattva, which is a Buddhist name meaning motivated by great passion, and these connections must have some passion. This colt owns a win over the course and that is all the passion he has going for him.

So the main question is where are the Todd Pletcher runners? As I said at our seminar at Palace Station, the main reason Pletcher has such a hard time winning the Kentucky Derby is the time frame. He has a pattern with his runners and he likes to give them around 6 weeks between races, so the time frame does not fit his training pattern.

Carpe Diem, who had never been worse than second in his career vs. top quality runners, finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby. He was down on the rail but as the chart writer says, “he remained in range under a ride into the lane then faded.”

Pletcher’s lightly raced Materiality had an interesting trip to say the least as he hesitated at the break and was off 17th. He remained four wide to the head of the lane, angled to the inside of the tiring Mr. Z in upper stretch, flashed some interest gaining to mid-stretch but failed to sustain his run. Pletcher, who also trains the undefeated Competitive Edge, would need to bring this up-and-coming colt back in just 14 days after winning the Pat Day Mile on Kentucky Derby day; don’t think that will be in the cards.

Where does that leave us? Bob Baffert is not a stranger to this situation as he has been in this position three times: War Emblem, 2002, who won and then had a poor break in the Belmont and lost; Real Quiet, who won the Preakness in 1998 and looked all the winner of the Triple Crown down the lane but got nailed on the line; and in 1997 Silver Charm, who also ran lights out in the Belmont but lost late to end his Triple Crown run.

Baffert has the aces with Dortmund setting up an honest pace with the lead-changing and possibly over bet Firing line on his tail. American Pharoah, if he is as good as Baffert says, will get the job done in the Preakness, and it would be no surprise to see the same finish we saw in Derby.

I remember 1973 when Sham could not get to Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness and he was a beaten horse in the Belmont; and I remember the great three Triple Crown races in 1978 between Affirmed and Alydar. What great battles these two put on, especially in the Belmont when it looked like Alydar would prevail but didn’t.

This is what racing needs and hopefully we will see it again with this crop of 3-year-olds. And, if American Pharoah wins the Preakness, we could have that great race again in the Belmont Stakes, which would not only be great for the sport of racing but for the city of Las Vegas, and our race books know how to do it up on big days.

Get out and make a bet, you just could be walking around lucky and not even know it.

Richard Saber, a former director of race and sports at the famed Stardust book, is GamingToday’s horse racing and sports handicapper. Follow Richard on Twitter @SabesBet. Contact Richard at [email protected].

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