As was the case before my column prior to the Kentucky Derby, I do not have the benefit of the actual field or the post position draw for Saturday’s 143rd running of the 1-3/16 mile Preakness Stakes.
It is assumed of course that Justify, the undefeated Kentucky Derby winner, will be in the starting gate. This seems especially so because everything has gone so smoothly for this impressive colt, trained to the minute by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
As Baffert said in a communication exchange Sunday morning:
“Except for the minor heel bruise which was quickly back to 100 percent, Justify came out of the Derby great… We’re shipping to Baltimore on Wednesday and he will not have a formal workout; he will just gallop into the race. At the bottom line,” continued Baffert, “he looks terrific, just like he did going into the Derby.”
Yet, all has not gone so smoothly for Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.
Fact is, Smith was handed a controversial four day-suspension for a ride that has left a lot of people wondering what the California stewards were watching. That said, an obscure companion rule says the suspension will not cause Smith to give up any mounts on important stakes, which the Preakness certainly is.
Basically, Smith’s mount Achira was not taken down from first to second in a Santa Anita allowance race on Sunday, May 6, even though the stewards blamed him for Achira grazing the second-place finisher nearing the wire. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of observers – in and out of the press – said Smith “actually did all he could to prevent the interference,” yet he was suspended. Go figure!
Meanwhile, back to the Preakness, which will draw post positions on Wednesday, it seems likely Good Magic, a respectable second in the Kentucky Derby, will be back for another try in the Preakness. The same seems likely for the Derby’s 12th place finisher, Bolt d’Oro.
Others under consideration include Quip, who was second in the Arkansas Derby for trainer Rudolphe Brisset and has worked well for his return in the middle jewel of racing’s Triple Crown. Also likely to run are Calumet Farm’s lightly accomplished Pony Up, as well as the Maryland based Diamond King, winner of the Federico Tesio at Laurel last month.
Meanwhile, a pair of interesting long-shots, trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, are probable starters – Bravazo and Sporting Chance. Lukas, just like Baffert, certainly knows his way around Pimlico, as both have won the Preakness six times during their Hall of Fame careers.
Bravazo, sixth in the Derby with some traffic issues in the 20 horse-field, and Sporting Chance a troubled fourth in the Pat Day Mile, made positive impressions galloping and training over the Churchill Downs racing surface last weekend and are headed to Baltimore.
“Bravazo is a tough dude,” Lukas said. “I wish the race were today. He’s ready to give his best,” quickly adding, “Sporting Chance is a lot more talented than he’s shown this year.”
To validate his point, Lukas pointed to Sporting Chance’s victory in Saratoga’s prestigious Hopeful Stakes last summer. He now believes this colt “is ready to recover that Grade-1 form soon, maybe even Saturday. I see it every day out there, but,he needs a clean trip to show it in the afternoon.”
Luis Saez will ride Bravazo for the first time in the Preakness and Luis Contreras will ride Sporting Chance.
In conclusion, Lukas did confess: “I wish I had Justify, It’s certainly his Triple Crown to lose. There’s no horse out there right now that can stop him, even though this is a very good crop of 3-year-olds and you can’t concede anything. My job is to spoil the dream.”
Another longshot, Tenfold, has joined the Preakness field and trainer Steve Asmussen admits he is just taking a chance after a bad trip when Tenfold finished fifth in the Arkansas Derby. He will be ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr.
The field is expected to be completed by the John Servis trained Diamond King, a four-time winner from six career starts in less fashionable company. His jockey will be Hall of Famer Javier Castellano.
That said, a possible late addition could be the Tom Amoss’ trained Lone Sailor, who might be underrated despite finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby. A decision will be made on his status when post positions are drawn.
For my money, I agree with Lukas – this is Justify’s race to lose. And, I’m nearly certain he will go to the post at odds hovering at or below 50 cents on the dollar.
If I actually play the race, I will take him on top of the two Lukas horses, along with Good Magic and Quip in a possible Trifecta play. But, to be perfectly honest, I would just love to see Justify win the Preakness, so we can go forward with a legitimate Triple Crown bid.
It’s always highly entertaining when a potentially great horse actually reaches the top of his game under pressurized circumstances.