No Derby winner hurts Preakness’ cachet

May 15, 2019 3:00 AM

It is rare for the Kentucky Derby winner to be missing from the Preakness field. But that is the case this year.

Derby winner Country House will skip the Preakness after trainer Bill Mott discovered last week that the colt had a slight cough. With the short two-week turnaround, it was immediately decided he would not run this Saturday.

For just the fourth time in the last 60 years, the Kentucky Derby winner will not be in the Preakness field. Not since Grindstone was retired five days after the 1996 Kentucky Derby after sustaining a bone chip in his right knee has a Kentucky Derby winner missed the Preakness.

In 1985, the connections of Derby winner Spend a Buck opted for the Jersey Derby over the Preakness. The Jersey Derby had a $2 million  bonus if the winner of that race had also won the Garden State Mile and Kentucky Derby. Spend a Buck won all three.

Trainer Eddie Gregson passed on the 1982 Preakness with his upset Derby winner Gato Del Sol. He felt his horse was more suited to the Belmont and trained up to that race where he would finish second. Prior to Gato Del Sol in 1982, you’d have to go back 23 years to Tomy Lee in 1959 for the prior Preakness absentee.

But it's not just Country House passing on Pimlico. Joining him on the sidelines will be runner-up Code of Honor and third place finisher Tacitus. Maximum Security, who gamely finished first in the Kentucky Derby prior to the disqualification, is also not in the field.

While the Preakness lacks the intrigue associated to a Triple Crown sweep, it is shaping up to be a strong betting race with a field of 12 expected. There are a few Kentucky Derby participants who either struggled with the off-going or had difficult trips and some very sharp runners who didn’t earn enough points to qualify for the Derby.

The weather is always a concern. The Kentucky Derby has been wet in six of the last 11 years. The Preakness has been affected by rain in three of the last four years. The forecast for Baltimore on Saturday is dry with a temperature of around 76 degrees.

Two colts exiting the Derby will likely be the top two betting choices. Improbable went off as the 4-1 favorite in Louisville and ran fifth but was moved up to fourth and will be favored in the Preakness for trainer Bob Baffert.

It was very clear when watching the replay of the Kentucky Derby that Improbable hated the off-track. He was cocking his head for much of the race shying from the wet kickback.

War of Will, the main protagonist in Louisville that led to the disqualification of Maximum Security, will get heavy support, as well.

Cloud Computing (2017) and Rachel Alexandra (2009) are the last two winners of the Preakness to have not run in the Kentucky Derby. There are quite a few serious players who did not run at Churchill Downs. Two to consider are Owendale and Laughing Fox.

Owendale was a sharp winner of the Grade 3 Lexington at 13-1 in his last start. The Brad Cox trainee flopped with a wide trip in the Risen Star but had run well prior to that. His dam, Aspen Light, was unraced, but her sibling Great Hunter was a Grade 1 winner who ran third in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Laughing Fox won the $300,000 Oaklawn Park Invitational on Derby Day at 4-1 with a late, four-wide rush to win by a neck. Prior to that, he was fourth in the Arkansas Derby at 27-1 and a length behind Country House. Trainer Steve Asmussen won this race in 2007 with Curlin and 2009 with Rachel Alexandra.

Play of the Week

The Play of the Week comes Wednesday in Race 7 at Indiana Grand. It is a maiden special weight on the grass.

Noble Descendant has had just one start. He was beaten nearly 40 lengths at Turfway on the synthetic track going 6 furlongs. That wasn’t the race they were pointing to. He is significantly bred for the turf with 2002 Arc de Triomphe winner, Marienbard, in the female tree.

He gets the rail, the blinkers come off, gets first-time Lasix and has been gelded since last raced.

Trainer Ben Colebrook is 23 percent with a second timer in MSW on turf getting first Lasix. Noble Descendant is 15-1 on the morning line. Post time is 2:03 PT. 

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