|The Derby infield aftermath, which resembles our picks|
But until Mendelssohn, we haven't picked a horse that finished DAFL, much less one that lost by over 70 lengths. While there are excuses we can make - Ryan Moore wrapped up the horse when he knew he had lost, making the margin of loss seem worse than it was; Mendelssohn didn't like the slop in the Derby; Aiden O'Brien noted the horse wasn't ready for the hoopla of Derby Day - they're all meaningless.
As horse players, we know there's only one solution after absolutely bombing a race: turn the page, and move on to the next race. Which is this Saturday's Preakness, as Justify tries to stay undefeated and go to Belmont in line to be the 14th Triple Crown winner, and the second for Bob Baffert in 4 yeras. So let's take a look at the tiny field for Saturday's race. As usual we'll count down the entrants from least likely to our pick, and provide our fair value line along with the morning line. The forecast for Saturday at Pimlico looks grim, so the track might be sloppy and taking that into consideration.
Ah, Baltimore in May
7. Bravazo. (ML: 20-1; FV: 67-1) Rebounded from his garbage 8th place finish in the Louisiana Derby to run 6th in the Kentucky Derby, which sounds okay, until you realize that he was 2 lengths from finishing 10th and lost ground in the stretch. Some people will point out that Oxbow ran 6th in the 2013 Derby for trainer D. Wayne Lukas before rebounding and winning the Preakness at a price. But Oxbow did that off a brutal trip in the Derby and by stealing the Preakness on the front end, which has been the usual way to pull off an upset in the Preakness. We're not seeing that here.
The Wrong Newcomers
6. Sporting Chance. (ML: 30-1; FV: 50-1) The management at Pimlico must hope that Lukas keeps training horses until he's 110 years old, because without him, we would have microscopic fields every year for the Preakness. This is his #2 hope in this race, who won the Hopeful at Saratoga last year but hasn't won anything since. We thought he rated a huge chance in a race on the Derby undercard when he turned back from 2 turns to a 1-turn mile. He flopped miserably, finishing behind horses that were 39-1, 35-1 and 25-1. Now this may be attributable to him not liking the slop, which would be great if rain wasn't in the forecast for Saturday. Even if by some miracle it's dry, there's little indication this guy has moved forward since the Hopeful.
5. Diamond King. (ML: 30-1; FV: 50-1) This year's holder of the Magic Weisner Memorial Trophy, which goes to the locally based horse that wins the Federico Tesio stakes, is the subject of a few write-ups in the Baltimore/DC area press as the local hope, and never, ever, ever does anything productive in the race. Since Magic Weisner scared the crap out of War Emblem in 2002, the last Tesio winner to finish in the money was Icabad Crane in 2008 where he ran a well-beaten 3rd to Big Brown. There's no reason to think this guy is on the same plane as either of those two horses, let alone the real contenders in this race.
|I don't know. Therefore: ALIENS.|
Had Dortmund been trained by anyone else, we think the trainer waits 5 weeks and runs him in the Belmont. But it was Baffert, and he knew American Pharoah had a real shot at the Triple Crown. And we think Baffert also knew he needed the two horses to square off one more time, lest people criticize him for playing favorites or that AP's Triple Crown bid was tainted because he kept him apart from his talented stablemate. And we also think Baffert felt that Dortmund would be more dangerous off a 5 week break. So to get to the desired endpoint, he ran Dortmund right back in the Preakness, essentially knowing that he wouldn't be 100% against American Pharoah, and that if he won with Dortmund, well, then American Pharoah didn't deserve the Triple Crown anyway. Lo and behold, Dortmund ran a blah 4th in the Preakness and American Pharoah won the Triple Crown. (In possibly related news, Baffert no longer trains for Dortmund's owner.)
What does this have to do with Quip? Well, Quip is owned by WinStar Farms, who also owns Justify. After Quip ran an okay second in the Arkansas Derby, WinStar's manager Elliot Walden said they would pass on the Derby and point to the Preakness instead. Which made sense - Quip doesn't look like a stiff, but has seemed a level below the top echelon of horses, as his "big" race was winning the Tampa Bay Derby at 19-1 over second-tier horses. Except now his Derby-winning stablemate is running as well, and there's no chance in hell that Walden and WinStar would want one of their horses to spoil the other's Triple Crown chances. If this guy were a real threat to Justify, we think WinStar would have pulled him and pointed to something else, like last week's Peter Pan or the summer races, because almost nobody would have said "Justify's Triple Crown is tainted because he didn't face Quip." That they're running him in the Preakness anyway says to us they don't think he's going to be competitive for anything besides a minor check. Which in fairness, we don't either.
The Interesting Longshot
3. Tenfold. (ML: 20-1; FV: 15-1) We admit that we're take a stab on this guy on the come, because his race record is pretty light with indicia that he can be competitive here. But there are some positive signs. An extremely well-bred horse - his father Curlin won this race in 2007; his damsire is the stellar Tapit - like Justify, he was late to take to the track, making his first start in February in a 2-turn race going 1 1/16 miles. He won that easily, as well as his next start, an allowance race at the same distance. Trainer Steve Asmussen - who's won this race twice - pressed his luck and put him in the Arkansas Derby, where he ran 5th, but was less than a length from finishing 2nd. He didn't qualify for the Derby, so here is in the Preakness with 5 weeks of rest. His breeding indicates that he'll enjoy a wet track (there's heavy turf breeding on his grand-maternal side, which often overlaps with wet track success). And there's upside here, unlike with a lot of the other entrants. We think he's going to have a tough time against the two obvious contenders, but isn't out of it to win if they both falter or run each other into the ground - a la Cloud Computing last year - and is definitely live to hit the board at a price.
Nah, Not Seeing It
2. Justify. (ML: 1-2; FV: 5-2) Sure, let's double-down on being stubborn. We picked against him in the Derby for a host of reasons that we'll still defend, and we were just wrong. It happens. Now he enters the Preakness, which is really Bob Baffert's wheelhouse. He's won the race 6 times, and all four of his Derby winners repeated in the Preakness. (His other two winners were beaten Derby favorites Point Given and Lookin at Lucky.) Justify answered some huge questions in the Derby: he didn't mind the slop, he didn't mind the quick pace, and the relative lack of experience wasn't a negative.
Paramutually, there is absolutely no value in betting Justify to win on Saturday. The last 5 Derby winners all went off in the Preakness at odds between 1-2 (California Chrome) and 6-5 (Always Dreaming). We think Justify will probably be close to California Chrome's odds. Even if we're being a little more generous with our "fair value" line, there's no way he's better than a 50/50 proposition to win. And yet, the majority of the field is so nondescript that we can easily see him escaping with an easy lead and just cruising home. We have a tough time getting him out of the trifecta unless he duels with someone into submission, but on top prefer...
1. Good Magic. (ML: 3-1; FV: 2-1) We were more impressed with his Derby performance than most - he sat near the quick pace, made a run at Justify, and while he couldn't get by him, he didn't really fade either. (Sure, maybe Audible was second-best with his bad trip, but that's not relevant here.) It's clear that Good Magic was fine with the slop, so if we get an off track, that's not a negative. He's worked out well since the race.
Most importantly, we trust trainer Chad Brown. Brown won last year's Preakness with Cloud Computing by making an excellent tactical play. He scanned the field, saw that it was top-heavy, knew his horse Cloud Computing was improving and in decent form, and concluded that he stood a good chance to pull the upset if Always Dreaming and Classic Empire both faltered, his lack of experience be damned. When the two favorites dueled each other into defeat, Cloud Computing used a perfect stalking trip to take advantage and swooped in to win.
Brown's comments this week have been similar - he knows that if you're going to beat Justify, this is probably the race to do it, when the turn back is quick and his horse won't be at a tactical disadvantage. He also knows this is Good Magic's last race for two months (he's already said he's not running in the Belmont, and is pointing next for the Haskell/Travers), so there's no reason not to run him hard here and give him a rest afterwards. We think this is going to be a replay of the 2012 Preakness with the roles of I'll Have Another and Bodemeister flipped: Justify tries to steal the race on the front end, Good Magic patiently waits, and runs him down in the stretch.
How to Bet
Honestly, we'd be surprised if either of the top two choices offered any value in the win slot. Our tactic is to try to spice it up with Tenfold, so we'll box the three of them in trifectas, and use Tenfold in exactas with each of the top two entries, a little heavier with Tenfold in the 2nd slot, and a little heavier with Good Magic up top.
Good luck to all and enjoy the Preakness!