The most amazing thing about this year's Kentucky Derby isn't the pace, winner, or order of finish. It was that the race was cleanly run. No horse had a poor or severely compromised trip--remarkable for a field of 19 developing 3-year olds. While the pace was slower than expected, that only helped horses stay out of trouble, as there were no tiring horses to avoid.
Can we expect more of the same in the Preakness? Probably not. Let's count down the field from worst to best.
In a Word, No
14. Isn't He Perfect. If this guy wins, we will believe that May 21 is in fact the day of the rapture and say our final novenas. We're not worried.
13. Flashpoint. Fast as all hell out of the gate, he's bred up and down to be a wonderful sprinter, and proved that by dominating the 7 furlong Hutchenson. Now he comes in off a fading finish in the Florida Derby to try 1 3/16 miles. The Racing Form's commenter says it perfectly: "perhaps he could get nine furlongs under the right circumstances." This is longer and is not the right circumstances.
12. Norman Asbjornson. In his third career start, a Pennsylvania state-bred maiden race, he ran 9th of 11, posting a 24 Gowanus Speed Figure. Thankfully, he's improved a little since then. Note that I didn't say that he's improved a lot.
11. Concealed Identity. Is blind in one eye and a gelding--i.e., had his genitals intentionally cut off. This horse has been through enough trauma that losing badly to horses with twice his talent will seem like a picnic.
10. King Congie. In his two dirt starts, he's lost by a combined 31 1/2 lengths. Given that he just finished behind Brilliant Speed and Twinspired, who did absolutely nothing in the Derby, we're struggling to see any appeal, outside of the story of the late man he's named after will be fodder for NBC's maudlin pre-race telecast.
Keep Trying, Keep Failing
9. Astrology. Every year there are a few horses that are consistently bet hard despite having not much of a record to justify it. This year, one of them is Astrology. While it's true that he's never been out of the money, he's only one race that's even remotely fast, and that was over the slop. Much of the appeal for this guy was his good record at Churchill Downs, but that's meaningless here. And in his last 3 races, he's lost to Santiva and Twice the Appeal, two horses that made little impact in the Derby. It's hard to see why we should think he'll improve enough to contend here, especially when he'll be bet to 10-1 or so.
8. Sway Away. Some will try to make a case for this guy because he has one of the fastest GSF's in the race (his San Vincente) and it's arguable that he got a bad ride in the Arkansas Derby, where he made a somewhat premature move. Whatever. This guy hasn't won since his first race last June and ran his worst two races around two turns. We think he's a 1-turn closing sprinter and will eventually make an impact. In the King's Bishop in August.
7. Midnight Interlude. Well, there's always the Louis Quatorze phenomenon. But it's hard to see why we should like this guy on Saturday when he completely no-showed in Louisville. He had a perfect trip. He didn't have any traffic trouble. And when called on for more, he stopped running. Now yes, any horse that's only run 5 times is eligible for improvement in his sixth start. But the Baffert factor alone is going to make this guy around 8-1. His actual chances of winning are far, far lower than 12%, and he's a horrible value play.
6. Dance City. Along with Astrology, here's the other "wiseguy" horse that didn't run in the Derby. We suppose there are some things to like, given that he was only a length and change behind Nehro in the Arkansas Derby, and Nehro ran a bang-up second in the Kentucky Derby. But we're still unconvinced. His sire (City Zip) is a crackerjack sprinter and this guy has always gone right to the front. We think he does so again here, and gets fried dueling with...
5. Shackleford. He's probably going to be the 3rd choice in the race, on the theory that the slightly shorter distance will help him. But let's take a step back and examine his last two races. He ran 2nd in the Florida Derby because nobody else broke well and he was left alone on the lead, which allowed him to be a contender for 8 1/2 furlongs. In the Kentucky Derby, he made the lead again, but somehow slowed the pace down to the slowest pace we've seen in over 40 years. Even with that perfect a trip, he had nothing left in the final furlong. So yes, he's got a right to improve, but he's probably not going to get as soft a pace this time around, and he certainly isn't going to sit chilly--he's going to the front. With some legit speed types in the race (Flashpoint, Dance City), we don't see how he gets away with another slow pace, and in the end, think he's closer to the back of the pack at the end.
4. Dialed In. If Animal Kingdom wins this race, he'll take home $600,000 (60% of the purse). If this guy wins, he'll take him $6.1 million. Really? Well, yes. In arguably the dumbest promotion ever, Frank Stronach's parent company, Magna--which owns Pimlico, Santa Anita and Gulfstream--put together a series where winning the Holy Bull, Florida Derby and Preakness will give you a $5.5 million bonus.
This bonus makes absolutely no sense. It didn't add to the quality of the field of any of the three races. It didn't bring any fans out to the track. It did nothing besides make one horse--Dialed In--more likely to run in the Preakness for a bonus that's completely out of whack with his talent. If he wins the Preakness, he will be one of the 10-highest earning horses of all time.
Magna, you want to do something useful? Take 20% of this bonus money and add it to the Preakness purse. We see owners skipping the Preakness every year, saying it's too soon to run after the Derby. Add a million to the purse, bringing it in line with the Derby, and let's see how many horses stay away.
(steps off soapbox)
As to Dialed In's chances, he certainly has a shot to hit the board but the Derby did nothing to change our belief that he's at heart a sprinter best suited for 1-turn races. Yeah, he closed like a shot into a slow pace. Big deal. The Derby was run akin to a turf race--extremely slow at first, then a dash to the finish. The fact that he's in Secretariat's league with final times is meaningless. Put Big Brown, Silver Charm, hell, even Monarchos in this year's Derby, and they too would have had a sub-48 second closing half mile.
Given the quicker pace scenario and the lack of horses that seem classy enough, we can't say you should leave him off your triples and superfectas. But to win? At 3-1? We're not seeing it.
3. Mucho Macho Man. "Honest" is the best word we can use to describe this guy. He's never run a bad race, generally finds himself just off the lead and in contention at the top of the stretch, but never seems to win the big one. It was evident in Kentucky that this guy has a little maturing to do--he didn't change leads in the stretch and remember, he's a June foal--but will probably be around late. But he had every right to take on Animal Kingdom and wasn't really close at the end. We see no reason he'll turn the tables, but also see no reason that he won't be in the superfecta.
2. Mr. Commons. We know we just bashed Midnight Interlude, who this guy lost to in his last race. So how are we backing him as a contender to hit the board? Four reasons:
- Trust the connections. John Shirreffs is notoriously patient, as he proved with Zenyatta. They wouldn't be here if they didn't think the horse was fit and ready.
- Tactical speed. We're less interested in a dead closer, as discussed above. This guy is a stalker, which should fit perfectly with the pace scenario.
- Strong workouts. This guy's workout line looks like he's sitting on a good race, having followed up a decent showing in the Santa Anita Derby with a bullet workout, then two strong 7-furlong drills. The trainer looks to be getting him fit for the race and the horse looks like he's responding.
- Price. You tell me who's more interesting: Midnight Interlude at 8-1 or this guy at 30-1. Thought so.
1. Animal Kingdom. How ballsy of us to pick the Derby winner to repeat. But why not? There isn't a single horse in the Preakness that looks scary. Everyone in the Derby had a clean trip and got to run their race. (For Dialed In supporters who say he didn't, then why wasn't he closer to the pace? Nehro's a closer and he was appropriately placed near the front when Corey Nakatani figured out they were moving at a snail's pace.) There aren't any new shooters that look imposing like Red Bullet or Bernardini.
To bet against Animal Kingdom, you have to be betting that Dialed In, Midnight Interlude or Mucho Macho Man is going to take a huge step forward while Animal Kingdom regresses. We think that's very, very unlikely, and actually think that if you get 5-2 on him, you're getting a very square price.
How to Play the Race
As we said, we think Animal Kingdom is value in the win pool at 5-2 or better: his odds of winning are much better than 30%. The key to betting the race is beating the also-rans from the Derby. So key him over some of the price horses, because if Dialed In doesn't show up, it's wide open for the triples.
Good luck and enjoy the race!