Thursday, May 17, 2012

2012 Preakness Preview

Well that was an enjoyable Derby.  Some years the Derby is not fulfilling, as you get a winner that makes no sense and you know isn't very good (Giacomo in '05, Mine That Bird in '09).  Some years the race and result are disappointing because you know the class stinks and that there's a winner by default (War Emblem in '02, Super Saver in '10, Animal Kingdom in '11).

The years that we find the most fun aren't those with transcendent winners like Fusaichi Pegasus, Barbaro or Big Brown.  It's the years where the winner and those behind him all looked strong, on the improve, and like they could develop into nice horses.  The prime examples of this were 2001 and 2007.  2001 had superstar Point Given defeated by Monarchos, the blazingly fast Congaree, and very interesting hard hitters in Invisible Ink, Dollar Bill and AP Valentine.  No, not all of them developed into stars, but it made for a fun year.

We saw this again in 2007, when Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday established themselves in the prep races, Triple Crown and fall as a superior class of horses.  And it was evident from the Derby that the group could be special: in addition to Street Sense's powerful win, Hard Spun ran a gallant second while on the lead the whole time (sound familiar?), and Curlin ran 3rd in his 4th career start.  Though Any Given Saturday ran a poor Derby, all the indicators were there that he was a good horse, and he validated that in the summer.

It's a little premature to put this crop in that class, especially when the Derby's speed figure came back an oddly low 101.  But we have a lot of horses in this class that ooze talent and potential and have performed well repeatedly.  We think this is going to be a fun Preakness and Belmont.  Let's count down the second leg of the Triple Crown, starting with those who are up against it to our eventual pick.

Look Out Below!

11.  Pretension.  Every year there's local horse that won a prep race in Maryland, takes a shot in the Preakness, and is sent off at huge odds.  The last one of these to come in the money was Magic Weisner in 2002 (at 43-1).  All others since then have been uncompetitive.  Given his only efforts against good horses were poor finishes in the Gotham and Illinois Derby, he's going to continue this streak of futility.

10.  Optimizer.  Lukas' stakes losing streak stands at over 120 and growing.  It's starting to get sad, Wayne.

9.  Tiger Walk.  With a pair of wins at Laurel, he's 2-for-2 in races in the State of Maryland and 0-for-5 in races elsewhere.  I have now listed all of his positive attributes.

8.  Cozzetti.  Not only was he uncompetitive against Bodemeister in the Arkansas Derby, finishing a well-beaten 4th, he was mostly uncompetitive against Prospective in the Tampa Bay Derby, finishing a well-beaten 3rd.  For those who have forgotten who Prospective is, he was the longest shot in the Derby and ran to his odds, finishing 18th, only beating horses that pulled up lame or were eased.

7.  Teeth of the Dog.  Likely to be the most heavily bet of the 5 that didn't run in the Derby, the action is primarily going to be based on his decent 3rd in the Wood Memorial at 53-1.  Of course, the horses he lost to, Gemologist and Alpha, were nowhere to be found in the Derby, so I'm not sure where exactly that gets him. 

The Teases

6.  Daddy Nose Best.  He regains his former jockey Julian Leparoux -- he of the multiple horrible rides on Union Rags -- and while he didn't have the best trip in the Derby, his route wasn't from Hades either.  Given that he really only has one very good performances in 11 starts, his Sunland Derby win is starting to look like a fluke, and we think this is his last dirt start, followed by some success on the grass.

5.  Creative Cause.  What horse ran the longest race in the Derby?  This guy right here, a/k/a, our pick.  The horse racing trackers that they put in the ponies' saddles reveal that this guy, wide on all turns, ran more feet than everyone in the race when finishing 5th.

Some would see that as a sign that he'll improve in the Preakness.  We disagree.  We do think he's honest and talented, but think we've already seen his best races, which aren't good enough.  There was no particular reason he couldn't have finished the Derby as strongly as the horses that ran 1-3-4, but he didn't.  He doesn't appear to have improved much since last year, with his only "great" start being the San Felipe, when an immature Bodemeister blew the race late.  And his failures in the Juvenile, SA Derby and Kentucky Derby are starting to add up -- he looks like a level below the best of the class.  He'll be successful long-term, but we don't see a lot of upside here, especially at what's going to be a short price.

Because We Need One Wacky Prediction

4.  Zetterholm.  We freely admit that this is a stab.  This guy has never had any success outside of New York-bred races, and has yet to crack an 85 on the Gowanus Speed Figure scale.  But here's a few facts to support this guy coming in the trifecta at about 40-1:
  • In the last 14 Preaknesses, there have only been 2 editions where none of the new shooters hit the board.  3 newbies have won, but more importantly, 13 have finished in 2nd or 3rd.  
  • The two editions where none of the new shooters hit the board consisted of the deepest classes of horses in the last 14 years: the aforementioned classes of 2001 and 2007.  As we said before, this crop might be deep, but we're not sure it's that deep.
  • Generally, the new shooters that hit the board have been horses that haven't been running against the Derby contenders in the prep races, but passed on the Derby for the Preakness or didn't qualify on earnings.  They're usually improving horses light on experience (Rock Hard Ten, Eddington, Bernardini), or randoms that weren't in contention for the Derby itself (Magic Weisner, Scrappy T, Hemingway's Key, Macho Again, First Dude, Astrology).  If you're going to go with a new guy to hit the board, go with someone that hasn't lost to the Derby horses repeatedly.
Zetterholm fits this last category perfectly.  He's been in state-bred races, is improving, isn't horribly bred, and has the services of everyone's favorite trainer, Dicky Dutrow of Big Brown fame.  We don't think he can win by any stretch of the imagination.  But of all the new guys that are trying the race, this is the one we "like" the most, and think there's a real shot he clunks up for third.


3.  Bodemeister.  We won't lie: his second in the Derby was one of the best second place finishes we can recall.  After tearing off half-mile, three-quarter mile, and mile fractions that have made every horse in Derby history that ran as fast wilt, he was still game until the sixteenth pole.  To do that in your fifth career start suggests a superstar level of talent.

But we're against him here and think there's a real chance he finishes off the board.  First, history is not on his side.  Steve Crist noted earlier this week that Derby runners up have a terrible recent record in the Derby.  Specifically, there are a few horses that resemble Bodemeister:
  • Hard Spun, 2007.  Similarly to Bodemeister, he ran brisk fractions on the front end, wasn't challenged by a real contender until the 8th pole, when Street Sense blew by him.  He ran 3rd in the Preakness behind him and Curlin, and was never a factor to win. 
  • Closing Argument, 2005.  A bit of a stretch, because he was a longshot in the Derby, but he was near a torrid pace, and lead until the final yards of the Derby when our old buddy Giacomo passed him.  He was never a factor in the Preakness, finishing 9th.
  • Lion Heart, 2004.  The horse that Bodemeister reminds us of the most, he was a committed front-runner who was beaten by Smarty Jones in the Derby at about the eighth pole.  He didn't have much in the way of obvious speed to go after him in the Preakness, but regardless, multiple horses kept him honest, and he wilted at the top of the stretch, finishing 4th, beaten over dozen lengths.
We're also completely unconvinced that the narrative that he'll get an easy lead and cruise is right.  We think someone will keep him honest, and the grueling schedule he's had this year will catch up with him on the far turn.  If he's a complete freak, he can win.  We're just not sold that he's a complete freak, and refuse to accept 9-5 on this horse.

2 .  I'll Have Another.  The biggest knock on this guy is that it's unlikely he'll get as perfect a trip as his Derby trip. There, he sat comfortably off of Bodemeister's pace, had to navigate around zero horses, took dead aim at him in the stretch and won strongly.  Obviously, he's very talented, and we love that he's coming into the race relatively fresh, having only had two races since January.  And his tactical speed should be an asset -- we think there's a good chance that he's the horse that bothers Bodemeister the most.  But in the end it comes down to price.  We think he'll be around 2-1, and while he has a big shot to win, we don't think he'd win the race 34 times if they ran it 100. 

The Pick

1.  Went the Day Well.  This horse ran the second-most impressive race in the Derby.  Pressed back a bit at the start, he was placed at the back of the pack, which is not his game, went very wide into the far turn, and forced to rally late.  He closed like an absolute shot through the stretch, weaving a bit in traffic, and was 2 jumps from finishing second.  He has a strong kick that we like, and we don't think he'll be 10+ lengths off the pace on Saturday, more like 5-6 back.  He has a right to improve in his 4th career dirt start, is bred for the dirt and the distance, and has one of the best set of connections that you'll find.  We think he, more than anyone else, has the ability to take a big step forward on Saturday, and think he does so, making it two New York breds that win the Preakness in 10 years.

How to Play the Race

If you like Zetterholm as much as we do "underneath", consider keying the contenders over him in the exactas and trifectas.  And if you like Went the Day Well, bet him to win, because this may be the last time he's near 6-1.  So to make it official:

1.  Went the Day Well
2.  I'll Have Another
3.  Zetterholm
4.  Bodemeister


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