Thursday, May 19, 2016

2016 Preakness Preview

We're at a loss trying to think of a horse we've been wrong about more frequently than Nyquist.  So far we have publicly picked against him in the Breeders Cup' Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby; he's made us look foolish both times.  Privately, we've wagered against him another two times, and he won both of those races with ease.  Usually we're wrong with horses that constantly tease us by showing greatness that never actually puts it together.  (See: too many examples to count.)  Nyquist is the opposite.  He's already proven that he's a top quality horse; middling horses don't five Grade 1 races.  Our attempts to harp on flaws has kept us from picking him time and time again, perhaps just ignoring that he's really good.

But does that mean he's going to win the Preakness?  Let's count them down.  In a slight change from the past, we are not going to assume the track is fast - the forecast for Saturday in Baltimore is dreadful, so we're instead assuming there's a fair bit of moisture in the track.

They're Just Trying to Annoy Us

11.  Laoban.  Another maiden?  Really?  Can we put a stop to this please?

Make Sure You Spend Time at the Inner Harbor

10.  Fellowship.  He broke his string of uninspiring third-place finishes by running an even less inspired 4th in an undercard race on Derby Day.  This is trending in the wrong direction.

9.  Lani. His Derby was a little better than expected in that he actually finished the race ahead of half the field.  Of course, he had trouble leaving the gate, was never remotely in contention and didn't beat a horse of consequence, so it's not like we learned that he's the second coming of Sunday Silence

Cannon Fodder

8.  Awesome Speed.  It's the Tesio winner!  Annually we enjoy noting the winner of Maryland's local prep race that hasn't produced a good horse since we received First Communion.  This guy's record against poor horses in Maryland is utterly fabulous, and some people are actually interested in him because the horse he beat in the Tesio (Governor Malibu) came back to run a decent second in the Peter Pan.  That means nothing to us - Governor Malibu was gaining on a horse that was stretching out by 2 furlongs and would have been passed by a quality horse.  Also this colt is early speed in a race with a ton of other early foot.  Look for him to connect early with...

7.  Abiding Star. ...a horse that's won 5 straight races.  Somehow, in his last 4 wins, he has beaten a total of 17 horses, which seems impossible even in this day of smaller foal crops.  There's actually some vaguely interesting breeding here, but he's more early speed with no indication of latent staying power, which means he'll get fried competing with Awesome Speed and...

6.  Collected. ...the winner of the Lexington Stakes.  People often think that a good performance in the Lexington makes you a Preakness contender, and point to Lexington winner Touch Gold's outstanding 4th in the '97 Preakness as evidence.  That's just wrong.  The Lexington produced useful horses for the Preakness at one point; besides Touch Gold, Charismatic won it in '99 (with the Derby in between) and Classic Cat clunked up for 3rd after winning the '98 Lexington.  The next Lexington winner to hit the board in Maryland?  Divining Rod last year. 

The truth is that the Lexington doesn't get great horses.  It is generally the last-chance stop for horses desperately trying to make the Derby or a prep race for second-tier Preakness horses.  The Lexington gets horses that are competitive in the Preakness only if a lot of things go wrong with the contenders.  We don't see that here, and the fact that Collected is going to be on the lead with a lot of other speed makes it more likely that he finishes last than first.

The Interesting New Horses

2006 Preakness Winner Bernardini
5.  Stradivari.  We bet that any prognosticator that's picking a winner besides Nyquist and Exaggerator is going with this guy.  And it's not without reason - he has solid breeding, a fast win in his last, and is trained by Todd Pletcher.  And comparisons to 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini are inevitable - he also was well-bred and well-connected and entered off a blowout win against lesser company.  But we think it's a facile comparison.  This horse has only made one start this year: an allowance race where the only other good horse faded horribly after a half-mile, basically leaving Stradivari running uncontested for the final 5 furlongs.  We don't think he learned anything from the race and the margin of victory is meaningless.  By contrast, when Bernardini won the Preakness, he already had three starts in the year and had faced stakes company before the Preakness.  Stradivari hasn't done any of that, and we think that's a huge knock. We don't like a horse coming into a classic off of one race in 5 months.  And he's going to be wildly overbet: we think the 8-1 morning line on him is high.  He's got a shot to hang around for a piece but we prefer others.

4.  Cherry Wine.  This guy's case is pretty simple: he's one of two true closers in a race with a lot of early speed and he likes a wet track.  Can't see him winning.  Easily can see him closing for 3rd or 4th while never threatening the winners.

3.  Uncle Lino.  There are some things to like here.  He's had four straight solid performances in stakes races, even though he still hasn't won a graded stakes yet.  After pressing the pace and fading in the San Felipe, he sat off the pace just a little bit in the Santa Anita Derby with somewhat better results - he didn't fade in the stretch, but Exaggerator blew by him in the slop while Mor Spirit outgutted him for second.  He seemed to build off that a little bit in the ungraded California Chrome last out - it was a wire-to-wire job, but with relatively reasonable fractions against a field without speed.  We do think that if jockey Fernando Perez has learned something, it's that this guy can sit off a hot pace and stalk.  Our hope is that this is exactly what happens - he watches 3-4 horses go flying in front of him, makes a solid move on the turn right with or before Nyquist, and gives it a shot down the stretch.  He may not be fast enough to compete with the top 2, but he might get a perfect trip and be on the upswing to hit the board.  Don't ignore him at 20-1 or so.


2.  Exaggerator. That Derby effort was pretty good.  It was a strong pace and he closed pretty stoutly into it, and was gaining on Nyquist late.  And he's going to get a wet track on Saturday, which moves him up in theory.  He has a huge shot and it would surprise nobody if he won the black-eyed susans, but we're siding with...

The Pick

An...interesting version of Nyquist's trainer
1.  Nyquist.  No, this is not a reverse jinx.  It's us coming to reality.  We don't think Nyquist is unbeatable.  We just don't think there's a horse in this race that's going to beat him.  Lani stinks.  6 of the 8 new shooters would have to run a career top to get 3rd.  Stradivari and Uncle Lino are mildly interesting but have to make up a lot of ground to win and have Nyquist regress.  Which leaves Exaggerator, who Nyquist has beaten all four times they've faced.  Fool us once, etc.  We think the race is going to set up perfectly for him, as he'll sit 4th or 5th about 3-4 lengths off the hot pace, and start running on the far turn once the pacesetters wilt.  And will have too much left for Exaggerator to pass in the stretch.  For the 3rd straight year, we think a Triple Crown will be on the line Belmont day.

Good luck to all and enjoy the Preakness!

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