Update: Full Preakness results are here.
There is an old adage in horse racing: "pace makes the race". On paper, the 2012 Preakness looks like the textbook embodiment of that phrase as a pace scenario much different than the Derby is likely to produce a different outcome.
Flashback two weeks ago to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs where a cavalry charge of 20 horses fly down the front stretch after leaving the starting gate. Horses possessing a great amount of natural early speed - horses like Hansen, Trinniberg and Bodemeister - never have a chance to relax in the early stages of the Derby due to the presence of other speed horses. The intense pace wilts Trinniberg and Hansen by the time they reach the top of the stage and, eventually, wears down a game Bodemeister in the final furlong.
In this year's Preakness, the pace looks to be much, much softer, something the connections of Bodemeister must be relishing heading into Saturday's race.
After his attempt to go gate-to-wire in the Derby fell just short in the final 100 yards, one might think that the connections of Bodemeister would be hesitant to put this colt on the lead in the Preakness. But trainer Bob Baffert understands that speed is king, and lone speed is deadly. There doesn't appear to by any horses in this Preakness field with the early speed necessary to keep up with Bodemeister in the first quarter to half mile. And those that can keep up might be costing themselves a chance at a victory by engaging in a duel with the Derby runner-up.
Bodemeister's path to victory is dependent on two things occurring at Pimlico on Saturday. First, he must be fully recovered from his Derby effort. Many times, when a horse runs a hard fought and physically taxing race, he'll have difficulty performing at his best in his next start. Given the sizzling fractions Bodemeister set in the Derby, there is a legitimate concern as to how much gas he'll have in the tank for the Preakness. Trainer Bob Baffert is confident his horse is ready to run a winning race but we won't know for sure until the gate opens and the running begins.
The second thing Bodemeister needs in order to win the Preakness is for the rest of the field to decline to challenge him in the early stages. While I've already noted that none of the horses in this field have the natural early speed to run with Bodemeister out of the gate, a jockey could decide to send his horse hard early in the hopes he can duel the morning line favorite into submission. The problem with that strategy for the horse that decides to challenge Bode in the first quarter mile is that it is highly likely that the challenging horse will blow any chance at victory by engaging in a speed duel. In other words, is a jockey going to "take one for the team" by putting the pressure on Bodemeister right from the gate? That may be a good strategy to deny Bodemeister the win but that might be all a tactic such as that will accomplish.
I just don't see any of the other horses exerting heavy pressure on Bodemeister in the early stages. After the post position draw there was talk that the Derby winner, I'll Have Another, might challenge the Baffert colt in order to prevent him from stealing the race on the front end. I'm not sure that's a winning strategy for I'll Have Another; he's run his best race by sitting a length or two off of the lead, not by challenging speed horses right out of the gate.
Earlier this week I wrote a profile of Preakness contender Creative Cause in which I noted the incredible amount of ground he lost during the Derby, something that I believe gives him a big shot for a big improvement in the Preakness. The post position draw did nothing to change my opinion on Creative Cause and maybe strengthen my belief that this colt is going to be right there at the finish. Trainer Mike Harrington noted recently that he believes Creative Cause runs harder in the later stages when he's inside of horses, as opposed to racing on the outside. It's that true, his draw inside of both Bodemeister and I'll Have Another could set him up for a perfect trip.
I won't be surprised if any of the Derby horses (sans Optimizer and Daddy Nose Best) come back to win the Preakness due to a big talent and class gap between them and the new shooters. Therefore, I'm going with Bodemeister for the win and I'll play him hard in exactas with Creative Cause. Additionally, I'm going to play very thin tris and supers with Bode and Creative Cause in the top two spots.
The payouts aren't likely to be huge in the Preakness due to the presence of horses deserving of low odds, which means that to make money you need to have and play a strong opinion.