The Preakness occupies a strange place in the Triple Crown sequence; as the middle leg of the series, a colt can't win the Triple Crown with a victory at Pimlico but it can sure lose it. And unlike the Belmont Stakes that depends so much on whether a Triple Crown is on the line, there is always the chance we could be watching a Triple Crown winner in the Preakness, even if those hopes are dashed at the end of the mile-and-three-sixteenths journey around Old Hill Top.
The winner of the Kentucky Derby always attracts a lot of attention at the Preakness and this year is no different, as Orb's performance in Louisville and his connections are the backdrop to a wonderful story for this three-year-old son of Malibu Moon. The hopes and dreams of horse-racing fans for an end to the Triple-Crown drought rest firmly on the four legs of Orb.
Let's take a look at the field for Saturday's Preakness:
1-Orb (Even): He looked good in the weeks leading up to the Derby. He looked good in winning the Derby. And he has looked good in the two weeks following the Derby. It takes a lot to impress a longtime trainer like Shug McGaughey, but Orb has done exactly that over the last month. He should be ready to run another big race on Saturday and the pace looks to be favorable for a horse looking to close from the rear of the field.
2-Goldencents (8/1): The connections stated that he didn't care for the sloppy track at the Derby and that's probably true, but it remains to be seen whether he can produce a top effort with his inside draw and all the speed to his outside. Jockey Kevin Krigger is going to try to get this colt out on or near the lead on Saturday, but the sprinter to his outside, Titletown Five, is going to put a lot of pressure on Goldencents from the second the gates open.
3-Titletown Five (30/1): A colt with a nice background story given co-owners Paul Hornung and Willie Davis, Titletown Five has yet to run a race that suggests he can perform his best while running at two turns. He tried to stalk the pace in the one-mile Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 27 and finished fourth in a race that looks pretty weak on paper. He needs to get good in a hurry to beat Orb or any of the other top contenders in this race.
4-Departing (6/1): There's a lot of talk about the Illinois Derby winner and his chances of pulling off the upset at Pimlico on Saturday, and it's easy to see why when you look at his past performance lines. He hasn't run a bad race in his career and his third-place finish in the Louisiana Derby looks pretty good after both Revolutionary and Mylute came back to run well in Louisville. He's most likely going to sit off the pace in the early stages, which should be the perfect tactic in a race that looks to have a good amount of early speed breaking from the gate.
5-Mylute (5/1): The second choice on the morning line, Mylute backed up his good run in the Louisiana Derby by finishing fifth at Churchill Downs two weeks ago. Like Orb and Departing, he can run from off the pace and he should have plenty of speed in front of him to soften things up in deep stretch. I think there is still a bit of a question as to whether Mylute really wants to run the classic distance of a mile and a quarter (or the Preakness distance of a mile and three-sixteenths), as he was passing a lot of tired horses in deep stretch at the Derby. He could be tough to play if his odds stay in the 5/1 range.
6-Oxbow (15/1): It's hard not to be impressed with the race Oxbow ran at the Kentucky Derby. Sure, he finished sixth and was clearly beaten by Orb, but he was the only speed horse in the field that didn't completely spit the bit at the top of the stretch. That being said, he still has a tough task in the Preakness, as there are speed horses to his inside and his outside. His best chance is to go to the lead (he's never won a race where he didn't lead gate-to-wire), which will mean Gary Stevens has to be quick from the gate if he wants Oxbow leading the field into the first turn.
7-Will Take Charge (12/1): He didn't get the best of trips in the stretch drive when he had to check to avoid some tiring horses, so I think it's safe to say he probably finishes a bit better than eighth without trouble. At the same time, I don't think the traffic issues caused him to lose the race but rather cost him a few places, not a victory. Will Take Charge is probably a good colt to play in your exactas, trifectas and superfectas.
8-Govenor Charlie (12/1): The winner of the Sunland Park Derby, Govenor Charlie is a Bob Baffert trainee that likes to show off his early speed, like so many of the Baffert horses. As written several times in this preview, there is a good amount of speed in this race and Govenor Charlie will likely have to fight with Oxbow, Goldencents and Titletown Five if he wants the lead heading into the first turn. Originally slated to run in the Derby, Govenor Charlie had to skip the race due to a minor foot issue that caused him to miss some training time in April. It remains to be seen whether he's fit enough to win this race.
9-Itsmyluckyday (10/1): Like Goldencents, his connections were pretty adamant that he didn't care for the sloppy/muddy track at Churchill during the Derby, but I also think it's possible that he didn't care to be racing seven lengths off the pace at the half-mile mark when he typically raced within a length or two of the lead in his prior victories. Unfortunately, if Itsmyluckyday is just a length off the lead on Saturday, he'll likely be part of a strong pace that could cause him to use up valuable energy prior to the closes making their run from the back of the pack. He gets a jockey change to John Velazquez, which could be a big plus.
It's tough to go against Orb in this race, given how good he looked in Kentucky and the fact that none of the horses that ran second, third or fourth are running in the Preakness. Additionally, he should once again get a good, strong pace at which to run, allowing Joel Rosario to settle the big colt near the rear of the field in the early stages. He may be even money on the morning line but the power of the crowd will probably pound those odds to 4/5 or 3/5 by post time, making it very hard to play him in the win pool. However, there may be some money to be had in the exacta pool if we can get a price in the second spot.
Departing looks like a strong challenger and will be on my exacta and trifecta tickets, along with Will Take Charge and Itsmyluckyday, a couple of colts I think could bounce back nicely from their Derby performances.
I'll play Orb above Departing, Itsmyluckyday and Will Take Charge for varying amounts depending on the will pays, but will generally be looking to play the Orb with Departing exacta two or three times harder than the Orb/Itsmyluckyday and Orb/Will Take Charge ticket. I'm going to forgo the "saver" tickets and not play Orb beneath those horses; I'm banking on him winning in order to keep the cost of my tickets at a reasonable level.