On Track with Johnny D: 2017 Preakness Selections

Below is one man’s humble analysis of the field for the 2017 Preakness Stakes, including post, horse, trainer, jockey and morning line odds. A suggested $2 superfecta wager ($96 total) is offered in The Bottom Line.

  1. Multiplier B. Walsh/Rosario 30-1

The Grade 3 Illinois Derby winner ships to Pimlico fresh from that Hawthorne triumph in his fourth lifetime start. On the plus side, he’s never been worse than third and his Beyer Speed Figures continue to rise. However, three of Multiplier’s four starts were against maiden foes and he often breaks a bit slowly. That won’t help him against this group—by far the toughest he’s ever faced. True, 3-year-olds improve at this time of the year, but he’ll need to move forward again and we don’t think that’s likely in here.

  1. Cloud Computing C. Brown/Castellano 12-1

With just three starts under his girth, Cloud Computing is the most inexperienced runner in the 2017 Preakness. That’s okay. What he lacks in seasoning he makes up for in talent. After breaking maiden in February at Aqueduct, he returned in March to finish second in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes and third in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial in April. Connections skipped the Derby in order to allow him to mature. In that time he has posted two notable bullet five-furlong works over the Belmont training track in 1:00 1/5—one over a ‘good’ surface and the other over a ‘fast’ track—and a crisp :48 4/5, second-best of 32 at the distance that morning, also over the Belmont training track. Chad Brown, Eclipse Award winning trainer in 2016, ordinarily does not work his horses that fast, so the moves suggest sharpness. Expect Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano to put Cloud Computing in a stalking position just behind the Preakness leaders. Is he good enough to put it all together and win the Preakness in just his fourth start? That’s a big ask but, if he’s improved since the Wood, he just might have enough quality to fill a significant exotic slot.

  1. Hence Asmussen/Geroux                         20-1

Highly regarded in this corner before the Kentucky Derby, Hence didn’t do much running in Louisville. Still, he managed to finish in front of nearly half of the field. Better was anticipated, though. So, what was his excuse? Maybe he didn’t like the sloppy Churchill surface? That’s possible. Upon further review, his normally long, fluid strides appeared compromised on the slippery surface. Can Derby backers trust him to bounce back with a top effort in the Preakness? That’s a difficult call but, at big price, forgiveness fits. Because of his deep closing style he’ll be compromised by a lack of early Pimlico pace, but it’s definitely a positive that trainer Steve Asmussen wheels this one right back in the Preakness. Apparently, based on the conditioner’s post-Derby quotes, he was as confused and disappointed with Hence’s performance as the rest of us.

  1. Always Dreaming Pletcher/J. Velazquez                                  4/5      

Directly after his emphatic triumph in the Kentucky Derby, Always Dreaming moved to stall 40 in the stakes barn at Pimlico—housing traditionally reserved for but not always occupied by the Derby champ. The location was suitable enough for racing legends like Triple Crown winners Secretariat and Seattle Slew and many others but, for a variety of reasons, some trainers choose to stable Derby winners elsewhere. Always Dreaming is the first Derby winner to check into the historic stall since California Chrome in 2014. Honoring tradition, that’s nice. Now, for the important question: How’s Always Dreaming going to perform in the Preakness? Glad you asked. He will be too short a price for a ‘win’ wager, so a horseplayer’s got to find a way to solve the exotic wager puzzle. Is there a chance Always Dreaming will lose? Sure, nothing’s for certain. However, with the unfortunate injury and defection of Royal Mo–a confirmed speed horse—it appears Always Dreaming will have things pretty much his own way from a pace perspective, much like he did in the Kentucky Derby–no real quality speed to go with him and capable closers camped too far behind to catch up. For those attempting to upset him there’s this: Last two times out he has run two incredibly fast races; races that were way faster than anything he’d ever run before. Sometimes that can sap a horse’s strength and knock him out a bit. The quick, two-week turnaround between Derby and Preakness could exacerbate that issue. However, great horses do things that others can’t. Nearly all of the evidence points toward Always Dreaming heading to Belmont Park with a Triple Crown on the line.

  1. Classic Empire Casse/Leparoux             3-1

The 2-year-old champ started as third choice in the Kentucky Derby and earned plenty of respect from this horseplayer. Bumped hard out of the gate, Classic Empire raced well back early, closed ground around the turn for home and finished well enough to be fourth. He easily could have given up at any point in the race. Circumstances were not in his favor and yet he kept trying. Following the race, his eye was swollen shut, probably injured by flying mud. His deep closing style isn’t a positive in this Preakness. After all, there’s not a whole lot of pace to chase. However, this guy is quality. He’s overcome significant hurdles in his limited career and continues to fight. It would be difficult to construct exotic wagers without including his number.

  1. Gunnevera Sano/M. Smith 15-1

Impressive Xpressbet Fountain of Youth victor Gunnevera hasn’t duplicated the quality of that March win. He was a well-beaten third in the Florida Derby and, similarly, was distanced in the Kentucky Derby. His Venezuelan connections, including twice-kidnapped trainer Antonio Sano, drew sentimental mutuel support in the Derby and the $16k Keeneland September yearling purchase did the best he could under the circumstances—no pace, off track, crowded field, etc. Mike Smith will replace recent regular rider Javier Castellano in the saddle for the Preakness. That’s a wash, trading one Hall of Fame jock for another. Gunnevera will need more early pace in the Preakness than he’s liable to see, so his chance for success is limited. ‘Gunny’s big adventure in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth may have been a performance too good to be repeated. Still, it’s the fastest race any Preakness starter has ever run and that deserves respect. 

  1. Term of Art O’Neill/J. Ortiz 30-1

He’s another Preakness starter that would benefit from a fast early pace that probably won’t materialize. He broke maiden over Sonneteer (still a maiden but 2nd in Rebel, 4th in Arkansas Derby and 16th in Kentucky Derby) going a mile at Santa Anita in October. Connections then exhibited supreme confidence in the Tiznow colt and entered him in the BC Juvenile, but that didn’t go well and he was beaten nearly 20 lengths. Less than one month later, in his next start, he won the Grade 3, off-the-turf Cecile B. DeMille at Del Mar over a good track. Since then he has been beaten by at least six lengths in four starts. A big Preakness effort would be a major surprise.

  1. Senior Investment McPeek/C. Hill                                 30-1

This colt upended Keeneland’s Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at odds of 11-1. He rallied from well off the pace that afternoon to score by a head in a blanket finish. While he has won four of his last five starts, he will be a big price in the Preakness. That’s partly because his Lexington score is his only stakes tally. He’s another that would appreciate a contentious early Pimlico pace, but might not get one. Paired or rising Beyer Speed Figures in eight consecutive races are a plus. He hasn’t quite run fast enough yet to figure in the Preakness picture, but longshot players will be hoping for immediate improvement. We’ll challenge him to beat us.

  1. Lookin At Lee Asmussen/Lanerie 10-1

We’ve been a fan of this one since November when he closed ground to finish fourth behind 2-year-old champ Classic Empire, highly regarded Not This Time and multiple Grade 1 Stakes winner Practical Joke in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita. He’s yet another Preakness starter with no early speed and Lookin At Lee will be hard pressed to duplicate his perfect, rail skimming Kentucky Derby runnerup performance. While he’s been ‘in the money’ in some important 3-year-old races, ‘Lee hasn’t actually won a race since August at Ellis Park! His Beyer Speed Figures printed in Daily Racing Form past performances have paired or improved in each of 10 career starts! That’s a rare accomplishment. Will he continue to improve and make his presence felt in the Preakness? Possibly in the exotics, but he’ll need the pace to melt in front of him like the Wicked Witch of the West. Tab ‘Lee and Hence–co-Asmussen Preakness starters–for potential Belmont glory.

  1. Conquest Mo Money M. Hernandez/J. Carreno 15-1

After making the first four starts of his career at Sunland Park, in New Mexico, this son of Uncle Mo took his game to the majors in the Arkansas Derby and nearly pulled off a 17-1 upset. He led deep into the stretch, but was collared late by a determined Classic Empire. Connections decided against posting a $200k supplemental fee to start in the Derby, but will cough up $150k to be eligible to run in the Preakness. Conquest Mo Money finished second in the Sunland Derby to Hence, also a starter in the Preakness. The biggest win in ‘Mo’s short career came in the Mine That Bird Derby at Sunland where he defeated eventual Blue Grass winner Irap. He figures to be racing close to the early Preakness pace and cannot be dismissed from the Charm City exotic picture. Jockey Jorge Carreno is a low-profile journeyman with a single graded stakes tally on his resume. In 101 career North American career victories, trainer Miguel Hernandez has earned less purse money than Preakness second choice Classic Empire has in just eight starts—around $2 million. If you want to root for an underdog in the Preakness then put your hopes firmly behind this colt–a bargain $8,500 purchase as a 2-year-old at the Keeneland November sale. At least he’s got speed in a field lacking that commodity.

The Bottom Line

Strictly the One to Beat: #4 Always Dreaming

Should Run Well: #2 Cloud Computing, #5 Classic Empire

Exotic Inclusions: #3 Hence, #6 Gunnevera and #9 Lookin At Lee, #10 Conquest Mo Money

Not For Me: #1 Multiplier, #7 Term of Art, #8 Senior Investment

Suggested Play:

$2 Superfecta ($96)

First: 4

Second: 2, 5, 9

Third: 2, 5, 6, 9, 10

Fourth: 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10

Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: 2017 Preakness Selections

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