On Track With Johnny D: Preakness Stakes Analysis and Selections

The dust has settled on Kentucky Derby 145. The lawsuits haven’t. If you’re either a Country House or Maximum Security fan there hasn’t been much time to celebrate or to cry over spilled milk. Two weeks between first and second legs of the Triple Crown provide little recovery time for man and beast. The ship already has sailed and, in fact, now is docked at Baltimore’s inner harbor.

Maximum Security ran his bay rear-end off in Louisville. No surprise he’s not in Baltimore. Country House originally was scheduled to appear but is sidelined with an illness. Connections of original third-place finisher Code of Honor immediately passed on Preakness. Tacitus, originally fourth in the Derby, will point for the Belmont Stakes.

So, who’s in Charm City for the Preakness party? Anyone? Anyone at all?

You bet. 13 of them will fill the gate. Few are familiar faces. The Derby favorite Improbable will be here representing pretty much the same folks that owned Justify last year’s Triple Crown winner. Trainer Bob Baffert rides along, too, hoping for a record-setting 8th Preakness victory. War of Will, mugged near the top of the stretch in the Derby, is back for more, and so is the ambitiously-named Win Win Win and maiden Bodexpress, originally 10th and 14th in Louisville, respectively.

A fierce group of new faces awaits. Local sensation Alwaysmining, Camino Real Derby winner Anothertwistafate, Derby also-eligible Signalman and Lexington hero Owendale are more than ready to meet the challenge.

Below is one man’s analysis of this 144th Preakness Stakes, including a suggested wagering strategy.

  1. War of Will 4-1       Casse/Gaffalione

He rode the rail throughout in the Kentucky Derby—perfect-tripping after breaking from the dreaded #1 hole. Then the field turned into the stretch… That’s where War of Will briefly became meat in a Derby sandwich. How much you estimate that incident affected War of Will is key to your opinion regarding his chances in the Preakness Stakes. If you think he was terribly compromised by the now famous Derby incident, then you probably love him in the Preakness. On the other hand, if you think his bumper car-moment was no more than a minor hip-check and that he had plenty of time to recover, then you’ve might look in another direction. Yours truly feels strongly both ways. I don’t believe the Derby incident severely harmed War of Will’s chances in the Derby. He had ample time to recover after the bump and to finish in the money. He didn’t. He faded to 8th. But here’s the tricky part: War of Will is a decent horse; at least he was until he was slightly injured out of the gate in the Louisiana Derby. Draw a line through that effort and War of Will’s last meaningful race before the Kentucky Derby came 2 ½ months earlier in the Risen Star, which he easily won. That means this son of War Front probably needed the Kentucky Derby to build his wind. He should be much fitter in Maryland. That he drew the rail again is a statistical anomaly, but it shouldn’t be a hindrance and he might enjoy a similar ground-saving trip like he had in the Derby, minus the collision, of course. He’s got to be around on tickets somewhere.

  1. Bourbon War 12-1                 Hennig/I.Ortiz

This son of Tapit made his graded-stakes bones when runner-up to Kentucky Derby original show horse Code of Honor in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes. The duo also was less than one-length apart next out in the Xpressbet Florida Derby. Before that Bourbon War registered an Aqueduct maiden and Gulfstream allowance tally. This colt has no speed and is at the mercy of the early pace. If it’s slow, he’s got no chance. However, the pace of the Preakness figures at least energetic, so he may have a shot at an exotics position. Reportedly, thin blinkers will be added in an effort to keep him a bit more focused.

  1. Warrior’s Charge 12-1     Cox/Castellano

Here’s a sharp knife that enters Preakness off a pair dominating performances at Oaklawn Park. He was supplemented to the race at a cost of $150,000 in a calculated gamble by an ownership group that understands risk versus reward. Watch him use his speed from the inside to play come and catch me early. An intriguing early matchup will involve this guy, War of Will from the inside and Alwaysmining from the outside. If they get silly up front the closers will be licking chops. It’s the race within the race and worth the price of admission. Since both most recent wins came in wire-to-wire fashion, it’s hard to imagine Hall-of-Fame jockey Castellano surrendering the early lead unless absolutely forced to. He could hang around long enough to juice exotics.

  1. Improbable 5-2                   Baffert/Smith

The Kentucky Derby favorite didn’t have the best of trips in Louisville, but it wasn’t a horror show either. He was blocked and between horses for nearly the entire Derby distance. Once clear in the stretch, he really didn’t kick it in. He didn’t back up in the lane like War of Will did, but he wasn’t closing much ground on the leaders. He’s faced the best foes of any of these Preakness runners and has attained the best speed figures. Those are undeniable positives. He deserves to be the Preakness favorite and should run his race, especially for Baffert-Smith connections. However, this will be his fourth race and a short amount of time and he’s not really that dominant in here. While we expect him to appreciate a cut-back in distance from the Derby, he’s far from unbeatable. Baffert’s a late arrival to the Baltimore experience this year and his comments on the race have been less than encouraging. Expect to find Improbable racing off the early pace and in front of the dead closers. How much he can gain in the lane is the real question. At a short price he’s no bargain.

  1. Owendale 10-1                 Cox/Geroux

Following an 8th-place finish in the Risen Star the son of Into Mischief’s connections had to be dejected. Then came a rousing win in the Lexington Stakes and a longshot chance to start in the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately) Owendale didn’t have enough points to run for the roses. That seems to have been OK with trainer Brad Cox who says this one has finally put it all together. Directly behind him in Lexington was Anothertwistafate, a foe he will re-engage in Baltimore. With 8 career starts Owendale’s got plenty of experience and only one race to suggest he might good enough to win this. Good news for backers is that his best race came in his most recent start. The bad news is that the water gets deeper Saturday. He requires some early pace to set up his closing charge.

  1. Market King 30-1     Lukas/Court

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has won more Triple Crown events than anyone except Bob Baffert. Therefore, it’s difficult to count a horse he saddles out of the mix. However, a big run from Market King would be a surprise. He did finish third to Omaha Beach and Game Winner in the Rebel Stakes, but this son of Into Mischief’s front-running/pressing style really doesn’t fit in here. He figures to have lots of company early.

  1. Alwaysmining 8-1 Rubley/Centeno

This local Laurel star and gelded son of Stay Thirsty is going for his 7th consecutive win by a combined margin of more than 27 lengths! He’s got speed or can sit just off the pace. Visually, his races have been breathtaking, dominating. Who has he been beating? Ah, there’s the rub! Marquee names in company lines include Win Win Win—10th in the Derby and also entered in the Preakness; Gray Magician–2nd in the UAE Derby and 19th in Kentucky version; and Joevia—winner of the ungraded Long Branch at Belmont last out and unplaced in the Grade 2 Wood. That’s far from Murderer’s Row. Overall, this gelding has made 12 starts and won 7—all at Laurel. He’s never raced at Pimlico, but the Preakness is in Maryland. Does that count? He’s certainly good at the right time and his last two outings have produced competitive figures. He’s a wild card in here that has to be respected, but is difficult to totally embrace.

  1. Signalman 30-1 McPeek/B. Hernandez

This son of General Quarters never has run fast enough to win this race and hasn’t improved much since his 2-year-old successes—2nd in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity; 3rd in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile; and winner of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club. He’s got no speed but did race much closer to the pace last out in the Blue Grass at Keeneland when third behind Vekoma. Those tactics took him out of his game, and he had little for the finish. Trainer Ken McPeek was upset that this charge didn’t make the Derby starting lineup. Now, his horse will have a chance to show he belonged. He’ll need to really jump forward but we’ve seen worse 30-1 shots as inclusions in exotic bottom rungs.

  1. Bodexpress 20-1                Delgado/J. Velasquez

Second to original Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security in the Xpressbet Florida Derby, this son of Bodemeister has yet to win a race. He’s 0-for-6 with 3 seconds and has been in the ring with some heavyweights–the aforementioned ‘Security, and the then-streaking Hidden Scroll. And Bode’s recent Kentucky Derby experience has to count for something. We don’t see him making too much noise in the Preakness.

  1. Everfast 50-1 Romans/Rosario

A really last-minute addition to the Preakness lineup he would be a huge surprise. In 4 recent graded stakes he’s been 2nd in the Holy Bull; 8th in the Fountain of Youth; 9th in the Florida Derby and 5th in the Pat Day Mile. He was 128-1 in the Holy Bull. History will need to repeat in Baltimore and that’s not likely to happen.

  1. Laughing Fox 20-1                 Asmussen/R. Santana

This son of Union Rags won the Oaklawn Park Invitational Stakes on Derby Day in Arkansas and earned a scholarship into the Preakness Stakes. Based on his record, it’s a good thing he didn’t have to pay to get into the race because he’s got to step up in a big way in here. On the plus side, he also accounted for Oaklawn allowance and maiden victories this winter.

  1. Anothertwistafate 6-1                   Wright/J. Oritz

This guy ripped off three consecutive wins at Golden Gate this winter over a synthetic surface. The last of those wins came in the El Camino Real Derby where he demolished a field of 11 challengers. While the verdict was unanimously positive on this one’s synthetic track ability, the jury remained in deliberation regarding the colt’s ability to handle dirt. In the Grade 3 Sunland Derby, the son of Scat Daddy waited behind horses until the stretch. It took him several strides to find clear running room, but when he did, he came flying late with bad intentions. Unfortunately, his charge fell a neck short. In his last race, the Lexington at Keeneland, he again waited inside in an uneasy position until very late. A final push couldn’t match the sweeping, wide move of Owendale at the wire. With 3 wins and 5 of 6 in-the-money efforts, this guy hasn’t run a poor race since his first start in a Santa Anita maiden race. He ought to be strategically-placed in the Preakness under 2017 Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz. Unfortunately, two things happened Wednesday to diminish our enthusiasm for this colt: First, he drew the 12-hole. While that’s not a death sentence it’s not parole either. Second, he’s listed at 6-1 on the morning line, no real bargain and at least 4 points lower than we expected. Still, this colt will be a major factor in our Preakness wagers.

  1. Win Win Win 15-1                 Trombetta/Pimentel

A late addition to this year’s Preakness, this son of Hat Trick finished 10th in the Kentucky Derby. Before then he finished 2nd to fellow Derby starter Vekoma in the Blue Grass. Add a 3rd in the Tampa Bay Derby to Tacitus and a win in the Pasco Stakes and you get a pretty accurate picture of this guy’s ability. He’s consistent—7-3-2-1—and usually races from off the pace. Expect to see him trying to drop back and save ground from the 13-hole. He has the rapid seven-furlong Pasco to his credit, but he’ll need to improve off his most recent efforts to threaten. Blinkers go on for local trainer Michael Trombetta.

Bottom Line: This is a difficult race to handicap because the early pace is unclear. #3 Warrior’s Charge must go for the lead. How determined to set the pace will #1 War of Will be from the inside? He pulled at his rider while just behind the pace in the Kentucky Derby. Joining that pair in the vanguard should be #6 Market King and #7 Alwaysmining. ‘King is more likely to force matters while ‘Mining should rate outside. #12 Anothertwistafate under jockey Jose Ortiz must find a place to duck in behind the speed without losing too much ground into the first turn.

How this struggle for the early lead unfolds will have a great deal to do with the final outcome. If there’s no real hurry, #3 Warrior’s Charge could become dangerous. #1 War of Will will be in a good spot, too. If frontrunners get in too much of a hurry #4 Improbable would benefit from mid-pack, but closers like #2 Bourbon War, #5 Owendale and #8 Signalman come into play.

We’re estimating that the early pace will be solid but not outlandish. If we’re wrong about that, we easily could be wrong about the finish, too.

Should Run Well: #12 Anothertwistafate

Vulnerable Favorite: #4 Improbable

Can’t Ignore: #1 War of Will

Exotic Add: #3 Warrior’s Charge,

For Superfecta Lovers Only: #2 Bourbon War, #5 Owendale, #7 Alwaysmining, #8 Signalman,

Not on Tickets: 6 Market King, 9 Bodexpress, 10 Everfast, 11 Laughing Fox, 13 Win Win Win

Suggested Wagers ($96):

$1 Trifecta ($72)

1, 3, 4, 12

1, 3, 4, 12

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12

$1 Trifecta Box ($24)

1, 3, 4, 12

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Preakness Stakes Analysis and Selections

On Track with Johnny D |