It’s nice to know that throughout this pandemic-infested, dumpster fire of a year one thing remains constant: Bob Baffert has the horse to beat in the Preakness. It’s been that way often over the last two and one-half decades and it’s that way again as he saddles Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite Authentic and barnmate Thousand Words, a Kentucky Derby paddock scratch. Baffert horses that have won the Derby are a remarkable 5-for-5 in Preakness (although it should be noted that they are 0-for-0 when the race is not held two weeks after the Derby). Baffert’s also been successful in Baltimore with two Derby also-rans Point Given and Lookin At Lucky.
Baffert often has said that winning Preakness with a Derby hero is easy. Why? Because a trainer doesn’t have to do anything more than to keep his horse healthy. Off a mile and one-quarter Kentucky Derby, he’s already fit. Baffert’s training regime of working horses fast in the mornings helps to ensure that they’ve got a solid ‘bottom’ and aren’t ‘knocked out’ by big efforts, like what’s required to win the Derby.
As remarkable as Baffert’s Preakness record is one of his horses still has to finish first Saturday before TSG head honcho Belinda Stronach will invite him to the infield cupola to accept one of the most valuable trophies sports. While Authentic seems…pardon the pun…authentic, once the gates open or even in the paddock before the race, anything can happen. Just ask Thousand Words.
A friend called this week to suggest that I forgo weekly race analysis and merely list my selections. He advised, “Nobody wants to read all that gobbledygook about the horses. Just tell us who you like.”
He has a point. To many, all that matters is cashing. They don’t care how the sausage gets made, they just want it to taste good. Fine. They’re invited to skip analysis and move directly to selections at the bottom of the blog. Problem solved.
However, many horseplayers enjoy the handicapping process. I’m a card-carrying member of that organization. Winning is fantastic, but I really enjoy making sausage. Our goal is to inform and educate fellow horseplayers. Hopefully, within the weekly drivel readers will unearth hidden gems of pertinent information, unconsidered angles, veiled pace scenarios; insight that leads to enhanced understanding and appreciation for what’s happening on the track.
I explained all of this to my friend who quietly listened. When I had finished, he said, “OK. So, who do you like in the next at Parx?”
The purpose of in-depth race analysis is so horseplayers can lose intelligently! Anyone can pick numbers out of a hat and cash a four-digit Superfecta ticket. But where’s the fun in that? Real enjoyment follows hours of analysis, scrutiny and keyboard pounding before ultimately losing a nose photo finish in in the final leg of a Pick 4.
That, my friends, is living!
Below is one man’s horse-by-horse analysis of the 2020 Preakness Stakes and suggested Superfecta plays, as well as analysis of Pimlico’s Late Pick 4 beginning with race 8.
1. Excession Asmussen/Russell 30-1
This graded stakes-placed son of Union Rags has just 1 win in 9 starts. He hasn’t raced since a runner-up effort at 82-1 in the Gr. 2 Rebel Stakes in April. That afternoon he rallied from last in a field of 8 to finish within three-quarters of a length of the talented Nadal. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen will saddle 3 colts in this race and this guy figures as the longest price in the group. He has worked every six days and has a bullet five-furlong work in 1:00 3/5 Sept. 22.
2. Mr. Big News Calhoun/G. Saez 12-1
Fired a ‘Big’ shot in the Kentucky Derby when third beaten less than 4 lengths at 46-1 odds. That race was so much better than anything he’s ever run before that it’s difficult to imagine he’d repeat such an effort so soon. There is some early pace in the race and if things should get silly up front, he’ll come running. Breaking from the 2-hole should help jockey Gabriel Saez ride the rail and save ground in the early going. If he should find room on the rail off the final turn, he could get a slice of the pie. He has improved Beyer Speed ratings in each of 8 career races, usually a good sign.
3. Art Collector Drury/B. Hernandez 5/2
Denied a start in the Kentucky Derby due to a minor-but-untimely hoof issue, this son of Bernardini has finished first in 5 consecutive races—4 for current trainer Tom Drury, Jr. and 1 for previous conditioner Joe Sharp. Overall, he’s got 5 wins in 9 starts and over $660k in earnings, including the Gr. 2 Blue Grass and the Ellis Park Derby, both contested at one mile and one-eighth. In the Gr. 2 Blue Grass, Art Collector decisively defeated Swiss Skydiver, a filly he meets again here. His last 3 wins all earned triple digit Beyer Speed Figures. That’s impressive, especially considering that 9-5 Preakness favorite Authentic sports a 2-race win skein with 2 consecutive triple-digit Beyers. Art Collector has early speed and should be in the mix from the start. Detractors will argue that Art Collector hasn’t proven himself against Gr. 1 competition. That’s true. Of course, Preakness will be his first try at that level. It also will be interesting to see how jockey B. J. Hernandez handles ‘Collector in the early going. They’ll need to break well and go to the front to keep Authentic from crossing over to the rail. If all goes well, ‘Collector figures to ‘ride the pine’ until #9 Authentic comes calling. That’s when the real race will begin.
4. Swiss Skydiver McPeek/Albarado 6-1
This talented filly will challenge the boys in the 2020 Preakness renewal and she’s not without a puncher’s chance. Second in the Gr. 1 Kentucky Oaks last out by less than 2 lengths to Shedaresthedevil, trainer Ken McPeek is willing to roll the dice with this filly in the Preakness. She’s got early speed and figures to closely stalk the pace. That puts her in the thick of things from the beginning in a race where major contenders all will be forwardly placed. She gets a 3-pound break in the weights at 123. Her Thoro-Graph sheet figures suggest she’s fast enough to upset this field and her development pattern is encouraging. She’s also managed a triple-digit Beyer figure while winning the Gr. 1 Alabama at Saratoga. We’re not as enthused about connections waiting until almost the last minute to commit to this race, but she’s got some positives on her side. One negative is that she already tried males in the Gr. 2 Blue Grass Stakes and was second best to Preakness morning-line second choice #3 Art Collector. Overall, this field is deeper than that one was.
Slight Win Contender/Exotics Player
5. Thousand Words Baffert/Geroux 6-1
He made it as far as the saddling paddock for the Kentucky Derby when something spooked him, and he went all Mary Lou Retton on handlers. His Louisville pre-race backflip earned high marks from the judges but also a scratch card from the track vet. No worries, at least not for trainer Baffert who saddled the winner of the race in #9 Authentic. This son of Pioneerof the Nile won the first 3 starts of his career, including Gr. 2 and Gr. 3 stakes before serving up two absolute duds. Off from April until July, he returned to finish second behind highly regarded stablemate Uncle Chuck in the Gr. 3 Los Alamitos Derby and then went wire-to-wire to defeat Honor A. P. to win the Shared Belief at Del Mar. He’s not as quick early as others in here but he’s got enough pace to be within hailing distance. Under clever handling from jockey Florent Geroux, he just might get a cozy journey right behind the speed. Interesting that blinkers go on for this race following a winning effort. The colt wore blinkers for the last 4 races before the layoff.
6. Jesus’ Team J. D’Angelo/J. Toledo 30-1
This colt has parlayed a pair of Gulfstream Park victories—a maiden $32k claimer and a $25k non-winners of 2 lifetime–into a sequence of races that peaked with a second in the Pegasus at Monmouth behind #10 Pneumatic and a third in the Gr. 2 Jim Dandy behind Mystic Guide. There’s no doubt this guy has blossomed in the second half of 2020, but Preakness is a big step up the competition ladder.
7. Ny Traffic Saffie/Karamanos 15-1
Sent off at reasonable odds of nearly 13-1 in the Kentucky Derby, this son of Cross Traffic didn’t have an adequate late response. An eighth-place finish in Louisville snapped a string of 5 consecutive in-the-money finishes for the Joseph Saffie-trained runner who usually races just behind the early pace. He was a last-minute addition to the Preakness field, so one wonders how much serious preparation he’s had and if he’s fully recovered from his Louisville letdown. Since the Kentucky Derby he has had just 1 posted workout.
8. Max Player Asmussen/P.Lopez 15-1
Fifth in the Kentucky Derby last out, this son of Honor Code continues a streak of solid but unspectacular performances. He ‘churned on’ in the final Louisville stages passing some tired foes. That was the colt’s first start for Hall-of-Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, so it’s reasonable to assume further improvement is possible in Baltimore—although former trainer Linda Rice did well with him before that. He’s closed ground late in each of his 6 career starts. From this seat the grinder’s not a serious win threat, but he certainly could finish in the money at a decent price.
9. Authentic Baffert/J. Velazquez 9-5
This son of Into Mischief has a lot going for him. He’s the 2020 Kentucky Derby winner, knocking off favorite and top-rated 3-year-old Tiz the Law in the process. Authentic didn’t just win the Derby, he dominated it from start to finish under a splendid ride by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. This colt has another Hall of Fame resident working his corner and that’s trainer Bob Baffert, who’s attempting to win a record 8th Preakness Stakes. Baffert is 5-for-5 in Preakness Stakes with Kentucky Derby winners and also succeeded at Pimlico with Derby also-rans Lookin At Lucky and Point Given. Authentic has won 5 of 6 races and nearly $3 million. His only loss was to Louisville fourth-place finisher Honor A. P. in the Gr. 1 Santa Anita Derby. He drew the favorable #9 post and, as in the Kentucky Derby, has other speed horses drawn inside of him. He’s worked splendidly at Churchill between Derby and Preakness—2 bullets: 5 furlongs in :59 1/5 Sept. 19 and 4 furlongs in :47 3/5 Sept. 28. It will be interesting to see if Velazquez urges Authentic to overtake #3 Art Collector early, or if the jockey is comfortable stalking his main foe.
One to Beat
10. Pneumatic Asmussen/J. Bravo 20-1
This son of Uncle Mo enters Preakness off a solid victory over Jesus’ Team in the Pegasus at Monmouth. That was this colt’s third victory and first stakes triumph in 5 starts. He won both of his first 2 races at Oaklawn Park in Feb. and April. He forced the early pace in the Gr. 3 Matt Winn before surrendering to much more experienced foes in Maxfield and #7 Ny Traffic. He also managed to finish fourth in the Belmont Stakes behind Tiz the Law, Dr. Post and Max Player. Those were solid performances for a lightly raced colt and suggest more is in the tank. Clearly, he’s moving forward right now. He posted a bullet five furlong on the Saratoga training track in 1:00 4/5 on Sept. 21. Trainer Steve Asmussen reports the colt is doing “extremely well.” Pneumatic will need to leap forward to win this race and that might be asking too much, but he’s an interesting exotic wager consideration at a big price. Breaking from the 10 post won’t make things easy and jockey Joe Bravo will need to find a way to save some ground.
Exotics at a Price
11. Liveyourbeastlife /McCarthy 30-1
With 2 wins in 8 starts, this son of Ghostzapper appears up against it in Preakness. Drawing the far outside 11 post didn’t help. He was an encouraging second to Mystic Guide in the Gr. 2 Jim Dandy, as he closed from fifth in the six-horse field to miss by a mere three-quarters of a length at 14-1. Before that he won a Saratoga allowance race to end a string of 5 consecutive losses. While he appears to have turned the ship around, he’ll need some extra strong wind in his sails to go against this tide.
The Bottom Line
This race appears a battle between Kentucky Derby winner #9 Authentic and #3 Art Collector. #3 Art Collector should go for the early lead to maintain his rail position. #9 Authentic should sit just off that one in second. The pair likely will travel like that until jockey John Velasquez, aboard #9 Authentic, decides to challenge the leader. If they hook up before the final turn, one of them should still win and the other might get passed for second. If they hook up later, like in the stretch, they should run one/two to the finish.
If #9 Authentic demands the early lead and #3 Art Collector permits him to take it, the above scenario would be flipped. However, if #3 Art Collector doesn’t ‘go’ early, it’s possible he could be trapped inside by #4 Swiss Skydiver and that probably isn’t ideal. #4 Swiss Skydiver is a bit of a pace wild card. She and jockey Robby Albarado could ‘gun’ for the lead, but that wouldn’t help her chances. She not as naturally as fast early as #9 Authentic or #3 Art Collector and would need to be ‘used’ to make the lead.
Of course, the break has everything to do with what happens in the first quarter mile. #9 Authentic broke slowly in the Derby but had enough quickness to make up for it. Can he afford to do that against #3 Art Collector?
One to Beat
#3 Art Collector
Should Run Well
#4 Swiss Skydiver, #10 Pneumatic
Trifecta and Superfecta Adds
#2 Mr. Big News, #5 Thousand Words, #8 Max Player
Suggested $100 Superfecta Plays
$2.50 Superfecta ($50)
8th Race 3
9th Race 9
10th Race 2, 4, 5, 8, 10
11th Race 2, 4, 5, 8, 10
$1.50 Superfecta ($30)
8th Race 9
9th Race 3
10th Race 2, 4, 5, 8, 10
11th Race 2, 4, 5, 8, 10
$.50 Superfecta ($20)
2, 4, 5, 8, 10
2, 4, 5, 8, 10
Late pick 4 Analysis
There’s not much separating these 2-year-olds going one mile and one-sixteenth on turf. Add to that the fact that turf racing in general is a bit of a crapshoot and you have a race that could produce a bomb payoff. Here are a few runners with positive angles.
#1 Pivotal Mission has had three solid races, adds blinkers, should save some ground from the rail and is supported by an outstanding trainer/jockey combination. He’s the favorite at 3-1 and figures. However, he’s not much faster than anyone else in here and he’ll need some good fortune to make his closing style work.
#3 Wootton Asset makes his first US start for trainer Graham Motion. This colt already has won 2 races in France and that’s at least one more win than any other horse in this race can boast. Still, neither of those victories came in graded stakes and both were at distances shorter than one mile.
#4 Kidnapped has speed and stretches out from five and one-half furlongs on dirt to one mile and one-sixteenth on turf. He paired his first two Thoro-Graph figures and that’s often a good sign third time out. This gelding should be on the lead early. One drawback is his trainer’s 0-for-42 record with first time turf runners.
#6 Arrest Me Red’s only start was a rousing success going five furlongs on turf. He should be able to stretch out effectively for top connections and is another that makes this race a difficult handicapping proposition.
#8 Hidden Enemy fired two solid efforts at Saratoga on turf. Neither was a winning effort, but both suggest this guy’s got talent. He’s another that can’t be easily ignored.
#10 Nautilus made his first and only turf start a good one when second at the Spa. Surrounding dirt races aren’t that impressive figure-wise, and the 10-hole is no bargain. Brad Cox and Florent Geroux have had a great season together this year.
Race 9—James W. Murphy
#4 Reconvene has won his last two races but makes his first start as a gelding. Why ‘cut’ a horse on a winning streak? 21% winning trainer Ben Perkins knows his stuff and jockey Joe Bravo returns for the ride. They are 19% together. This guy races from off the pace, so he’ll need to get a bit lucky and this is a step up in class after a pair of maiden claimers, a maiden victory and a first-level allowance score.
#7 Vanzzy won the Jersey Derby race before last and then had issues in the Gr. 3 Saranac over soft Saratoga turf. Toss that race. He ran pretty well in the Gr. 3 Kent Stakes at Delaware but faded late. That was at one mile and one-eighth, so the cutback should help. Jockey Paco Lopez has won on this colt before.
#9 Monday Morning Qb exploded on the scene—second to Preakness entrant Ny Traffic in a Parx maiden race and then winner of a maiden and a stakes race sprinting in fast time. He faded in the Withers when injured and was off from Feb. 1 until Sept. 7. He ran well to be second in the Federico Tesio Stakes at one mile and one-eighth last out. He has a bullet four-furlong Parx work for this. If he takes to the turf, he’ll be tough to run down.
#10 Don Juan Kitten has speed and nearly went wire-to-wire to win the Gr. 3 Saranac at Saratoga last out. A repeat of that race or the allowance race victory before that make him tough. He’s posted a pair of four-furlong Saratoga training track bullets for 24% winning trainer Danny Gargan. He can’t be ignored.
#12 Andesite won an allowance race last out at Ellis Park. That was his first win since his first start—on turf at Indiana Downs in July of 2019. He’s shown flashes of talent—10th in 2019 Gr. 1 BC Juvenile beaten only 3 lengths. 24% winning trainer Brad Cox and 18% jockey Florent Geroux are a successful combination. This guy can be added to larger tickets at 10-1 ML odds.
#13 Bye Bye Melvin nailed #10 Don Juan Kitten in the final strides of the Gr. 3 Saranac over ‘soft’ turf. That came after a runner-up finish to #7 Vanzzy in the Jersey Derby. He’s won 3 of 7 lifetime and 2 of 3 at the distance. Obviously, some ‘give’ in the ground won’t bother him and there has been rain in the northeast this week. This is a difficult post position and jockey John Velazquez will be challenged to save ground.
Race 10–Black-Eyed Susan
#3 So Darn Hot is lightly raced and has shown some ‘try.’ She’s probably overmatched in here but she’s worth a look in the exotics.
#4 Dream Marie has made 12 starts with all wins coming around one turn. She has some earlier races that fit, but she’ll need to bounce back off a poor effort in the Kentucky Oaks. She’s a big price and if she fires one of her better efforts, she could hit the exotics.
#5 Bonny South seems solid in here as the 7-5 morning-line favorite. She’s been steady with 3 wins in 6 starts. Her Beyer Speed Figures have improved with each race and that’s a good sign. She’s also faced Grade 1 competition in her last two races and managed a second placing last out behind Preakness contender Swiss Skydiver. She’s the one to beat but not as dominating as her morning line indicates.
#7 Mizzen Beau fired a big shot in the restricted Bison City at Woodbine. She’s in good form.
#9 Miss Marissa ran the best race of her 11-race career last out while winning a Saratoga allowance race. She could be the only speed in here and will take this field forward for a while. She’s had lots of time to recover from her last race and has hot-riding Daniel Centeno aboard. She’s a reach but 12-1 is attractive.
$.50 Late Pick 4 ($24)
8th Race (Wide Open–Use as Many as You Can Afford)
#1, #4, #6, #8
#7, #9, #10