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This is a tricky Preakness to pick. It’s not so much an exercise in judging the runners’ abilities, as it is in judging how much they have left in the tank.
There were three particularly impressive performances in this year’s Kentucky Derby—and the winner’s (I’ll Have Another) wasn’t one of them.
While IHA ran a good race, he also capitalized on a great trip. His jockey, Mario Gutierrez, put him in a great position to take the lead when the frontrunner faltered on a blistering hot pace. The Churchill Downs dirt track had been soaked with rain the night before, and was favoring early speed all day. Although there was a speed bias, Bodemeister did everything he could to stretch it to the limit by running at fractions that would have been quick for 9 furlongs, much less 10.
Taking advantage of the pace is part of racing, and I take nothing away from IHA. IHA was close enough to the pace to get the benefit of the track bias while still avoiding Bodemeister’s suicidal pace. He deserved to be rewarded for it with a win, and kudos to any handicapper who predicted the way the race would play out. But Bodemeister’s was the most impressive performance of the day—perhaps of the three year old season.
The two other impressive performances were from two brilliant closers: Dullahan and Went the Day Well.
Dullahan made a great grinding effort to get up for third. It was very
impressive and showed that the concerns he couldn’t handle dirt were unfounded. In any case, his trainer wants to give him a rest and look to running him in the Belmont. We may see just how good he is next month.
Perhaps even more impressive was longshot Went the Day Well’s explosive kick in the final furlong. He had to weave his way through the tiring field, and make an explosive final charge for fourth.
But what effect will this have on the Derby? If Bodemeister is still in good running shape (as trainer Bob Baffert claims), and he can repeat his Derby run—and I mean the exact same fractions–the Preakness sets up perfectly for him. If he bounces (and the sheets players say he already did bounce in the Derby), it opens the door for I’ll Have Another to snag yet another leg of the Triple Crown.
Another contender to consider is Creative Cause. He’s been a presence within this three-year-old crop over the past year. Still, horseplayers’ memories can be short, and one flat performance can leave you forgotten. He started off a little farther behind than usual in the Derby, but made a nice assertive middle move which forced him to race wide. It wasn’t an impossible task, but he didn’t embarrass himself, and leads us to think he could run much better in a smaller crowd. Still, he seems more likely to fill out the exacta or tri than to win.
Another to fill out the exotics is new shooter Tiger Walk. He looked ready to break through earlier this year (his races in the Withers and the Wood were both better than looked), but he won’t get any advantage on Pimlico’s speed favoring track. Still, there’s more there than meets the eye, and he could certainly get a piece at 30-1.
PRICE PLAY OF THE DAY – Pimlico, R-9, #11 Adirondack King
There may be more earnings potential earlier in the Pimlico card. I was closely following Adirondack King earlier this year, thinking this son of Lawyer Ron could pop up as a late Triple Crown contender. He’s been running in some pretty tough stakes company of late on dirt. He now moves to the turf at Pimlico, a surface switch that may easily reward his late-running style. When a horse tries something he’s unproven at, you usually get a price.
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