In this most unpredictable and uncommon of Triple Crown seasons, what might the 2019 Preakness Stakes have in store?
The post position draw for Saturday's race at Pimlico is set for Wednesday evening, which means morning-line odds are forthcoming for the 12 horses expected to enter this field. Of those dozen, four are horses who'll be running back quickly from the Kentucky Derby, while the other eight did not.
Improbable and War of Will, two familiar Derby names, figure to be the favorites of this bunch. They are the ones to beat, and they probably should be. Both have proven worthy and were in contention in the later stages of the Derby. But neither was able to make a serious push, with Improbable failing to make up ground and War of Will losing ground after … well … surely you know what happened.
Point is, they were each beatable by an early runner like Maximum Security who was able to grab the lead and maintain it.
Preakness Stakes: Race still worth watching without Maximum Security, Country House
While Maximum Security, of course, is not running in the Preakness, there are several "new shooters" in the field who fit that profile of a horse that wants to be on the lead early and have been able to win races in the past. A quick pace could also mean some new challengers could also come from the back of the pack — Country House-style — in this 1 3/16-mile race.
Who among these "new shooters" might take the second leg of the Triple Crown?
Here are five possibilities:
A Maryland-bred local favorite, Alwaysmining will be popular at Pimlico. So his odds will probably get bet down, but that doesn't mean he isn't an underdog story.
Trainer Kelly Rubley and jockey Daniel Centeno are hardly regulars in Triple Crown races, and Alwaysmining wasn't even on the Kentucky Derby Trail.
In that way, he is kind of like those NCAA Tournament teams from smaller conferences that get seeded relatively high. They're in the middle of a great season. You know they're dangerous. You don't want to have to play them. But you also can't be sure how they're going to do against a true powerhouse until they have to face one.
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Alwaysmining has been running circles around the competition at Laurel Park since October, winning six races in a row by an average of six lengths. The most recent one was by 11 lengths at 1 1/8 miles. On paper and on tape, he looks fantastic. The times are good. This horse has proven he can handle the distance.
You could argue that Alwaysmining is similar to Maximum Security in style and background, considering that horse wasn't your typical Derby runner either. And this horse has also shown that you also don't want to let him get comfortable on the lead.
Another early runner with the ability to run away from fields when he gets in front, Warrior's Charge hasn't been doing it for as long as Alwaysmining. But back-to-back victories of at least six lengths were enough for Louisville-based trainer Brad Cox to send Warrior's Charge to the Preakness alongside another of his runners in Owendale (more on him later).
The rundown: Possible field for 2019 Preakness Stakes
Maturing horses can improve — or decline — quickly during their 3-year-old campaigns. Warrior's Charge needed four tries to get a maiden victory, finally rolling to a win at Oaklawn Park in March. He followed that up with an easy optional claiming win.
There are obvious handicapping concerns here. He's going way up in class. He hasn't raced longer than 1 1/16 miles. He hasn't proven he can win a race any way other than simply getting the lead and running away from everyone. But the fact that he was able to do that could make him dangerous at a big price in the Preakness. Again, that's how the horse that won the Kentucky Derby on the track was able to do it.
The existence of similar front-runners like Alwaysmining and Warrior's Charge in this field means that each of them could really want that early lead. And that could create a faster pace or even a pace duel situation, which could tire out those horses and boost the chances for a late-running surprise.
Trainer Mark Hennig's Bourbon War probably needs a fast pace up front to tire out the leaders in order to close from the back of the pack, but he just might get that here.
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Bourbon War hasn't raced since a fourth-place finish in the March 30 Florida Derby, which didn't have a swift pace. In the race prior to that, Bourbon War took advantage of quicker fractions ahead of him and closed to second, within a length of Code of Honor, who made the board in the Kentucky Derby.
Another Preakness runner back from the Derby, Win Win Win, made it to Churchill Downs with a jockey who closed similarly from way back in the Blue Grass Stakes. That jockey was Irad Ortiz Jr., who'll be riding Bourbon War on Saturday.
Cox's other Preakness horse isn't exactly a deep closer, but Owendale did come off the pace to win the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland at 12-1 odds. That wasn't enough to get Owendale in the Derby, but it did make him an intriguing horse to watch here.
Owendale had run well before, but he lost by 10 lengths to War of Will in February's Risen Star Stakes. Improvement was needed, and it appears that has happened. Owendale's Brisnet speed figure of 99 in the Lexington is better than the career-best 96 that War of Will had in the Risen Star.
The addition of Kentucky Oaks-winning jockey Jose Ortiz is a nice boost for a horse that hasn't finished worse than second in his past five races. Anothertwistafate has run his best on a synthetic surface, but he has shown good early speed while also seeming to like distance. He nearly ran down Derby horse Cutting Humor in a crazy fast race in March and was right behind Owendale at the wire in the Lexington.
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