Whether a horse race is interesting or not is irrelevant to people who bet on horses. Boring races pay out just as fascinating races do. So, even though this year’s Preakness seem dull, it is worth betting on.
First, let’s go back to the Kentucky Derby. Rich Strike was one of the most improbable winners in the race’s history. There were several horses rated above him on the Derby’s points eligibility system but those horses passed the race. Even then, it took a last minute scratch to allow Rich Strike to draw into the body of the race, which he proceeded to win at odds of 80-1 ridden by an unknown jockey who spends most of his time at small tracks in Ohio. There are two possible explanations. The first is that Rich Strike was an improving horse who benefited from the stretchout in distance and a move back to real dirt after mediocre performances on a synthetic track. He clearly benefited from the insanely suicidal pace put up by the foreign-based jockeys on the two frontrunners who essentially made fools of themselves by running their own horses into the ground. The other explanation is that Rich Strike’s connections cheated. But, there’s no evidence of that so we’re stuck with the first theory.
Epicenter, the Steve Asmussen-trained horse who ran an outstanding Derby, holding off my pick Zandon the entire stretch, only to be nailed at the end by Rich Strike, is in the Preakness and is the huge favorite. Only two other Kentucky Derby runners are in: fourth place Simplification and 14th placed Happy Jack. But there are several live horses who either skipped the Derby or weren’t eligible on points who have legitimate chances to upset Epicenter. Once again, there is a lot of early speed in the race but I can’t imagine the pace will be as suicidal as in the Derby.
#1 SIMPLIFICATION—Ran a solid fourth in the Derby and has a versatile running style. Jockey Jose Ortiz opts off to ride Early Voting but replacement John Velazquez is a Hall of Famer. He’s very talented but my knock on him is that he hasn’t improved this year and keeps running the same race and that won’t be good enough to win the Preakness.
#2 CREATIVE MINISTER—He actually ran at Churchill Downs on Derby day two weeks ago but it wasn’t in the Derby himself. The horse won an allowance race in extremely impressive fashion and has run well in all three of his career races. He is almost a clone of another entrant, Early Voting, in terms of how lightly raced both are and the amount of upside both have. Jockey Brian Hernandez is underrated. Possible upset winner.
#3 FENWICK—This one would be as shocking as Rich Strike was two weeks ago. He’s run six races and five of them were rather lousy.
#4 SECRET OATH—This is a filly facing males coming off a dominating win two weeks ago in the Kentucky Oaks. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas who has seemed to be over the hill 15 times always seems to resurface with a big time horse and he’s done it again. Here’s my knock: while all of her races this year have been good enough to beat top class fillies, I don’t think any are fast enough to beat the caliber of males she’ll face here.
#5 EARLY VOTING—He was eligible for the Kentucky Derby after an outstanding second place effort over a tiring track in the Wood Memorial in April. But trainer Chad Brown opted to bypass the Derby in what would have been the horse’s fourth career start to wait for the Preakness. He did the same thing in 2017 with a horse named Cloud Computing and they won that race. Early Voting may be the best three year old I’ve seen this year and gets a crack at a tired Epicenter while himself being rested for six weeks. The horse has been either on the lead or pressing the pace in all three of his races and that is a concern here because there are other pace horses to contend with. I hope jockey Jose Ortiz is able to harness his horse’s speed. If so, Early Voting can win the race. He may be the most talented horse in the field. His trainer is one of the best in the world. And he won’t be favored. To the windows…..
#6 HAPPY JACK—The horse was a non-threatening 14th in the Derby and may only be running because owner Calumet Farm loves to run in big races even if its horses are overmatched, figuring you can’t win if you’re not in. Well, this one can win but it isn’t likely.
#7 ARMAGNAC— A former trainee of the now-suspended cheater Bob Baffert, this horse won an allowance race two weeks ago in California and will be one of those close to or on the lead. He does have a spectacular jockey in Irad Ortiz but unless the new trainer has a stash of Baffert’s magic potion, I don’t see it in this race.
#8 EPICENTER— Every race he’s run has been excellent and he sure looked like the Derby winner 100 yards from home. The jockey, Joel Rosario, is world class. He’ll likely get a perfect stalking trip laying behind the speed horses. But it’s possible he’ll regress after the brutally tough Derby. Interesting note: in the last 28 years, the horse that ran second in the Derby has won the Preakness only once! (25 years ago, my co-owned Captain Bodgit ran second in the Derby and then just missed in a blanket finish in the Preakness, finishing an unlucky third in what turned out to be his last race).
#9 SKIPPYLONGSTOCKINGS—There are some things to like. He’s an improving horse who finished third behind Early Voting in the Wood Memorial. He comes from behind in a race that will likely have a strong pace. He’s had fast workouts in Florida. But he seems a cut below on talent and will need to take a major step forward.
HORSE PROGRAM ODDS
# 5 Early Voting 7-2
#8 Epicenter 6-5
#2 Creative Minister 10-1
#4 Secret Oath 9-2
#1 Simplification 6-1
I love Early Voting here and if I’m wrong I’m losing money. I think he’s the best horse in the race, he’s rested and he is likely to make a major step forward off his run in the Wood Memorial. No knocks on Epicenter. Creative Minister is so similar in profile to Early Voting and he likewise can win if he makes another step forward. Secret Oath would be a great story, being a filly and trained by an elderly legend like Lukas, but I don’t think a win for her is likely. The wildcard here is the pace. If it’s too hot, one of the deeper closers could pull off a surprise win.
$25 to win place and show on #5 ($75). (Adjust up or down according to your budget and comfort)
$10 exacta part-wheel 5 with 2-8 ($20)
$5 exacta part wheel 2-8 with 5 ($10)
$1 superfecta 5 with 2-8 with 2-8 with all ($12)
50 cent superfecta 2-5-8 with 2-5-8 with 2-5-8 with all ($18)
ONE OTHER SATURDAY PLAY
In Race 7 at Pimlico, I like #6 Cilla (7-2).
FRIDAY AT PIMLICO
A horse I co-own, Untreated (7-2), runs in Race 12, the Grade 3 Pimlico Special. (This is the race in which Seabiscuit and War Admiral had their match race made famous in the movie Seabiscuit). Our horse has a solid chance to get his first graded stakes win. Race 13 is the Black Eyed Susan, the race for three year old fillies and I like a longshot #5 Beguine (12-1)