Any handicapping analysis of the Preakness Stakes must begin by looking back at the Kentucky Derby. Two weeks ago in Louisville,
Saturday's Preakness at Pimlico in Baltimore is setting up differently from the Derby in two major ways. The Derby was run in the slop, while the Preakness is expected to run on a fast, dry track. But, more importantly, the Derby was loaded with frontrunners, while the Preakness is painfully lacking in early speed. However there is one significant similarity between the two races: The top choice is still Super Saver.
Many people have knocked the Derby winner since he donned the blanket of roses, saying that the win was an aberration and more the result of a perfect trip, a jockey with a magical touch at Churchill, an affinity for the slop, a love for the track, troubled trips by his rivals or a combination of those factors. But how about the possibility that Super Saver is just a horse getting better at the right time?
Super Saver's trainer,
A common refrain among Super Saver's detractors is that the horse's Derby win was the result of a trouble-free trip, and so they will pick against him. But the horse's tactical speed (he can either sit a little off a hot pace, which he did in Louisville, or stalk soft fractions, which are likely in Baltimore) lends itself to those kinds of trips. Anyone using this reasoning to play against the Derby winner may want to find another angle.
It would be easy for a handicapper to try to "beat" Super Saver, but let's not overthink this. He's the fastest horse in the race, no horse in the Preakness field was better than he was in the Derby and, of the seven new shooters, none has ever turned in the sort of performance that it would take to beat the Super Saver that we saw just two weeks ago.
If Super Saver runs his race, there's only one horse who has so far shown the kind of ability to beat him, and that's Lookin At Lucky. As stated earlier, the beaten Derby favorite had a world of trouble at Churchill and still finished sixth. It was the fourth time in five starts that the horse encountered some kind of traffic, and that prompted trainer
Like Super Saver, Lookin at Lucky has raced just three times in 2010 and should have another big race left in him. The question is whether he can allow Super Saver to be closer to what's expected to be a slow-to-moderate pace and still chase him down. The guess here is no.
Most of the new shooters don't instill much confidence, but the best of the bunch could be First Dude. Despite having only one win in six starts, this colt twice finished within a half length of Fly Down, who was an impressive winner of the Dwyer Stakes on Saturday and should be one of the top choices for the Belmont.
In his last start on dirt, in the Florida Derby, First Dude was steadied but put in a visually impressive rally to finish fifth. Three weeks later he came in third in the Blue Grass (run on Keeneland's synthetic surface) but still only a length behind stablemate Paddy O'Prado.
First Dude has fired two bullet works in the last three weeks, and, according to Dale Romans, has been training well. With his close-to-the-pace running style and very few other speed horses in the race, he could hit the board at a price.
Arguably the most eye-catching move of the Derby prep season was put in by Schoolyard Dreams around the final turn of the Tampa Bay Derby. In the blink of an eye he went from fourth to first, overtaking Super Saver in the process. The move may have been premature -- Schoolyard Dreams lost by a nose though beat Super Saver by a half length -- but showed the kind of turn-running ability that should come in handy at Pimlico.
He ran a dull fourth in the Wood Memorial, failing to reach the graded earnings to qualify for the Derby, but this six-week layoff may have been the best thing for him as he has turned in two bullet works since. In addition, he'll have a new jockey in Eibar Coa, who certainly should give the horse a better ride than the one he received in Tampa.
Paddy O'Prado (9-2) ran a huge race in Louisville and was within three lengths of the winner. But he has run four races of at least a mile and an eighth since Feb. 10, and that demanding schedule has to catch up with him at some point.
With the defections of all of the early-speed horses,
Dublin (10-1) picks up the services of Gomez, but the