Handicapping the Preakness Stakes
Before we get to the meat and potatoes of this story -- the Preakness Stakes selections below -- a review of the
Both I'll Have Another and Bodemeister are back to run in Saturday's Preakness, along with four other Derby starters -- Went the Day Well (fourth), Creative Cause (fifth), Daddy Nose Best (10th) and Optimizer (11th) -- and five new shooters. Almost as important as who is in the Preakness field is who's not: speedballs Trinniberg and Hansen. Their absence and the lack of pacesetters outside of Bodemeister suggest that the early fractions on Saturday should not be as taxing as they were in the Derby. For that reason, Bodemeister earns the spot as the top choice.
The selections, in order:
Much has been written in these two weeks after the Kentucky Derby about how brilliant of a colt Bodemeister must be to have set the fractions that he did and still finish second. Indeed, no front-runner had run that fast that early in the history of the Derby and hung around as well as he did.
The question handicappers must ask themselves is, "What is the likelihood that Bodemeister fires another big performance?" The Preakness will be his third start in five weeks and his sixth hard race in 18 weeks.
Baffert says that the colt is doing well, so the decision was made to enter. Two years ago, Baffert was in a similar situation with Lookin At Lucky after a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Derby. But the horse was doing well physically so Baffert entered him, and he won.
The lack of speed in the race and the shorter distance of the Preakness (by 1/16th of a mile) play into Bodemeister's favor. If he runs his A race, he wins. But that's a big if, and he'll be a short price.
Gutierrez rode a smart race in the Derby, using I'll Have Another's tactical speed to lay off the hot fractions up front before unleashing a kick down the stretch. With the Preakness being the horse's third start off a layoff, he could still have another big effort -- or two -- left in the tank.
But what tactics will the young Gutierrez use? Does he allow Bodemeister to set an uncontested pace and risk never seeing him again, or does Gutierrez challenge Bode and risk burning his own horse's chances? Neither scenario plays into I'll Have Another's favor. While it's certainly possible that he could go to the Belmont with a chance at glory, the guess is the Triple Crown dreams end here.
No horse made up more ground in the Derby than Went the Day Well, who at one point was 17th and 18 lengths off the lead before closing for fourth, just 2 ½ lengths behind. In his previous races he had shown a much quicker turn of foot, and, if he avoids the bumping that he experienced in the Derby, he should be sitting much closer to the pace on Saturday.
Earlier this year, the horse spent two weeks in quarantine after being shipped over from Europe and, according to owner Barry Irwin, lost much of his muscle tone. He's finally getting to where he was physically before the trip so it's possible that Went the Day Well could be just now coming into his own.
If I'll Have Another is forced to go after Bodemeister, Went the Day Well would seem to be the biggest beneficiary. Dangerous.
Of all the new shooters, the most attractive is this Dutrow trainee who has won three straight races and seems to be improving at the right time. In Zetterholm's race three back, he made an impressive move around the turn and won with ease. He's stepping way up in class, but the connections feel so good about his chances that they scratched the colt out of the easier Peter Pan Stakes to take a shot here. An unlikely win candidate, but intriguing for the exotics.
He has drawn either the extreme outside or the second-to-most outside post in all of his starts and has predictably raced wide throughout, including a decent fourth place in the Wood Memorial, where he lost by just 5 lengths to Gemologist. On Saturday he may get to save ground along the rail and is coming into the race having fired two bullets.
The wise guy horse in the Derby never got rolling and lost by 11½ lengths, yet Asmussen sees something to give him another shot. Daddy's backers should take notice that he's 4-for-8 with Leparoux in the saddle and 0-for-3 with everyone else.
Though he's coming off a 9 ¾ length defeat to Bodemeister in the Arkansas Derby, there are signs that Cozzetti is about to fire a career best. According to many reports, he's thriving physically at Pimlico, and on Monday he breezed a bullet five furlongs in 0:58 and change.
Never out of the money, he ran a respectable third behind Gemologist and Alpha in the Wood, losing by just 3 ¼ lengths. And he's making just his second start off a layoff, so he should be set up to run his best race yet.
He's coming off a win at Pimlico, but in his prior start, in the Illinois Derby, he clunked home in ninth, 13 ¼ lengths behind winner Done Talking, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby. No thanks.
Like Baffert, Lukas is going for his sixth Preakness win. Unlike Baffert, Lukas doesn't have a chance. In his last two races, Optimizer has lost by a combined 32 ½ lengths. Not optimistic on Optimizer.