It just wouldn’t be Preakness without some picks here at the Aspiring Horseplayer, would it? Much has happened between the last time I had the opportunity to post and now. Most significantly, I managed to nail my first Kentucky Derby winner correctly since Barbaro in 2006 when Animal Kingdom soared home at 21/1. Feels good to get that monkey off my back! That was likely the loudest I’ve screamed since another certain chestnut who was the subject of many a post here race his last race. The victory connected my hometown roots with my Derby selections once again – as Fair Hill (home of the late Barbaro and now Animal Kingdom) was the spot were my lifelong love affair with horse racing first began within walking distance of my boyhood home. What remains to be seen is if my streak of correct Preakness selections stretching back to Curlin in 2007 is now about to change as well?
Will there be enough magic in the Maryland air to bring us yet again within sight of the elusive Triple Crown that has remained just out of reach since the first month of my life in 1978? In 24 hours we’ll know for sure. Before we get to the big event, let’s spend some time going over the undercard races to see if we can pick a few winners.
Race 1: Alw 31000 N1X (6 Furlongs)
We start things off with a 6 furlong conditional allowance event on the main track. This one is for the early birds as post time is slated for 10:45AM. Speed seemed to be holding up fairly well from what I could tell on Friday, so I wouldn’t have any concern going with a front runner if you land on one – but definitely pay attention to how that plays all day. I went with #2 Boreal Forest as the horse most likely to shake loose in the opener and look to wire the field. #8 Forest King has served as his main rival in the last two starts, and they appear destined to renew that matchup today. If you’re looking for a price horse, #3 Devilish Gait makes some sense rolling from farther back in the pack at 12/1. I might be tempted to use #1 Issues And Answers and #9 Technique (homer Graham Motion pick) on the bottom of the exotics.
- #2 Boreal Forest (9/5*)
- #8 Forest King (7/2)
- #3 Devilish Gait (12/1)
Race 2: Hcp 75002 (1 1/16 Miles)
A field of nine Maryland-breds awaits in the 2nd race of the day. #2 Joel’s Touch may be able to get loose on the lead in a race that looks fairly paceless on paper, which would boost his chances significantly, but it’s hard to back a horse that is 0 for 5 at the distance and appears to want shorter. #5 Heavenstmurgatroid took a huge move forward last out, and will probably have every bounce player in the country betting against him. He should get a nice trip once again and anything close to that last effort would be good enough. #9 No Brakes may be the best horse of the field, but he didn’t get a lot of pace to close into and the post position Gods were less than kind. Another horse I thought rated a shot is #1 Say Now at 12/1. This horse has won 3 of his last 4 starts and drew a favorable rail position, although he has been off since February. Lastly, there’s West Virginia invader #6 Across The Wind at 10/1. Winner of 4 straight starts last fall who, judging by the last 3 efforts, may have found his way again.
- #5 Heavenstmurgatroid (8/5*)
- #9 No Brakes (9/5)
- #1 Say Now (12/1)
Race 3: Alw 29000 N1X (1 1/16 Miles – Turf)
The presence of #6 Battleground and #8 Gotta Believe Me should ensure a decent pace in the 3rd race of the day on the turf track. I thought this might set things up very well for the man of the hour, trainer Graham Motion, and his #5 Golden Causeway making his first career turf start. He should be able to sit stalk behind the leaders and if he takes to the Pimlico grass will have a big chance. Likewise, there are positives about Graham’s other entry #11 Rampaige coming out of flat effort on the Keeneland plastic. #9 Double Eagle has the gaudy speed figures that many will focus on, but is clearly beatable having not won since last June. Similarly, #12 Live The Dash has some impressive figures, but on paper is a one-turn sprinter. Perhaps Julien Leparoux can get Majestictroubadour figured out and turned back in the right direction?
- #5 Golden Causeway (3/1)
- #9 Double Eagle (5/2)
- #11 Rampaige (10/1)
Race 4: Grade 3 Allaire Dupont Distaff (1 1/16 Miles)
This race is all about #4 Life At Ten. If the horse that many felt was a lock for the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic last fall before a post time debacle of epic proportions show up in her 2nd start of the year, this one could be over before it’s run. The main threat may come from the former Black Eyed Susan champion #2 Payton D’oro, who has the strong tandem of trainer Larry Jones and jockey Gabriel Saez in her corner. #6 Check Point is a fairly consistent daughter of Posse who should be able to give a good account of herself as well. Then you have #3 Decelerator, who should be on the gas trying to gun for the lead. If she gets there, an upset could be in the making. Still think that even not on her best that Life At Ten is simply too much for this field.
- #4 Life At Ten (4/5*)
- #2 Payton D’oro (4/1)
- #3 Decelerator (5/1)
Race 5: OC 25000 N2X (5 Furlongs – Turf)
Turf sprints – my arch nemesis. I’ll try to keep things simple here. #4 Princess Malka exists back to back scores against similar, the last victory came despite being steadied. With Sheldon Russell in the irons, I think this is the horse to beat. #11 Toni’s The Won also exits consecutive victories, but drew a bit more unfavorably for a 5 furlong sprint. Then there’s #8 Easy Ashley who like the others mentioned has a mini winning streak going – but will return to the grass this time out. #1 Belarus should be moving well late and may have a chance to spring the upset.
- #4 Princess Malka (9/2)
- #11 Toni’s The Won (5/1)
- #8 Easy Ashley (7/2*)
Race 6: Chick Lang Sprint (6 Furlongs)
This is one tough race. You could make a case for each of the 9 entries to win this thing as they aren’t separated by much. I gave the checkmark to Todd Pletcher’s #4 Escort, who defeated 12 and posted a huge speed figure at Gulfstream 3 races back. I”m willing to forgive the Keeneland debacle last out. Since it’s such a contentious field, I’m also going to take a swing with #2 Chipshot at 10/1 on my deepest exotics. If you’ve been burned by this guy before, today may be the day to catch him at a decent price. #6 Road Ready looks ready to roll as well, but you can’t overlook the class of the field in #5 Vengeful Wildcat at 3/1.
- #3 Vengeful Wildcat (3/1*)
- #4 Escort (7/2)
- #2 Chipshot (10/1)
Race 7: JW Murphy Sprint (1 Mile – Turf)
We move back to the grass for the 7th race. This field was somewhat difficult for me to separate. Starting from the inside, you have the always dangerous Ramon Dominguez aboard #1 Master Dunker. Ultimately I liked the two outside runners best, #9 Humble And Hungry - who’s van I think I passed on the road shipping in from Sagamore, and the classy #10 Joe’s Blazing Aaron for trainer Michael Maker. #4 Lil Bit O Fun and #1 Master Dunker have me on the fence about using, and the longshot I’d like to play on the bottom of my tickets is #7 Broad Rule.
- #9 Humble And Hungry (5/1)
- #10 Joes Blazing Aaron (5/2*)
- #7 Broad Rule (12/1)
Race 8: Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap (6 Furlongs)
Ready for another sprint? #3 Nathan’s H Q should be be the speed in this race, and that should set him up nicely for a big run. I”m not a big fan of the 8/5 favorite, #5 Ventana as I feel I’ve burned too many tickets over my life on that horse when he runs for minor awards. #8 Safety Check looks interesting with a strong debut effort for the 2011 campaign last out. I feel obligated to use #7 China because I’ll never hear the end of it from my wife, who happens to be Chinese, if/when the horse runs big. Lucky for me he actually turned up in my handicapping as a possibility.
- #3 Nathan’s H Q (4/1)
- #8 Safety Check (9/2)
- #7 China (6/1)
Race 9: Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap (1 1/16 Miles – Turf)
I’m still kicking myself for not having used my boy Graham Motion’s big winner on Breeders’ Cup weekend last fall in #6 Shared Account. Gone are the prospects for anything like the 46/1 odds her supporters reaped that day. Instead I’ll have to settle on 4/5 chalk. There are a few other horses I think are worth covering in the late Pick 4 that begins on this race. #7 Desert Sage makes some sense exiting back-to-back victories for trainer Chad Brown. #2 No Explaining is a consistent Irish-bred filly who can make some noise in this race. Lastly, you have to pay attention to the outside runner, #8 Dyna Waltz. She may want more ground in an ideal setup, but I think you play against classy Dynaformers on the turf (especially with Dominguez aboard) at your own risk.
- #6 Shared Account (4/5*)
- #7 Desert Sage (5/1)
- #2 No Explaining (4/1)
Race 10: Grade 3 William Donald Schaefer Memorial (1 1/16 Miles)
There’s a bit of intrigue in the WD Schaefer this year as #3 Eighttofasttocatch is also entered in the Dixie Stakes – but this race would appear to make much more sense for the son of Not For Love as he’s won back-to-back starts over the Laurel main track. He’ll need to bring his A-game wherever he winds up, as some classy horses await, including the 3rd place finisher from the 2008 Preakness, #5 Icabad Crane. ”Icky”, as some of us refer to him, has always thrived at Pimlico and should have a good shot here if he can get a target to run at. He’s been on the shelf since February, so he may need a race, which is why you have to spread things around a bit and also cover #2 Apart and the speedy #8 Colizeo on the multi-race exotics.
- #5 Icabad Crane (4/1)
- #3 Eighttofasttocatch (6/1)
- #8 Colizeo (7/2)
Race 11: Grade 2 Dixie Stakes (1 1/8 Miles – Turf)
The Dixie has long been my nemesis. Ever since Shakis failed in the 2008 running of the marquee turf race of the weekend, I’ve been unable to cash a single ticket on this race. I even covered the entire field last year save for one horse, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what wound up happening to me. Thankfully, the racing Gods have given me a small field to work with this year, but I can almost see Admiral Akbar warning me from the start; “It’s a trap!”
What makes this race difficult to decipher is that the attention on the tote board will be focused on last year’s 3rd place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, #4 Paddy O’Prado. The son of El Prado is obviously more at home on grass than on dirt, but he’s also making his first start since last November. That’s a heckuva time to be on the shelf. If he shows up even with his B-game he likely beats this field, but he’s also the most vulnerable single folks will be standing on in the Pick 3′s, 4′s, and 6′s all weekend. So who has a chance to pull the upset? I think you start with #5 Baryshnikov at 10/1 with Leparoux in the saddle. This Empire Maker colt has won 5 of his last 6 starts and offers double digit value on the morning line. How often do you see that? The ubiquitous Graham Motion barn also has an interesting shooter in #6 Slews Answer – a Ghostzapper gelding who has progressed nicely in 3 lifetime races.
- #4 Paddy O’ Prado (4/5*)
- #5 Baryshnikov (10/1)
- #6 Slews Answer (6/1)
Race 12: Grade 1 Preakness Stakes (1 3/16 Miles)
Is this the year we finally get to bust out of the Triple Crown nightmare we’ve been stuck in for 33 years? Everything now depends on the wild man himself, KY Derby champion #11 Animal Kingdom. Folks, I think we’re looking at a special race horse here. I don’t think this year’s crop is particularly deep or challenging, and certainly he hasn’t scared off the competition – as we are constantly reminded of the full field here in Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes – but just look at that form cycle. If not for some traffic in the debut and an awkward start at Gulfstream Park, we’d be looking at an undefeated Derby winner. Ironically, he’s oft-mentioned as a turf horse, or at least that was the knock against him going into the Derby, but so far the grass remains the lone surface he’s not won over. So much for the smart guys, eh?
The Animal will not arrive until Saturday morning, but if he steps off that van in anything like the form he showed in Kentucky, well, good luck to the rest of ‘em. The other contenders are not without hope though – as the pace setup for this race should be completely different. Gone will be the slow 48-and-change fractions set by #5 Shackleford, as new shooters #4 Flashpoint and #8 Dance City will ensure a faster pace this time around.
Ultimately I see this race as being very formful. I expect #11 Animal Kingdom to be flying down the stretch, coming from a bit closer than he was in the Derby. I think #9 Mucho Macho Man will actually get first jump on the pace setters and that both Animal and #10 Dialed In will be gunning for that one in the stretch. Of the new faces in the crowd, I’d anticipate the best run coming from #1 Astrology, who has really made an impression on me this week. My wife will be rooting for #5 Shackleford like she was in the Derby, but beyond her steadfast support I can’t see that horse improving off the Derby setup. You might be able to twist my arm and get me to do something with #6 Sway Away as well.
- #11 Animal Kingdom (2/1*)
- #10 Dialed In (9/2)
- #9 Mucho Macho Man (6/1)