Much like this year’s Kentucky Derby, the 135th running of the Preakness Stakes looks to be a relatively wide-open affair compared to the last two years’ renewals, which were dominated by a single show-stopper. In 2008, Big Brown showed his Triple Crown dreams were justified when he rocketed out of the final turn at Pimlico like a superstar, opening up with bone-chilling ease. Last year, we were graced by a living legend at the top of her game in Rachel Alexandra, the eventual Horse of the Year who became the first filly to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown in 85 years. This year, the favorite and Kentucky Derby winner is Super Saver, a legitimate Derby hero who is looking to accomplish jockey Calvin Borel’s new goal of winning the Triple Crown. But with so many tenacious new shooters and trail riders seeking revenge, can Super Saver step up and prove he’s the top of his crop?
After a deplorable trip in the Kentucky Derby, Lookin at Lucky is back with a brand-new jockey and is sitting in the lucky #7 post position for his shot at redemption on the Triple Crown trail. One can’t help but admire trainer Bob Baffert’s decision to put Martin Garcia in the irons, a jockey who has yet to ride in a Triple Crown race, when Baffert had his pick of the litter from the top jocks in the country. Together, Baffert and Garcia have racked up wins in several graded stakes, with the 25-year-old jockey’s biggest victory coming most recently in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap on Misremembered. This will be the first time a jockey outside of Garrett Gomez will ride Lookin at Lucky in a race, although Garcia has regularly worked out the colt in the mornings. According to Baffert, “nobody knows [Lucky] better” than Garica. Perhaps a more telling statement about the jockey switch came from Baffert later: “and [Garcia] listens to me.” So will a new jockey and a better post position change Lucky’s streak of bad fortune? Considering his rollercoaster trip in the Santa Anita Derby was completely jock-manufactured, and the colt has the heart of a lion, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown is setting up to be Lucky’s time to shine. There was no question that Lucky was the best of his crop as a juvenile, and has shown every bit as much promise as a 3-year-old. The only question may be whether or not getting knocked around and rubber-legged in the stretch of the Kentucky Derby took too much out of him.
Joining the fray at Pimlico are Caracortado and Schoolyard Dreams, two Triple Crown contenders who were kept out of the Derby thanks to a lack of graded earnings. Both of these horses hold a lot of promise, and had better records than half the challengers chasing Super Saver’s heels in Louisville. West-based Caracortado’s most notable wins include the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes and the California Breeders’ Stakes. In his last start, the Santa Anita Derby, Caracortado was stalking the favorite, Lookin at Lucky, and when Lucky famously checked after being shut off in the middle of the final turn, Caracortado had to steady and dropped back next-to-last. In the stretch, Caracortado made up a lot of ground to finish fourth, though he didn’t close as quickly as Setsuko, who rocketed past a hapless Lucky to nab second place. Caracortado has raced once on dirt, at Fairplex, when he began his rags-to-riches story as a $40,000 claimer. His maiden race spurted a five-race win-streak that ended when Sidney’s Candy defeated him in the Grade II San Felipe. Interesting to note, Caracortado has only been beaten in races won by Sidney’s Candy; perhaps this rival is his Achilles’ heel?
Sidney’s Candy won’t be running at old Pimlico this Saturday, but Schoolyard Dreams will be. Though his last start wasn’t impressive, trainer Derek Ryan has pointed out that Schoolyard runs better after a long rest, and he will be going into the Preakness after a 6-week layoff. In a last-ditch effort to scrape up graded earnings for the Kentucky Derby, Ryan entered his colt in the Wood Memorial after being beaten by a nose in the Tampa Bay Derby by Odysseus only three weeks earlier. He finished fourth that day with no real excuses, but his training suggests he should run his race in the Preakness. Though he has not won a stakes race, Schoolyard Dreams certainly looked as if he had won in the Tampa Bay Derby, where he put away Super Saver for third. Compared to the horses he’d been competing against, the lack of credentials isn’t a real blemish for this horse.
So the big question is: did Calvin Borel really “figure out” Super Saver, or did the Pletcher colt win primarily because of a picture-perfect trip in a decathlon race where every other horse was beaten around and steadied in the slop? As further proof of how Super Saver may not have been the best horse in that race, check out Ice Box’s furious finish for second place. After enduring a terrible trip, the Zito trainee looked like he would’ve been a winner had the race lasted another furlong. No disrespect to the Derby winner, but his losses in the Tampa Bay Derby and Arkansas Derby raise questions about his form. Though Pletcher says he can rate from just about any position, how do you explain those two losses, where Super Saver didn’t have any excuses? Super Saver and Lookin at Lucky will break next to each other, from the 7th and 8th post positions, this Saturday. Will Super Saver reveal he’s for real and emulate the superstars from the last two renewals of the Preakness, or will another contender step up and knock off the Derby winner’s chances at winning the Triple Crown?
Post positions/contenders/morning-line odds/notes
1. Aikenite (20-1) If there was one horse I would advise to absolutely throw out, this would be the one. His runner-up performance in the Derby Trial is mildly surprising, but the caliber he faced in that race is questionable.
2. Schoolyard Dreams (15-1) Possesses the ability to run when it counts, and will enter fresh off a 6-week layoff. Throw out his last race, and he is a solid contender.
3. Pleasant Prince (20-1) Broke his maiden third time out and hasn’t won since. His loss by a head to Ice Box in the Florida Derby shows obvious talent, but he seems to prefer running with horses to winning races.
4. Northern Giant (30-1) Weaknesses far outweigh the positives. Has never won on a fast dirt track; in fact, he has only won a maiden special weight. Forecast is for sun this Saturday in Baltimore.
5. Yawanna Twist (30-1) Has never finished worse than 2nd. Last time out was a runner-up performance to American Lion in the IL Derby, where he was separated by daylight from 3rd-place Backtalk. Could surprise in this leap into grade 1 company, but distance is the big question.
6. Jackson Bend (12-1) If you throw out the KY Derby, this horse has never run worse than 2nd. With a smaller field, stands a good chance to finish in the money. Has a ton of tenacity.
7. Lookin At Lucky (3-1) Probably the most talented horse in the field, but has a penchant for finding trouble. New jockey might shake up luck. His heart will get him to the wire if he has a decent trip.
8. Super Saver (5-2) KY Derby winner also has last year’s Preakness-winning jockey in tow. He can win from about any position, but the fast track might aid better horses. Will jocks let Calvin ride the rail again?
9. Caracortado (10-1) Connections say he will love the transition to dirt. Rumor has it he became dehydrated during his first flight from CA. May return to form with the absence of Sidney’s Candy.
10. Paddy O’Prado (9-2) Shocked his handicapper with his 3rd place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Has never run over a fast dirt track and may have trumped better horses due to the slop factor. Or maybe he’s a versatile turf horse that also likes dirt-I am still scratching my head over this one.
11. First Dude (20-1) Who was high when they named this horse? His only victory came in a maiden special weight on a fast dirt track, though his runner-up performances to Dwyer Stakes winner Fly Down flatter him. May serve as a pace factor in this race lacking early speed.
12. Dublin (10-1) This deep-closer hasn’t kicked into gear quickly enough to win since his signature performance in the Grade I Hopeful last year. Since then, Dublin has consistently fallen short at the wire, finishing with seconds and thirds to some quality horses. With Garret Gomez now in the irons, trainer Lukas is hoping for some new luck. If his jock can figure out Dublin’s timing, he’d be a real threat.
The 135th running of the Grade I Preakness Stakes will air live on NBC, with coverage beginning at 4:30pm EST and running until 6:30pm EST. Post time is set for approximately 6:12pm EST.
For past performances and race replays of the Preakness contenders, check out the comprehensive race page at DRF.com.