Tomorrow, we move into the second leg of the Triple Crown. It’s a smaller field than the Derby: ten horses instead of the nineteen who headed postward in Louisville two weeks ago. It is also full of new shooters. In addition to Derby winner California Chrome, only two other horses decided to wheel back in two weeks to take a crack at the Preakness: Ride On Curlin and General a Rod, two horses who have been covered extensively at Blinkers Off since January due to their presence in my Fantasy Stable. The rest of the field are new shooters, including Illinois Derby winner Dynamic Impact as well as Private Terms hero Kid Cruz.
In addition to the Preakness, I attacked a few more races on the Pimlico card as well. Between the races for the Danonymous Racing contest and the Public Handicapper contest, there are a total of five races that I handicapped for these contests.
Let’s dive into the races and see how they may unfold!
Preakness Stakes (GI, three-year-olds, 1 3/16 miles on the dirt)
I handicapped the Kentucky Derby thinking there was going to be a hot pace that would fall apart; that didn’t exactly happen. However, it is a different field here in the Preakness, and this field is rife with dyed-in-the-wool speed horses of the kind who just don’t do their best work anywhere off the pace. There’s Bayern, Pablo Del Monte, Ring Weekend, and Social Inclusion who all fall into that category. On top of that, there are then California Chrome, Dynamic Impact, and General a Rod who are likely to be stalking close to the pace that the speedballs are setting. Ria Antonia and Kid Cruz will definitely be coming from off the pace; while Ride On Curlin has run some races from close to the pace, it would be a surprise to see him do anything but make one run from off the pace here given how much early speed this field promises.
If any of the horses near the front hang on to win this race, it will likely be California Chrome. He consistently puts up speeds that are the fastest among this field, and it his ability to come from just off the pace like he did in the Kentucky Derby will serve him well as the horses who don’t rate tire each other out. Of course, since he’s the Derby winner — not to mention the most consistent of the three-year-old colts and geldings so far this year — his price is going to be terrible. However, any intra-race or multi-race bet covering the Preakness that’s missing California Chrome is missing the class of the speed.
However, the pace will almost certainly set up for a horse from off the pace to swoop in for a share. If the pace up front gets truly frenetic, someone from off the pace could take the whole thing. Among those off-the-pace horses, Ride On Curlin is the most likely to get there. He has been facing classy company all spring, and shown the best speeds of any of the three horses likely to come from off. It looks like he handled the track well in his work Wednesday. Finally, Joel Rosario is not likely to just take him straight to the rail like Borel did in the Derby. The other closing horse who looks good here is Kid Cruz. He’s taking a big jump in class here, but he ran very well over the Pimlico track while winning the Tesio last month. He will have to run the best race of his career in order to win the Preakness, but between the pace and the fact that he is bred for distance, nothing stands in his way of doing so.
Maryland Sprint Handicap (GIII, three-year-olds and up, six furlongs on the dirt)
In this race, Sneaking Uponyou, Happy My Way, and Action Andy have the most affinity for the lead. Salutos Amigos will likely stalk, and possibly Service For Ten. Service For Ten may possibly also come from off the pace; Lemon Drop Dream most definitely will.
Happy My Way will probably go off at even less than his 6/5 morning line, but he looks like a solid top choice for this race. Last time out, the four-year-old gelding romped in the Sir Shackleton over Dad’z Laugh and Ribo Bobo — both of whom returned from the Sir Shackleton to win stakes races in their next start. His speed figures in his last four starts have been great for this field. He is 5-3-1-0 at this six-furlong distance. In short, it looks like it sets up nicely for him. It’s his first step into graded company, but there’s no better time for him to do this. Lemon Drop Dream also looks like a strong candidate to do well here, given that there is a good quantity of early speed in this race. He may be a bounce risk given his big race in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (GIII) about a month ago, but he is 5-4-0-1 at this distance, and there has been a general upward trend in his performance as he moves into his four-year-old year. It looks like the light has gone on, and he is in a good place here with all this speed to close into.
Gallorette Handicap (GIII, three-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles on the turf)
Pacewise, I don’t expect there to be frenetic early fractions. Somali Lemonade and longshot Brenda’s Way are the only ones in the field who love being on the early lead. There will be quite the flight stalking a few lengths back: Surtsey, Embarr, Daydreamin Gracie, Lady Ten closer in, Triple Arch and Starstruck behind them, and Strathnaver and Watsdachances furthest back.
Picking a top choice in this race was easy. Picking back-up choices was not.
My top selection in this race is Somali Lemonade. She is not likely to get extremely loose on the lead — and, in fact, Brenda’s Way may beat her to the front early. However, she can rate from just off, and has been showing good form in her recent starts. She moves up in class from her last start, but that last start was also her first off the winter lay. She did run in graded company through last year, including a Grade III victory at this distance. If Somali Lemonade improves second off the lay — or even runs as well as she did last out — she should succeed here.
There really isn’t another horse I like as much as her in this race. Strathnaver is a bit interesting, if only because she has recently been running consistently fast enough for this field. However, the pace is not likely to melt down, and she is a deep closer who probably prefers more distance than just a mile and a sixteenth. It would be no surprise to see her get in for a share, but she is likely to run out of time and space before she gets her nose in front.
Sir Barton Stakes (three-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles on the dirt)
In this race, there will be a lot of horses who want to be near the front, though more than likely not much desperation to be setting the fractions. Sea View Charlie and He’s Achance will likely take the front. Class Leader and Starry Moon usually end up a handful of lengths off the pace. Everyone else in the field does their best work, at least to date, stalking fairly close to the pace.
The lightly raced Life In Shambles looks to be coming back in just the right spot here. After a fifth-place finish in his first start, at this distance on the turf, his connections switched him to dirt. He has won a maiden race and an allowance race since: both at a mile, and both by a neck. In his maiden win, he overcame stumbling at the start. In his allowance win, he succeeded under a patient early ride, and then dug in well late. He has proven in both races that he is very game, and wants to win. His breeding suggests that the extra half-furlong shouldn’t be a problem, and the improvement in his speeds suggests growth, not something jarring from which he will bounce.
A good price play in this race is the local gelding He’s Achance. It took him four tries to break his maiden, but the light came on early last month at Pimlico. He won by over half a dozen lengths in a hand ride. Next time out, he wired an allowance at the same distance as this race, and won by daylight. He is on a class rise, but if he comes back with the same kind of effort he brought in the allowance last out, he is going to give this field a challenge.
Dixie Stakes (three-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles on the turf)
There doesn’t look to be a ton of early pace in this race. Chamois and Fredericksburg have shown some affinity for the early lead, but even then, they have also shown success stalking. Nutello, Charming Kitten, and Utley should be stalking a bit off early. Hey Leroy and Quick Wit shouldn’t be too far off early either; they have seen success either closer to or farther off the pace, and given the lack of true early speed in this race it may not be the best plan to be really far back. Up With The Birds and Roadhog should be behind them, and Hamp tends to come from the rear.
Up With The Birds is the top selection here. He will likely be underbet given his flat last race, but that last race was his first one back after a six-month lay. His last race off the lay was a win in the GI Jamaica Handicap at a mile and a half on the Belmont turf, which was one of his three stakes victories on the grass last year. A mile and a sixteenth may be a little shorter than he wants in the long run, but it’s a good distance for second off the lay. His form at three would have been good enough to menace much of this field; if Up With The Birds has grown into himself at all at four, he should be serious competition here. For a longer shot, Nutello is an interesting horse. He made a third-place run in the Sword Dancer (GI) last year in his first race off a ship from France, though his next two starts were not nearly as good. He took five months off and returned in an ungraded stakes at Pimlico last month, where he finished third beaten just half a length. It was only at a mile; he will likely appreciate the extra distance here, especially now that he’s a bit fresher. He will be bolstered by the combination of trainer Graham Motion and jockey Trevor McCarthy, who have both been performing well this meet.