Trying to identify one wise-guy horse for the Preakness Stakes is like choosing between your children. Every new shooter has his advocates.
But nothing illuminates the dark recesses of hyper-analysis like the betting handle. And the early money for Saturday’s $1.65 million race has drifted toward Bourbon War.
After being posted at 12-1 on the morning line, the Fountain of Youth runner-up that was last seen finishing fourth in the Florida Derby had shortened to 9-2 by late afternoon Friday here at Pimlico. While the exact number of dollars in the Preakness win pool was not immediately available, this was a little like gauging a presidential election by those morning returns coming out of Dixville Notch, N.H., every four years.
Even so, bettors are clearly attracted by the fact that Bourbon War is a closer that should relish the likelihood of a fast, early pace from fellow new shooters Market King (30-1) and Warrior’s Charge (18-1).
“Obviously the more pace, the better for him,” Bourbon War’s trainer Mark Hennig said. “I visualize the speed inside of him clearing us giving him a little space to work with.”
Since Bourbon War will break from post position 2, “the speed inside of him” is War Of Will (7-1), drawn to the rail as he was when he crossed eighth and was promoted to seventh in the Kentucky Derby. That was after he had been fouled 550 yards before the wire by disqualified winner Maximum Security. Likely to be sent forward early, War Of Will’s void on the rail is likely to be filled by Bourbon War and his talented jockey Írad Ortiz Jr.
“He doesn’t mind running inside,” Hennig said. “I’d like him to try and save ground in mid-pack, maybe a little closer than he’s been.”
Hennig is leaving nothing to chance with his decision to concede less of a lead to the early pacesetters. He said that is why he is fitting Bourbon War for the first time with blinkers, a curious change for a horse that has never been closer than seventh place a quarter-mile into his 2019 races.
“I thought maybe with the short-cup blinkers, it would get him a little more on the bridle, not necessarily to get him closer to the pace,” Hennig said.
It is hardly unusual for trainers to make adjustments early in the careers of Tapit colts like Bourbon War. Tapits tend toward the ornery, and horsemen are wont to get their attention.
“He’s great at relaxing and shutting off and waiting for (Ortiz),” Hennig said. “But the reins weren’t tight for the jock, so when the jock asked him it seemed to take him three or four jumps to get into that good stride.”
Of course, the move could backfire; Hennig’s horses had only three wins the last 38 times they raced with blinkers for the first time. But bettors looking for a price clearly gravitated to Bourbon War. They were also drawn to local favorite Alwaysmining. The winner of six in a row here in Maryland shortened from 8-1 to 5-1.
The favorite Improbable remained on his morning-line target of 5-2.
It has not rained here at Pimlico since Thursday at about 8:30 a.m. EDT. Friday was a humid but welcome 83 degrees in sunshine. The National Weather Service forecast for Saturday is for more sun, light wind and a high near 78.
Preakness notes and opinions
Friday was a good day for closers. And it was good to be Javier Castellano. The four-time champion jockey rode five winners at Pimlico, including Point Of Honor (5-2) in the $250,000 Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes for 3-year-old fillies. Owned primarily by Aron Wellman and trained by George Weaver, Point Of Honor rallied from next to last by taking a four-wide path into the stretch on the way to a half-length victory over Ulele (7-1) and 2¾ over Cookie Dough (4-1). She was clocked at 1:47.88 for the 1⅛ miles of fast track. The favorite Always Shopping (5-2) was never a threat, and she finished sixth. It was typical of most races on the dirt Friday with closers finding success in the stretch running mostly toward the middle of the track. Sired by two-time U.S. champion Curlin, Code Of Honor has won 3 of 4 career starts with her only loss being a fourth-place finish in March in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. As for Castellano, bettors may be emboldened to take the hot jockey by backing his ride Saturday on the speed horse Warrior’s Charge in the Preakness.
The odds for the Black-Eyed Susan-Preakness double often reflect the betting of more seasoned players, since the general public is not as attracted to it. With that in mind, here are the $2 “Will Pays” for “Point Of Honor and ...”
1. War Of Will $47
2. Bourbon War $52
3. Warrior’s Charge $117
4. Improbable $33
5. Owendale $60
6. Market King $778
7. Alwaysmining $72
8. Signalman $251
9. Bodexpress $190
10. Everfast $841
11. Laughing Fox $285
12. Anothertwistafate $88
13. Win Win Win $145
The most impressive victory Friday came from a filly that was named for a typo that was Tweeted two years ago by President Trump. Covfefe (4-5) led from gate to wire, running away to an 8½-length victory in the $300,000 Miss Preakness sprint for 3-year-old fillies. Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Castellano, Covfefe was timed at 1:07.70 for the six furlongs, apparently breaking the track record of 1:09. As good as her performance was, though, it seemed unlikely that the three-time winner sired by Into Mischief was actually 6½ lengths better that a mark established nearly 29 years ago and equaled most recently in 2008. And it is not like Pimlico has been without clock problems in the past (see Secretariat in 1973).
Add Miss Secretariat: Trained by Cathal Lynch and ridden by Trevor McCarthy, Congrats Gal suffered a fatal heart attack as she was completing the race. McCarthy eased her late, and about 100 yards after her last-place finish she collapsed on the track.
Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and daily through the Preakness Stakes. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, including Thursday’s pop-up edition featuring handicappers Johnny Avello, Vinny Magliulo, Patrick McQuiggan and Dave Tuley offering their analysis of each horse in the Preakness. Friday’s regular episode includes Xpressbet’s Jeremy Plonk and Preakness trainers Mark Casse and Brad Cox. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available at Apple, Google, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts.