As if the absence of the Kentucky Derby winner(s) did not make this weekend’s Preakness Stakes odd, consider everything else that makes it downright weird.
Improbable (5-2), ideally drawn Wednesday afternoon at Baltimore into post position 4, is the morning-line favorite despite being winless as a 3-year-old. The last time that happened at the Preakness was 1995, when Timber Country started 9-5 at post time. And won.
Yes, Bob Baffert trains Improbable. And Baffert has won the Preakness a record-tying seven times, going 5-for-5 with Derby winners. But with horses that were not bringing in two-week-old roses, Baffert is a more mortal at 2-for-14. Not counting Dortmund’s loss to stable mate American Pharoah four years ago, Baffert is 0-for-5 with non-Derby winners since Lookin At Lucky won for him in 2010.
Of the 13 horses that are in the field for Saturday’s 144th renewal of what is now a $1.65 million race, four splashed their way through the Kentucky Derby. Improbable finished fifth but was promoted to fourth because of first-place Maximum Security’s disqualification. The last time that the Preakness went without any Derby horses that finished in the money was 1951, when the best Derby finisher in the field was ninth-place Hall Of Fame. He finished fifth as a coupled Preakness favorite.
“He came out of the (Derby) in good shape,” Baffert’s assistant Jimmy Barnes said about Improbable. “It was horrible conditions. The track was just a sloppy mess. Maybe he needed to be a little closer. He just got behind horses and was getting hit with a lot of dirt. But that race is behind us now.”
War Of Will (4-1), the horse that took the most punishment when Maximum Security cut off trailing traffic 11 days ago, got the rail draw at Pimlico as he also did at Churchill Downs. He faded to eighth but was promoted to seventh in the Derby.
Win Win Win (15-1), 10th to ninth in the Derby, drew the outside gate. Bodexpress (20-1), promoted from 14th to 13th in the Derby, drew 9 as he bids to become the first horse to break his maiden in the Preakness since Refund in 1888.That was the last time trainer R. Wyndham Walden won the race, giving him a seventh victory that Baffert tied last year with Justify.
New shooters – horses that did not race in the Derby – have won the Preakness only four times since 1984. They came up short the last two times the Derby winner was absent. Alwaysmining (8-1), drawn into post 7, is the most highly regarded of them this year. He has won six races in a row by an average of six lengths, all in Maryland.
“He’s very easy going,” said Kelly Rubley, who is trying to become the first woman to train a Preakness winner. “He takes everything in stride. Sadly, I cannot take any credit for that.”
Alwaysmining’s winning streak includes an 11-length victory in last month’s Federico Tesio, the traditional Preakness prep. The last horse to pull off the Tesio-Preakness double was Deputed Testamony in 1983, back when the Tesio was still run at Pimlico – and the year before the shooters’ recent dry spell began in the Preakness.
After wet weather hit three of the last four runnings of the Preakness, the National Weather Service forecasts a partly sunny day Saturday at Pimlico with a high of 77. Post time is scheduled for 6:48 p.m. EDT with the race to be televised on NBC.
Here is the full Preakness field with post position (trainer, jockey) and morning-line odds from the Maryland Jockey Club.
1. War Of Will (Mark Casse, Tyler Gaffalione), 4-1
2. Bourbon War (Mark Hennig, Írad Ortiz Jr.), 12-1
3. Warrior’s Charge (Brad Cox, Javier Castellano), 12-1
4. Improbable (Bob Baffert, Mike Smith), 5-2
5. Owendale (Brad Cox, Florent Geroux), 10-1
6. Market King (D. Wayne Lukas, Jon Court), 30-1
7. Alwaysmining (Kelly Rubley, Daniel Centeno), 8-1
8. Signalman (Ken McPeek, Brian Hernandez Jr.), 30-1
9. Bodexpress (Gustavo Delgado, John Velázquez), 20-1
10. Everfast (Dale Romans, Joel Rosario), 50-1
11. Laughing Fox (Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana Jr.), 20-1
12. Anothertwistafate (Blaine Wright, José Ortiz), 6-1
13. Win Win Win (Michael Trombetta, Julian Pimentel), 15-1
Racing notes and opinions
Jockey Luís Sáez is appealing his suspension for 15 racing days, a stewards penalty decreed Sunday – without comment, of course – by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. After being held responsible for the disqualification of first-place Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby, Sáez was cited “for failure to control his mount and make the proper effort to maintain a straight course, thereby causing interference with several rivals that resulted in the disqualification of his mount.” Sáez was not assigned a ride in the Preakness, but this punishment would keep him out of the Belmont Stakes. I would offer an opinion here, but like capital punishment, gun control and the designated hitter, nothing I say will change anyone’s mind about how the Derby turned out.
Add (nauseum) Derby controversy: The legal team for Gary and Mary West made good on a threat to sue the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in a bid to reclaim Maximum Security’s victory. The case was filed Wednesday in Kentucky. Yada yada yada, tickets have already been cashed and trashed.
Comedian Tim Conway’s death Wednesday at age 85 evoked memories of his television work on “McHale’s Navy,” “The Carol Burnett Show” and with his “Dorf on Golf” videos. But Conway was also a thoroughbred owner and a generous contributor to horse racing. In 1987 Conway worked with jockey Chris McCarron to create the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund. For the next quarter-century before the fund dried up during the recent recession, Conway tirelessly worked to help raise money for more than 2,000 jockeys and exercise riders who suffered racetrack injuries and could not afford to pay all their medical bills. Indeed, Conway did not have to break up Harvey Korman or assume the role of a little golfer to bring forth meaningful smiles.
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 at VSiN.com/podcasts. There will be a pop-up episode of the podcast Thursday morning featuring handicappers Johnny Avello, Vinny Magliulo, Patrick McQuiggan and Dave Tuley, all offering their analysis of each horse in the Preakness. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available at Apple, Google, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts.