Friday, May 15, 2009

Preakness preview, post by post

Here's the 13-horse Preakness Stakes field, and my thoughts on each. Includes morning-line odds (demand better if red, take 'em if green), five-generation pedigree (5x) and individual past-performances as PDFs from Daily Racing Form (PPs):

1. Big Drama (Montbrook-Riveting Drama, by Notebook), 10-1, 5x, PPs: Talented colt whose 5-for-7 ($890,250) record would be 6-for-7 if not disqualified to second in his Gulfstream record-shattering triumph in the Swale S. (7f in 1:20.88, 108 Beyer). Sire was a sprinter whose progeny average winning distance is just 6.45 furlongs; dam unraced but producer of three blacktype. Despite his sire's history, he won two stakes at 8.5f at age 2, though now being asked to go a furlong further than he ever has, and due to injury with only one race thus far at 3. John Velazquez rides as Eibar Coa sticks with Derby-third Musket Man. Early speed will make him a factor, but might wither before the wire.

2. Mine That Bird (Birdstone-Mining My Own, by Smart Strike), 6-1, 5x, PPs: Derby winner probably hopes for a wet Preakness for a repeat performance. Race sets up for him with speed to his inside as he's likely to take back a little (or a lot) and can do so freely and quickly to the nearby rail. Young sire off to a good start, including this Canadian champion 2-year-old, and a pedigree with virtually zero distance limitations. Derby Beyer of 105 was a completely unpredictable advance from prior-best figures of 80 and 81, and regression here would be no surprise. Has won 5-of-9 for $1,791,581, under three different jocks; loses Calvin Borel to Rachel Alexandra but gets hall-of-famer Mike Smith. Odds close to fair, but would like him better if Calvin did, too.

3. Musket Man (Yonaguska-Fortuesque, by Fortunate Prospect), 8-1, 5x, PPs: Illinois Derby-G2 winner at a mile and an eighth, but the 98 Beyer would have to improve, for par among Preakness winners is 111. Consistent 5-for-7 and $772,662. Sire was a sprinter, but colt showed with Derby third at 10f that 9 1/2 furlongs shouldn't be too, too far, at least for his guts if not for his pedigree. Odds fair, but in this group, don't settle for much shorter.

4. Luv Gov (Ten Most Wanted-City of Silver, by Nepal), 50-1, 5x, PPs: I'm still convinced this horse is only in the field to let his connections save face after it was stated that they were entering him during the Allen/Zayat anti-Rachel plot of last Sunday. If this closer figures at all, of course, I'll look like a fool. But he only just broke maiden in his 10th lifetime start ($62,896 total), on the Derby undercard. Career-best Beyer (87) in that race, but Jamie Theriot would have to coax 20 more points out of him to win here. A scratch before post-time? (Please?)

5. Friesan Fire (A.P. Indy-Bollinger, by Dehere), 6-1, 5x, PPs: Derby 18th a better 6-1 shot than the Derby first Mine That Bird? Possibly, though I'd like to get slightly better. Difference is Friesan Fire was showing nothing but progress (Beyers 94, 97, 104) before getting squeezed, bumped and eliminated from contention in Derby, where Gabriel Saez cantered him home, saving energy the 'Bird spent. Had won 4-of-7 for $603,265 prior, over fast strips and in the slop. Sire one of the best in America; dam an Aussie-bred Group 1 winner on turf.

6. Terrain (Sky Mesa-Minery, by Forty Niner), 30-1, 5x, PPs: For great-grandson of A.P. Indy out of a stakes winning Forty Niner mare (multiple blacktype-producer), distance won't be a problem. Has been a consistent performer, albeit consistently not first since three straight wins (one by double-DQ in the Arlington-Washington Futurity) in his first three races. Career-best Beyer a 91 coming home a hailing-distance third behind Friesan Fire (and close to placer Papa Clem) in sloppy Louisiana Derby-G2. Jock Jeremy Rose knows how to find winner's circle in Preakness (Afleet Alex). Beaten by four others who are in this race (also General Quarters and Big Drama) but did finish second to Pioneerof The Nile's third in Breeders' Futurity-G1. Exotics only.

7. Papa Clem (Smart Strike-Miss Houdini, by Belong To Me), 12-1, 5x, PPs: Gutty performer has won just two of seven, but for $899,940 as one was the Arkansas Derby-G2 wrested away from once-Derby-Trail-favorite (now injured) Old Fashioned. Has lost to several in the field, but had to be steadied and still finished only a half-length out of second in the Derby to Pioneerof The Nile and Musket Man. Dam a G1-winning 2-year-old (Del Mar Debutante) who only lasted four starts; second dam won a pair of G1s and earned $903,000. Barely beat Terrain in Louisiana Derby-G2, but has progressed. Career-best 101 Beyer is close enough to threaten. Sire throws classic-distance champions (Curlin, English Channel) on dirt and turf. Rafael Bejarano will give him a chance, and at a price.

8. General Quarters (Sky Mesa-Ecology, by Unbridled's Song), 20-1, 5x, PPs: Horse has won three of 12 for $641,735, but one was the Blue Grass S.-G1 at Keeneland, which got him into the Derby for owner and one-horse trainer Thomas R. McCarthy. I liked him at Churchill and probably shouldn't have; he wandered home 10th, beaten nearly 18. But PPs show bounces followed by peaks -- 102 Beyer beating Musket Man in the Sam F. Davis-G3 followed by 81 in losing to the same horse in the Tampa Bay Derby-G3. Followed-up with a winning 95 in the Blue Grass, then dipped to 79 at Churchill. Is the Preakness under Julien Leparoux his next peak, at twice the Churchill price?

9. Pioneerof The Nile (Empire Maker-Star of Goshen, by Lord At War), 5-1, 5x, PPs: Mr. Consistency is, other than Rachel Alexandra, the overall class of the field. Grade 1 wins at 2 and 3; 5-for-9 for $1,634,200; four straight graded wins prior to a Derby-second under Garrett Gomez; dam a stakes winner and multiple graded-blacktype producer. Hard to knock, but something tells me I want at least that 5-1 and might not get it. ... An aside, by Empire Maker (dam Toussaud a graded stakes-winning turf mare, siblings Chester House, Chiselling and Decarchy graded turf winners) and out of a turf-blacktype Lord At War mare, when do I get to see this colt on the lawn?

10. Flying Private (Fusaichi Pegasus-Beautiful Treasure, by Unbridled), 50-1, 5x, PPs: Derby-winning sire was second in Preakness. Dam was stakes-placed. Has gotten 9 furlongs decently (94, 91 Beyers) in the Lane's End-G2 and Arkansas Derby-G2. Only one win in 11 tries, but has knocked heads in graded company of late and earned nearly $200,000. Still, took three races to break maiden and has faced N1x allowance company four times without getting that second win, so two stakes-placings (at 6f and 9f), one graded, were hard to predict. Alan Garcia takes over from Derby rider Robby Albarado. Will be near the front and (with four seconds) sometimes fights to hang on for a piece. A better 50-1 shot than Luv Gov.

11. Take The Points (Even The Score-Ginger Ginger, by Fred Astaire), 30-1, 5x, PPs: Second-best (by 6) to early-fave-turned-off-Derby-trail The Pamplemousse in G3 Sham, then a respectable fourth behind Pioneerof The Nile, Chocolate Candy and Mr. Hot Stuff in the Santa Anita Derby-G1. Stamina influences abound in pedigree; the distance won't be a problem. Dam unplaced in one start, but also produced an Indiana-bred restricted stakes winner in Tin Man Commin (Tinner's Way). Only six starts, but top Beyer is a 99, and he's a fighter who has never been worse than fourth. And, both career wins came in his only two starts under Edgar Prado, who takes him back today. Live at 30-1.

12. Tone It Down (Medaglia D'Oro-Chattin, by Rollicking), 50-1, 5x, PPs: Connections must have been encouraged by show finish in Pimlico's Federico Tesio on Derby Day, but considering the top two finishers in that race weren't deemed worthy of the Preakness, this colt shouldn't have been, either. Top Beyer of 87 would fall far short. Dam only a modest winner, but produced Maryland-bred champ filly Gin Talking (Allen's Prospect). Gets hall-of-famer Kent Desormeaux, who must've been desperate for a Preakness ride as he elbows out Maryland-circuit staple Mario Pino, who'd ridden the colt every race of his life prior. (Desormeaux otherwise is riding today in the Dixie-G2 and two maiden-specials.) Should be near the front, but seems to have little chance.

13. Rachel Alexandra (Medaglia D'Oro-Lotta Kim, by Roar), 8-5, 5x, PPs: Belle of the ball has the boys' boxers in a bunch. Comes in soaring off a 20 1/4-length romp in the Kentucky Oaks that earned a 108 Beyer, her fifth straight win in as many starts with Calvin Borel and her fourth consecutive triple-digit figure, the fifth being a tick below at 99. Borel to a degree handicapped this race for everyone by taking off the Derby winner, Mine That Bird, to stick with a filly. Yes, she is that good. By a Grade-1 classic-distance winner out of a stakes winning mare who is half to two other blacktype runners. Much points to her being the first filly to win this race since Nellie Morse in 1924, but at this price (or potentially even shorter) she's a bet-against. A front-running filly who has been no worse than a head off the lead in her five wins with Borel, she might have the speed to make the lead or come close, but she'll need to reach the front (or else change character and take back) or risk losing ground on the first turn from Post 13. Only good thing about the post is that she won't be bullied from both sides by jealous boys, though someone might try to hang her out wide. And how will she respond to her sale and the resulting barn switch from the only trainer she's ever known, Hal Wiggins, to Steve Asmussen? She's been the most prohibitive of favorites in her last four against fillies, and might be short-priced again here, but this is a much tougher test. Good luck and Godspeed to her; she'll need it. And if you take her to win, key her over someone in the exotics if you hope to make any serious money.

All said, this could be a Preakness for the ages. Safe trip to all, and let's hope it's remembered only for good reasons.

(Full-field PPs free from DRF's Formulator.)

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