The Kentucky Derby it is not. Churchill Downs has class, history, good racing year round, and a whole lot of pomp and circumstance, Pimlico Race Course, on the wrong side of the tracks in Baltimore, has one big party every year. That party is today. The Preakness is the 12th race out of 13 in what promises to be a rain free afternoon.
Unlike the Derby, which is a big deal every year, and the Belmont, which has years with little interest mixed in with times that a Triple Crown is up for grabs, and therefore becomes among the most intriguing and watched sporting events of the year, the Preakness thrives on the same old story lines. The Derby winner is looking to get within one win of capturing the first Triple Crown since 1978, the field is smaller than in Louisville, a few fresh horses have entered, and just how big a favorite will the Run for the Roses winner be. This is year is no different. Can Orb make it two for two? Who is the competition? What are his chances?
Orb – The Derby winner drew the rail. Only nine horses have won the Preakness wearing number one since 1909. He will go off at even money or less and deservedly so after winning three straight races entering the Kentucky Derby and then storming home to beat 18 others by two and a half lengths at Churchill Downs. The argument against Orb is four-fold. First, he won the Derby in awful sloppy weather conditions that he may have liked a lot better than some of his competition. Second, the Derby was his best career race, why should we believe he will repeat that? Third, his Beyer Speed Figure for the Kentucky Derby, 104, was on par with winners of the past five years but nowhere close to that of the best horses over the past 25 years. Finally, being on the rail creates danger at the start of the race of being pinched, or having to try to start quicker than jockey Joel Rosario wants, and a likelihood that on the second turn he'll either have to weave in-between horses to get past them, or circle around a big group of competitors. He will be a heavy favorite and he should be, but big chalk has lost this race before and the competition is not incapable.
Goldencents – The colt part owned by Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino finished 17th in the Derby and eased up late in the race. If he simply did not like the conditions, the way he ran in Louisville should not have taken a ton out of him. He won the Santa Anita Derby, the same race that I'll Have Another triumphed in last year before capturing the roses and the Preakness. His career high Beyer number is 105. It is likely his early speed will help on a dry track unlike two weeks ago when being ahead early on was a death trap in the slop
Titletown Five – This would be an extreme upset for D. Wayne Lucas and Julian Leparoux. A winner of only a maiden race in seven tries, Titletown Five was a non-factor in two races against top competition. He should be forwardly placed in the early going, but nothing in his form indicates he'll be around at the end after finishing fourth at the Derby Trial three weeks ago.
Departing – Perhaps the most intriguing of the Triple Crown newcomers, a winner of four out of five career races, Departing won the Illinois Derby April 20 in his first career trip using the Lasix, a drug that prevents horses from bleeding during races. He finished third in the Louisiana Derby March 30, finishing behind Mylute but experienced very wide racing throughout his trip at the Fair Grounds. His career best Beyer figure of 97 must be improved upon significantly to win today but that is not impossible.
Mylute – After steadying early in the Kentucky Derby, and racing wide around the first turn, Mylute ran a respectable fifth in Louisville. Rosie Napravnik keeps the mount on a horse who is just two for 10 lifetime. Besides a maiden win, his only other victory was an optional claiming race at the Fair Grounds. Mylute has certainly done enough to warrant respect, and likely will be close, but it is hard to see what race he can run and finish ahead of Orb.
Oxbow – There's only one argument that gives Oxbow a chance to win the Preakness. Two weeks ago at the Kentucky Derby all of the speed horses who were ahead early in the race faded badly. Of that group, Oxbow held on the best finishing sixth. Outside of that angle, he was unimpressive in the Arkansas Derby. His career best Beyer number is 95. He ran a few solid but not spectacular races at Oaklawn Park and that seems unlikely to be good enough at Pimlico.
Will Take Charge – For a variety of reasons Will Take Charge may be the best bet to upset Orb. He clearly does not like wet racing surfaces which helps explain his eighth place finish at the Kentucky Derby and poor showing in February's Southwest Stakes. He also found himself in a tight spot late in the Derby and was forced to check coming down the stretch. On fast tracks, he beat Oxbow winning the Rebel Stakes March 16, and won the Smarty Jones Stakes despite going wide on the first turn in January. Mike Smith is a major jockey upgrade over Jon Court who handled him in Louisville. His career best Beyer number of 95 must go up to win, but he has improved his figure in three straight fast track races.
Govenor Charlie – Bob Baffert's untested colt has run just three career races winning two of them. He triumphed in the Sunland Derby March 24, the same race that Derby winning long-shot Mine that Bird won before moving on to Louisville. By a huge margin this is the best group of horses the Govenor has ever faced. He is very much an unknown quantity, should be near the lead early, and would be an upset though his 95 Beyer in New Mexico makes you wonder if he improves a bit if he could be in contention.
Itsmyluckyday – A non-factor in the Kentucky Derby finishing 15th, trainer Eddie Plesa benefits from switching to jockey John Velazquez today. He finished second to Orb at the Florida Derby, and posted back-to-back triple digit Beyer figures winning races a Gulfstream Park in January. He should benefit from a dry track that allows him to be forwardly placed. If you throw out his last race because of weather, he should be in contention today with a chance to get the first run on the initial leaders.
The Pick: Orb is going to be a heavy favorite and should be. Dating back to 2001 only two Preakness winners have paid more than $10 to win. I'll take my chances with Will Take Charge, use Orb liberally in exotic wagers, and hope Goldenents, Itsmyluckyday, Oxbow or Departing get up for third.