Handicapping the Preakness Stakes
As the field's fastest pacesetter, Bodemeister is the top pick for the Preakness
I'll Have Another and Went The Day Well are likely to finish near the top
With slow recent finishes, Pretension and Optimizer are unlikely to push the pace
Before we get to the meat and potatoes of this story -- the Preakness Stakes selections below -- a review of the 138th Kentucky Derby is in order. The pace at Churchill Downs two weeks ago played out even hotter than expected, with Bodemeister winging the first half-mile in 45.39 and three-quarters in 1:09.80. The lightly raced front-runner nearly hung on, but I'll Have Another, who was pegged as an "other win candidate" for the 2012 Derby, pounced inside the final furlong and held on to win the Run for the Roses.
Both I'll Have Another and Bodemeister are back to run in Saturday's Preakness, along with four other Derby starters -- Went the Day Well (fourth), Creative Cause (fifth), Daddy Nose Best (10th) and Optimizer (11th) -- and five new shooters. Almost as important as who is in the Preakness field is who's not: speedballs Trinniberg and Hansen. Their absence and the lack of pacesetters outside of Bodemeister suggest that the early fractions on Saturday should not be as taxing as they were in the Derby. For that reason, Bodemeister earns the spot as the top choice.
The selections, in order:
Record: 5-2-3-0 (5 starts, 2 wins, 3 places, 0 shows)
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Jockey: Mike Smith
Morning line odds: 8-5
Much has been written in these two weeks after the Kentucky Derby about how brilliant of a colt Bodemeister must be to have set the fractions that he did and still finish second. Indeed, no front-runner had run that fast that early in the history of the Derby and hung around as well as he did.
The question handicappers must ask themselves is, "What is the likelihood that Bodemeister fires another big performance?" The Preakness will be his third start in five weeks and his sixth hard race in 18 weeks.
Baffert says that the colt is doing well, so the decision was made to enter. Two years ago, Baffert was in a similar situation with Lookin At Lucky after a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Derby. But the horse was doing well physically so Baffert entered him, and he won.
The lack of speed in the race and the shorter distance of the Preakness (by 1/16th of a mile) play into Bodemeister's favor. If he runs his A race, he wins. But that's a big if, and he'll be a short price.
9 I'll Have Another
Trainer: Doug O'Neill
Jockey: Mario Gutierrez
Morning line odds: 5-2
Gutierrez rode a smart race in the Derby, using I'll Have Another's tactical speed to lay off the hot fractions up front before unleashing a kick down the stretch. With the Preakness being the horse's third start off a layoff, he could still have another big effort -- or two -- left in the tank.
But what tactics will the young Gutierrez use? Does he allow Bodemeister to set an uncontested pace and risk never seeing him again, or does Gutierrez challenge Bode and risk burning his own horse's chances? Neither scenario plays into I'll Have Another's favor. While it's certainly possible that he could go to the Belmont with a chance at glory, the guess is the Triple Crown dreams end here.
5 Went the Day Well
Trainer: Graham Motion
Jockey: John Velazquez
Morning line odds: 6-1
No horse made up more ground in the Derby than Went the Day Well, who at one point was 17th and 18 lengths off the lead before closing for fourth, just 2 ½ lengths behind. In his previous races he had shown a much quicker turn of foot, and, if he avoids the bumping that he experienced in the Derby, he should be sitting much closer to the pace on Saturday.
Earlier this year, the horse spent two weeks in quarantine after being shipped over from Europe and, according to owner Barry Irwin, lost much of his muscle tone. He's finally getting to where he was physically before the trip so it's possible that Went the Day Well could be just now coming into his own.
If I'll Have Another is forced to go after Bodemeister, Went the Day Well would seem to be the biggest beneficiary. Dangerous.
Trainer: Richard Dutrow
Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Morning line odds: 20-1
Of all the new shooters, the most attractive is this Dutrow trainee who has won three straight races and seems to be improving at the right time. In Zetterholm's race three back, he made an impressive move around the turn and won with ease. He's stepping way up in class, but the connections feel so good about his chances that they scratched the colt out of the easier Peter Pan Stakes to take a shot here. An unlikely win candidate, but intriguing for the exotics.