By Bob Ehalt
The Preakness Stakes (G1), on one level, seems a simple enough race to analyze.
There’s a school of thought—which is quite fashionable as reflected in the morning-line odds—which points out how Bodemeister set a blistering pace in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) and led until inside the final furlong. Therefore, in the Preakness, which is a sixteenth of a mile shorter, he should be able to show his heels to the field the entire way.
It’s an easy game, eh?
Well, as much as that just might happen on Saturday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course, predicting how a race will unfold, not to mention end, can often humble the most astute of observers, and the Preakness surely looms as one of those races where “simple” quickly gives way to complex.
What adds so much intrigue to the Preakness is the rather obvious fact that, contrary to popular opinion, Bodemeister did not win the Derby. He may have earned a moral victory by running so fast for so long, but he was the second horse to cross the finish line.
I’ll Have Another beat Bodemeister and it’s not illogical to reason that in a shorter race, jockey Mario Gutierrez might have moved I’ll Have Another sooner and still might have collared Bodemeister. The margin of victory might have been smaller than the official margin of 1 1/2 lengths, but it might have been a victory for I’ll Have Another nonetheless.
Now with all of those “mights” in one paragraph there’s surely room for debate on all of that. What’s more mightily certain is that the Preakness will answer most of those questions.
We know Bodemeister, who led through early fractions of :22.32 and :45.29 at Churchill Downs, can reel off a faster half-mile split than I’ll Have Another. But can the Arkansas Derby (G1) winner beat him to the finish line in a race at a classic distance? That’s the $1-million question in the Preakness.
Two weeks ago in Louisville, the answer was no. At Pimlico, the outcome promises to hinge on the aforementioned Mr. Gutierrez.
As nerve-wracking as a jockey’s first Derby ride can be, his task was helped by the limited expectations inherent in riding a 15-to-1 shot as well as the probability that either Trinniberg or Bodemeister would carve out demanding early fractions that would allow him to bide his time and rate his horse.
Now, with Trinniberg out of the mix, there’s much more uncertainty about the pace scenario, which might explain why the Bob Baffert-trained Bodemeister was installed as the 8-to-5 morning-line favorite and the Derby winner was pegged at 5-to-2. Who will dare to run with Bodemeister early on? Pretension, a 30-to-1 shot?
Without question, despite a field of 11, there’s a distinct lack of front-runners and I’ll Have Another cannot afford to be seventh at the half-mile pole—as he was in the Derby—if he hopes to head to the Belmont Stakes (G1) with Triple Crown hopes intact.
The possibility of a loose-on-the-lead Bodemeister has to be on Gutierrez’s mind going into the starting gate, and that will put into the motion the key moment in the Preakness, which is when I’ll Have Another will engage Bodemeister.
That didn’t happen until sixteenth pole in the Derby, when the Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner drew alongside Bodemeister and brushed past him. But, with the pressure of keeping a Triple Crown bid alive, will Gutierrez be as cool and patient Saturday as he was at Churchill Downs? The race within a race at the Preakness is unquestionably between Bodemeister and I’ll Have Another and it involves how soon and how aggressively Gutierrez sends his horse after Bodemeister. The answer figures to determine the outcome in some way, shape or form.
Perhaps he’ll once again power past Bodemeister in the shadow of the finish line. Or maybe he’ll go right after Baffert’s horse and engage him in a withering speed duel that leaves both horses exhausted in the final furlong and sets the race up for a closer like Went the Day Well or Creative Cause to sail past them.
There’s never a guarantee of what will happen in a horse race and we might just see why on Saturday. What seems so simple, simply might not happen at all.
And what are your thoughts? How do you see the Preakness unfolding, at the beginning and at the end?
The field for the 137th edition of the Preakness Stakes (G1) in post position order.
|Post||Horse (last race)||Trainer||Odds|
|1||Tiger Walk (4th Wood Memorial)||Ignacio Correas IV||30-to-1|
|2||Teeth of the Dog (3rd Wood Memorial)||Michael Matz||15-to-1|
|3||Pretension (Won Canonero II Stakes)||Chris Grove||30-to-1|
|4||Zetterholm (Won Patsyprospect Stakes)||Rick Dutrow||20-to-1|
|5||Went the Day Well (4th Kentucky Derby)||Graham Motion||6-to-1|
|6||Creative Cause (5th Kentucky Derby)||Mike Harrington||6-to-1|
|7||Bodemeister (2nd Kentucky Derby)||Bob Baffert||8-to-5|
|8||Daddy Nose Best (10th Kentucky Derby)||Steve Asmussen||12-to-1|
|9||I'll Have Another (Won Kentucky Derby)||Doug O’Neill||5-to-2|
|10||Optimizer (11th Kentucky Derby)||D. Wayne Lukas||30-to-1|
|11||Cozzetti (4th Arkansas Derby)||Dale Romans||30-to-1