Only four of the 13 horses entered to run in the Grade 1, $1.5 million Preakness Stakes at Pimlico this Saturday ran in the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve two weeks ago, leaving more than two-thirds of the field consisting of horses who did not run in the Derby for various reasons. Of the group which ran in the Derby, fifth-place finisher Improbable is likely to get the most attention as he finished second in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby prior to that. War of Will is another horse the public will focus attention upon as he was third with a quarter mile to run before finishing eighth (moved up to seventh) but was involved in the incident which led to the disqualification of Maximum Security. Bodexpress, who is still a maiden, was also up close in the early stages and was taken up sharply with about a quarter mile to run. That effort followed a runner-up finish at 70-to-1 odds in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Win Win Win checked in 10th of 19 in the Derby and rounds out the quartet which return in the Preakness.
Of the new faces, Alwaysmining is notable as he has won six races in a row including four stakes races, the most recent of which was the Federico Tesio Stakes last month. Owendale won the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes last month but did not have enough “Road to the Derby” points to run in Louisville so has been waiting for his chance in the Preakness ever since. Similarly, Laughing Fox earned his first stakes victory in the Oaklawn Park Invitational Stakes two weeks ago and hopes to run as well at this higher level. Then there’s Anothertwistafate, who finished second in the Lexington but previously won the El Camino Real Derby, which earned him an automatic starting spot in the Preakness. Others with good showings in stakes races on the Derby trail include Signalman (third in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes) and Bourbon War (fourth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby following a runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes). Warrior’s Charge has never run in a stakes but won his last two races impressively by six lengths each and is trained by up-and-coming trainer Brad Cox, who also saddles Owendale. Market King and Everfast complete the field.
Main win contenders:
In recent history, the Preakness Stakes has been won predominantly by horses who are on the lead, or a couple of lengths at most from the pacesetter, in the early stages. The recent exception was Exaggerator in 2016, but in that race there was a hotly contested pace which affected the chances of the early leaders and those in close pursuit. With that in mind, Warrior’s Charge is the horse I give slight preference to among three who I feel have the largest probability to win this year’s Preakness. After third-place finishes in the first three starts of his career from last November through February, all when Warrior’s Charge was fifth or further back in the early stages, trainer Cox decided to switch tactics and since then Warrior’s Charge is a perfect 2-for-2. After finishing third at a mile in February, when allowed to cruise to the lead of his own accord in his next race, Warrior’s Charge earned a then-career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure, which was a huge improvement off the 87 figure one race prior. Four weeks later when again allowed to set the pace, Warrior’s Charge improved to earn a 108 figure. Putting those efforts and figures into perspective, likely favorite Improbable earned 109 and 108 figures when second in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby, respectively, and a 107 figure when fifth in the Derby. Watching a replay of Warrior’s Charge’s most recent victory on April 12, it appears he has more improving to do. Some people might be concerned that jockey Florent Geroux, who rode both Warrior’s Charge and Owendale (both trained by Brad Cox), chose to ride Owendale in the Preakness, but since the jockey who rides Warrior’s Charge in the Preakness is Javier Castellano, currently the second leading jockey in North America, I think those concerns can be put to rest. Having put in a strong workout one week ago in preparation for the race and with a good inside post to take full use of his early speed but without getting into a pace battle with any other horses who may want to run on or near the front, I think Warrior’s Charge can successfully play “come catch me” with the field in this year’s Preakness.
If the scenario unfolds whereby Warrior’s Charge doesn’t lead from start to finish, by virtue of getting into an early battle with another horse, Brad Cox has Owendale to charge home and win. Owendale won two of his first three races around two turns, in September and again in January, before a poor eighth-place finish in the Risen Star Stakes in February. Given two months off Owendale returned in the Lexington Stakes last month and put in a powerful and visually impressive rally when going from eighth to first on the far turn and from 3 ½ lengths back to two lengths ahead before continuing in front to the wire. That was a breakout effort which earned Owendale a career-best 106 figure, 11 points better than any previous race. With a very sharp five-furlong workout in 59.2 seconds last week to show he is in good physical shape, if Owendale can repeat or improve off his last race, he might give trainer Cox the first- and second-place finishers in this year’s Preakness.
War of Will once again gets the rail post just as he did in the Derby but that is not nearly as disadvantageous in the Preakness as it was two weeks ago. In spite of the poor draw in the Derby (which requires a horse to use a lot of early energy to gain position and not get forced to take back as many horses move toward the rail for the first turn), War of Will was in a great position, fourth and 1 ½ lengths behind the leader with about a quarter-mile to run. It’s debatable whether he would have gotten through the space between Maximum Security and Long Range Toddy had Maximum Security kept a straight course, but after the incident and losing a length or two, War of Will re-engaged with Maximum Security for a number of strides before tiring back to cross the wire eighth. It must be noted that War of Will does pull his jockey in the early stages which suggests he resents not being allowed to run the way he wants to run, but whereas many horses don’t respond when asked following fighting the jockey, War of Will has enough competitive spirit that he still does respond, and does so well. That spirit, and his athletic ability, resulted in strong wins earlier this year in the Lecomte Stakes and the Risen Star Stakes, the first of the two earning the colt a career-best 107 figure. Following the Risen Star, War of Will was sent to post as the prohibitive favorite in the Louisiana Derby, but shortly after the start had something go amiss as he lost his action and was running erratically, resulting in a ninth-place effort. Considering he rebounded from that to run as he did in the Derby, War of Will certainly must be considered a contender to run well enough to contend in this race.
This next group consists of five horses that can run well but who I believe are a cut below the top three. They are Alwaysmining, Anothertwistafate, Bodexpress, Bourbon War, and Improbable. Alwaysmining earned 109 and 104 Equibase figures in his last two races which fit nicely with the top three contenders. He is going for his seventh win in a row, the first five earned leading from start to finish and the most recent when third in the early stages, showing he may not be a need-the-lead type. Just the same, no horse who has won some of the stakes races he has won on the Maryland circuit has performed well in the Preakness because it is a big step up from those non-graded stakes races to this caliber of race.
Anothertwistafate finished second to Owendale in the Lexington Stakes, earning a 103 figure and although I believe he can finish second or third here there is no reason to believe he can turn the tables on Owendale or beat War of Will or Warrior’s Charge if they run their best. The reason for this belief is when watching the Lexington, Anothertwistafate was on the inside and well ahead of Owendale with about three-eighths of a mile to run, but was outfinished by Owendale, who had to go wide on the turn.
Bodexpress has a lot of heart, as evidenced when second in the Florida Derby (with a 97 figure), then when in contention in the Kentucky Derby with about five-sixteenths of a mile to run before checking hard when the path he was running in was closed. There is no way to know if he would have continued to run competitively or not, but considering his Florida Derby effort and the fact his sire, Bodemeister, finished second in the 2012 Preakness (after finishing second in the Derby), I must respect Bodexpress as having a chance to be in the top three.
Bourbon War was a non-threatening fourth in the Florida Derby but proved competitive at the level with a 110 figure earned when second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes prior to that. He comes from far back but his trainer is changing to a short cup blinker for the Preakness to help him focus and perhaps that may help him return to the form shown in the Fountain of Youth.
Improbable has run the same race in all three 2019 starts, running virtually evenly for the last quarter mile. He lost a one-length lead in the Rebel to lose by a neck, then was second the entire length of the stretch in the Arkansas Derby before being virtually the same distance from the leader in the Kentucky Derby for the last half-mile. His last three figures of 109, 108, and 107 appear competitive with the top contenders in this race, but his running style is “one paced,” which is fine for a mile and a half distance like the Belmont Stakes, but unless Mike Smith can get Improbable motivated to pass a horse in the stretch, he is likely to get a minor award once again.
The rest of the Preakness field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures in a representative race, is Everfast (102), Laughing Fox (99), Market King (97), Signalman (101), and Win Win Win (101).
War of Will
You can get Ellis' full card detailed analysis and betting recommendations for all the races at Pimlico on Preakness day, Saturday, May 18, at Equibase.com.