Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve upset winner Authentic returns in the Grade 1, $1 million Preakness Stakes Saturday at Pimlico Race Course, with Derby third-place finisher Mr. Big News trying to improve his finish, as well as Max Player and Ny Traffic, who finished fifth and eighth, respectively, in the classic. Two horses that were expected to run in the Derby but did not, Art Collector and Thousand Words, appear to be legitimate challengers to the probable betting favorite. Art Collector won both the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes and Runhappy Ellis Park Derby before a minor issue resulted in him passing the Derby. Thousand Words, who won the Shared Belief Stakes in August, briefly fell in the paddock before the Derby and had to be scratched. Other new shooters include the filly Swiss Skydiver, runner-up in the Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks last month. Another potential contender is Pneumatic, winner of the Pegasus Stakes in August. Liveyourbeastlife was competitive at the level when second in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes the first weekend of September, with Jesus’ Team close behind in third in that race. Excession hasn’t been seen since March but appears to fit as well off his second-place finish in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes in his most recent start. However, that race was more than six months ago.
Contender analysis: In spite of Authentic winning the Kentucky Derby rather easily and gamely by a length a quarter, I think an upset is brewing and the horse capable of that upset is Pneumatic. In recent history, the Derby winner has won four of the last 10 editions of the Preakness when they have run in the race. However, that means there have been six occasions the Derby winner has been beaten. I’ll take those odds, particularly this year where a number of horses who didn’t run in the Derby appear to be every bit as fast as the Derby winner. Pneumatic is the most lightly raced horse in the Preakness field, and I think that gives him an edge.
Starting his career in February, Pneumatic won first out in a sprint and has continued to improve, mature, and run faster in each race since then. After stretching out to a mile in his second start in April, Pneumatic improved again when third in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes and even when fourth in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in June took another step forward. His pattern of Equibase Speed Figures from his debut through the Belmont (90, 96, 98, 101) denotes a 3-year-old getting physically and mentally stronger with each and every race. Then, in the Pegasus Stakes in mid-August, Pneumatic took a drastic step forward to earn a 113 figure. Putting that figure in perspective, Authentic earned a 109 figure for winning the Derby, while Swiss Skydiver earned the same 109 figure when runner-up in the Kentucky Oaks. Thousand Words’ 107 figure in the Shared Belief and the 104 figure Art Collector earned in the Ellis Park Derby were both lower as compared with Pneumatic. Then there’s the matter of this 1 3/16-mile distance. Aside from the fact Swiss Skydiver won the Alabama Stakes and Authentic won the Kentucky Derby at the distance of 1 ¼ miles, no other horse has won at the distance. However, Pneumatic is by Uncle Mo, and per STATS Race Lens, Uncle Mo has sired the most stakes race winners at distances from 9 1/2 to 10 furlongs compared with all the other sires of Preakness entrants. Trained by North American leading trainer Steve Asmussen, who won the Preakness in 2007 (Curlin) and in 2009 (Rachel Alexandra), if Pneumatic continues to improve as it appears he should, he could win the Preakness at high odds.
Art Collector, who was very likely to be the second betting choice behind Tiz the Law in the Derby, did not enter the race when sustaining a mild injury to his heel prior to the race. That might have been the best thing to happen to this immensely talented colt, as he’s come back to put in three superb workouts. This suggests Art Collector is in the same top form he has demonstrated since returning from 5 1/2 months off in May and winning four straight races. After a dominant victory in the Blue Grass Stakes in July with a 102 figure, he ran even better in the Ellis Park Derby with a 104 figure. In both those races, Art Collector was drawing off at the end, suggesting he’s a horse which should have no issues with the added sixteenth of a mile in the Preakness. Having the ability to win on the lead or from off the pace, Art Collector is very likely to be in the thick of the action in the Preakness from the start and right down to the finish line.
Authentic has been nearly perfect in his career, winning five times and finishing second once. After taking the TVG.com Haskell Stakes with a career-best 109 figure in July at 1 1/8 miles, Authentic repeated the effort with the same figure in the Derby while leading from start to finish. Considering his last four wins have been earned when leading from start to finish, there is some concern as to what will happen if other horses decide to challenge him for the lead. Stablemate Thousand Words (also trained by Bob Baffert) led from start to finish in the Shared Belief Stakes last month and might try to battle for the lead in spite of Baffert’s strategy to the contrary, particularly since he is adding blinkers. Art Collector, Ny Traffic, and Swiss Skydiver could all be hot on Authentic’s heels from the start as well. Still, his Derby effort was very good and any improvement off that race could make him a formidable opponent in the Preakness.
Swiss Skydiver will try to repeat the feat of another filly, Rachel Alexandra, who won the Preakness in 2009 after competing in the Kentucky Oaks. Rachel Alexandra won the Oaks, while Swiss Skydiver finished second in the race this year, but Swiss Skydiver ran the best race of her career in doing so, earning the same 109 figure Authentic did one day later winning the Derby. Prior to that, Swiss Skydiver won the 1 ¼-mile Alabama Stakes in handy fashion and it’s possible the return of a 19-day layoff may have been too quick of a turnaround. Rested four weeks this time, Swiss Skydiver has come back to put in two very strong workouts and I expect the filly to be very competitive in this race.
The rest of the Preakness Stakes field (with best Equibase Speed Figure): Excession (100), Jesus’ Team (109), Liveyourbeastlife (107), Mr. Big News (105), Max Player (105), Ny Traffic (109) and Thousand Words (107).
You can get Ellis' full card detailed analysis and betting recommendations for all the races at Pimlico on Preakness Stakes Day - Saturday, October 3 at Equibase.com, TrackMaster.com and most online wagering sites.