Live Longshots and Value Plays for 2021 Black-Eyed Susan, Preakness Cards

English Bee, in the black silks, turns for home en route to victory on Preakness day in 2019. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Preakness Stakes weekend has arrived and presents another opportunity around a U.S. Triple Crown race to handicap and bet on cards with deep fields filled with well-matched racehorses. Friday’s George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes card drew 171 entrants, including several overflow fields, for 14 races featuring six stakes. The 14-race Preakness card drew 133 horses for a card that includes nine Thoroughbred stakes as well as an Arabian stakes race.

In short, there is ample opportunity to find value plays and vulnerable favorites to try to cash a few tickets of significance over what should be a great weekend of racing at Pimlico.

With that in mind, here are a couple of horses I think offer appealing value on Friday’s card as well as three appealing options for Saturday’s card, including plays for both the Black-Eyed Susan and Preakness.

Friday, May 14

weekend Television schedule

Thursday, May 13: 3 p.m.-8:30 p.m. ET on FS2; post time varies on TVG

Friday, May 14: 12:30 p.m.-3 p.m. ET on FS1; 5 p.m.-5:30 p.m. ET on FS2; 5 p.m.-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN; post time varies on TVG

Saturday, May 15: 2 p.m.-2:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m-6:30 p.m. on FS2; 2 p.m.-5 p.m. ET on NBCSN; 5 p.m.-7:30 p.m. ET on NBC; post time varies on TVG

Sunday, May 16: 12:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. on FS2; post time varies on TVG

Race 10, $150,000 Miss Preakness Stakes, 4:09 p.m. ET

4. Paradise Song (10-1): There is a tendency to overlook the local Maryland horses on these big days with bigger names (horses, trainers, jockeys) shipping in, but I’ve found that can be a mistake, especially in sprint races. I landed on Paradise Song here with a couple of dominant wins and one second in her three starts this year, all at Laurel Park for strong Maryland connections in trainer Mike Trombetta and jockey Julian Pimentel. She has tactical speed, she’s been training well, and I’m very confident she can compete with this group.

Race 13, $250,000 George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, 5:44 p.m. ET

1. Army Wife (8-1): She’s been very consistent in four starts on the main track after starting her career with three races on the grass. She enters off a well-beaten third-place finish behind Search Results in the Grade 3 Gazelle Stakes April 3 at Aqueduct, but that race is significantly better than it looks on paper. Army Wife was essentially stopped in the stretch when pinched between two horses, but she battled on and passed two fillies in the final eighth of a mile. I don’t think even with a clean trip she would have defeated Search Results, who came back and ran second by a neck to Malathaat in the Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks, but I do believe she would have finished second — beaten by a couple of lengths rather than 6 ½ lengths. I expect a big race from Army Wife for the potent tandem of trainer Mike Maker and jockey Joel Rosario, who are winning at a 25% clip together, and the 8-1 odds on the morning line look very appealing.

Saturday, May 15

Race 9, $100,000 Runhappy Skipat Stakes, 3:25 p.m. ET

2. Casual (9-2): This race is more of a case where I see a potential pace meltdown between the probable favorite and another top contender. Unbeaten Chub Wagon (#5) and local speedball Dontletsweetfoolya (#6) have both posted all of their victories while leading from start to finish, so I think this race could really set up well for a runner from off the pace and that’s how I landed on Casual. A regally-bred filly by Curlin out of the wickedly fast, multiple Grade 1-winning sprinter Lady Tak, Casual should get an ideal setup, she’s proven at this level, and looks well-rested and ready to run a big race for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Race 11, $150,000 Maryland Sprint Match Series Stakes, 4:41 p.m. ET

1. Laki (6-1): As I mentioned in the capsule above for Paradise Song, I give the local runners a long look in the stakes sprints on Preakness weekend for a number of reasons, including familiarity with the track, which is one of the angles here. Laki is 2-for-4 on the dirt main track at Pimlico and won the Frank Y. Whiteley Stakes here on April 24 at this three-quarter-mile distance. He has a chance to improve upon that effort in his second start off a layoff and he’s very consistent with seven wins and 15 top-three finishes  in 23 starts at this distance, where his tactical speed is a potent weapon.

Race 12, $250,000 Dinner Party Stakes, 5:38 p.m. ET

2. English Bee (8-1): With a couple of Chad Brown-trained runners in this race as well as several other solid win candidates, it’s possible English Bee will fly under the radar for Graham Motion coming off a seven-month layoff while in the midst of an eight-race winless stretch. But this 5-year-old by English Channel has run some creditable races during the drought, including losing by just a length in the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile Stakes in July 2020 and finishing second by a neck in the Grade 2 Wise Dan Stakes last June at Churchill Downs. Motion wins at 21% with horses coming off a 180-day or longer layoff for a ROI (return on investment) of $3.10, and this one looked like he needed a freshening. English Bee boasts a good closing kick and a win on this turf course, so I expect him to be right in the hunt at the finish line.

Race 13, $1 million Preakness Stakes, 6:47 p.m. ET

4. Crowded Trade (10-1): I understand the skepticism when it comes to Crowded Trade as he has flattened out after making bold bids in his two stakes races when second by a nose to Weyburn in the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes March 6 and then third in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino April 3. The fact that he allowed other horses to impose their will on him late is concerning and the quality of competition in the New York prep races appears to be questionable at best. But I view Crowded Trade as a 3-year-old with elite talent lacking emotional maturity but with a ton of room to grow. He has a nice turn of foot that he consistently flashes on the final turn, and I believe there is a chance for a big improvement in his fourth start of the year (and career) with six weeks of rest. I’m hopeful that the switch to jockey Javier Castellano helps elevate Crowded Trade as well and there is a chance he gets an ideal stalking trip in the Preakness. There are multiple runners who want to be on or near the lead as well as multiple deep closers, so Castellano should be able to position him behind the top flight and decide whether to stay close of the pace is slow or drop farther back if the tempo is hot early. I think he will finish in the top three at a solid price and there is a chance, if Castellano times it right, that he could use a late surge to reach the front just before the finish line for trainer Chad Brown, who won the Preakness with Cloud Computing in his fourth start in 2017 after top-three finishes in both the Gotham and Wood Memorial.

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