Back in its traditional place two weeks after the Kentucky Derby and on the third Saturday in May at Pimlico, the 146th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Preakness Stakes drew a field of 10.
Only three of the group participated in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on May 1, including winner Medina Spirit, who led every step of the way in that 1 ¼-mile test. The other two returning from the Derby are Midnight Bourbon and Keepmeinmind, who finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in the race. Prior to the Derby, Midnight Bourbon won the Grade 3 Lecomte Stakes before in-the-money finishes in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford and Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. Keepmeinmind was winless in two races this year before the Derby but won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes last November. Concert Tour, who like Medina Spirit is trained by Bob Baffert, won the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes before a disappointing third-place effort as the 3-10 betting favorite in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Chad Brown saddles Crowded Trade and Risk Taking in the Preakness. Both were last seen in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino in early April but passed the Derby after finishing third and seventh, respectively, in the Wood. Unbridled Honor finished fast – from last of nine to end up second – in the Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes last month and has been waiting for this race ever since as he did not have enough points to enter the Derby. Likewise, Rombauer has been sitting on the sidelines since a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes last month following a win in the El Camino Real Derby. France Go de Ina is an entirely new face on the scene. He is a Kentucky-bred who has raced in Japan and in Dubai, most recently finishing sixth in the Group 2 UAE Derby Sponsored by Emirates NBD in March. Ram, who enters the race off an allowance-level win and who is racing in a stakes race for the first time, is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who has won the Preakness six times, most recently with Oxbow in 2013.
Midnight Bourbon will be my top choice to win this year’s Preakness, the reasoning being what happened, or more appropriately what did not happen, in the Kentucky Derby. According to statements made prior to the Derby, the plan was to send Midnight Bourbon to the lead at the start. This plan was quickly put to rest right out of the gate as the horse was bumped and found himself far back, eventually rallying to finish sixth in the 19-horse field, tying his career-best 99 Equibase Speed Figure earned in January. That strategy, if able to be applied, may have worked well given Midnight Bourbon had raced close up in the Louisiana Derby when he finished second to Hot Rod Charlie (third in the Kentucky Derby) and as Midnight Bourbon had also raced in second early in the Risen Star Stakes, eventually finishing third. Mandaloun won the Risen Star and was the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby. In his first start as a 3-year-old, Midnight Bourbon won the Lecomte Stakes (with a 99 Equibase Figure) when leading from start to finish, which were exactly the tactics Medina Spirit used in winning the Kentucky Derby. With a jockey change to Irad Ortiz Jr., the leading North American jockey of 2020 and who is once again leading the standings this year, Midnight Bourbon may get a forward position from the start in the Preakness which would enable him to run his best race of the year and post the mild upset.
Medina Spirit took the lead and took control at the start of the Kentucky Derby, getting into a steady stride and holding off all challengers in the last quarter-mile before pulling away slightly in the late stages to win by a half-length. The effort earned a career-best 110 Equibase Speed Figure which is eight points (about five lengths) better as compared with any other horse in the Preakness field. Prior to that, Medina Spirit earned 97, 98, and 97 figures winning or finishing second in all three Derby prep races in California, including when second in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. It is very interesting to note that in most of his races, Medina Spirit has never been passed by another horse in the final quarter-mile and that is a testament to his mental toughness. On the other hand, although he did win the Robert B. Lewis Stakes on the lead from the start as he did in the Derby, prior to that Medina Spirit ran second from start to finish in the Sham Stakes and second or third for the majority of the race in both the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby. I can’t say for certain if this is an indication Medina Spirit doesn’t want to pass other horses, that he can’t pass other horses because he doesn’t have a second gear, or that is just the way these races played out which, once again leads back to the fact in the Derby he refused to let another horse pass him. As such, Medina Spirit must be respected as a logical contender to win the Preakness although as the very likely prohibitive favorite, I think Midnight Bourbon and Unbridled Honor offer more value.
Unbridled Honor took three tries to earn his first career win. That win came in February at Tampa Bay Downs and was followed by a fourth of 12 finish in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. Entering the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes on April 10, Unbridled Honor dropped back to last in the field of nine and began running in earnest with a quarter-mile to run. Going four paths wide on the far turn, Unbridled Honor closed second fastest of all to finish second as winner King Fury was well in front by the time the field hit the stretch. The Lexington Stakes ended at the first of two finish lines at Keeneland, so Unbridled Honor didn’t have the full length of the stretch to continue his rally. In spite of that, Unbridled Honor earned a career-best 99 speed figure, which is as good as the figures Medina Spirit earned in his last three races before the Derby and as good as the figure Midnight Bourbon earned in the Derby. Additionally, the Preakness utilizes the entire length of the stretch, as opposed to the Lexington, so although Unbridled Honor may be last of 10 in the early stages, if there is a contested battle for the front from the start, he could be passing most, if not all, of the field for the win.
The rest of the Preakness Stakes field (with best Equibase Speed Figure): Concert Tour (105), Crowded Trade (105), France Go do Ina (101), Keepmeinmind (99), Ram (88), Risk Taking (102), and Rombauer (100).
You can get Ellis Starr's full card detailed analysis and betting recommendations for all the races at Pimlico on Preakness Stakes day - Saturday, May 15 at Equibase.com, TrackMaster.com and most online wagering sites.