Although Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Rich Strike is awaiting the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in three weeks, the 147th running of the $1.5 million Grade 1 Preakness Stakes May 21 at Pimlico is still going to be an exceptionally exciting race. Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath will attempt to become the seventh filly in history to win the race, following in the footsteps of recent winners Swiss Skydiver (2020) and Rachel Alexandra (2009), who both contested the Kentucky Oaks before winning the Preakness.
One of the horses attempting to spoil Secret Oath accomplishing the Oaks-Preakness double is Kentucky Derby runner-up Epicenter, who won the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby in March prior to his Derby effort. Early Voting is another horse capable of denying the filly as he finished second by a neck in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino in April before his connections made the conscious decision to skip the Derby and point to the Preakness. Simplification rallied from 15th in the early stages of the Derby to finish fourth and is another with strong form at the level.
Then there’s Creative Minister, who makes his stakes debut in the Preakness and whose connections felt strongly enough about his chances to pay a $150,000 supplemental nomination fee in order for him to run. Skippylongstocking finished third and 3 ¾ lengths behind runner-up Early Voting in the Wood Memorial and hopes to improve markedly to be a contender. Armagnac could only manage fourth in the Grade 1 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby in April but rebounded to win an allowance race two weeks ago and hopes to run as well at this much higher class level. Happy Jack and Fenwick round out the field, the former 14th in the Derby and beaten 19 lengths and the latter last of 11 and beaten 36 lengths in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in his most recent race.
Secret Oath is my top choice to win this year’s Preakness Stakes because of the visually impressive manner in which she won the Kentucky Oaks 15 days ago. If we correctly ignore her third-place effort against males in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby prior to the Oaks (because she broke slowly but then rallied from ninth to second while six paths wide on the far turn before tiring to third) the filly has won three stakes in a row. After a 7 ¼-length win in the Martha Washington Stakes in January, Secret Oath won the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes by 7 ½ lengths four weeks later. Two weeks ago in the Oaks, Secret Oath took over with three eighths of a mile to run and was widening her margin of victory when the wire came up. She earned a career-best 105 Equibase Speed Figure in the Oaks, which is the same as Epicenter earned one day later in the Kentucky Derby. However, the difference between Secret Oath and Epicenter is that as a filly Secret Oath gets a five pound break in the weights, which can be significant at this distance. Another factor in her favor is the fact that Secret Oath didn’t have to run all-out in the Oaks whereas Epicenter was battling head and head for most of the stretch with Zandon before both were passed by Rich Strike. Luis Saez rode Secret Oath for the first time in the Oaks and gets the return engagement in the Preakness. I think Secret Oath can follow in the footsteps of Rachel Alexandra, who won the Oaks and Preakness in 2009, and Swiss Skydiver, who finished second in the Oaks before winning the Preakness in 2020.
Creative Minister is a very interesting horse who may go to post at high odds in the Preakness. Tied with Early Voting as the most lightly-raced horse in the field, Creative Minister has only run three times and never in a stakes. Other than that, his record is the same as that of Early Voting (with two wins and one runner-up finish) and he’s run just as fast. After losing by a neck in a sprint in his career debut in March, Creative Minister stretched out to two-turns and won decisively in a field of 12 in April, earning a then career-best 88 Equibase Figure. Coming back on the undercard on Derby Day, Creative Minister earned a new career-best figure of 108, which was higher than Rich Strike earned winning the Kentucky Derby later the same day. His connections think so highly of the colt they paid a $150,000 supplemental fee to run in the Preakness as he was not originally nominated for the race. Getting a good inside post, Creative Minister can save ground while racing in mid-pack as he has done in his last two races, and if he continues his pattern of improvement he could be strong factor, perhaps even posting the upset win in this year’s Preakness.
Epicenter was ultra-game in the Derby as he moved up quickly after a half-mile to go from eighth to first and held that position until near the wire when passed by Rich Strike. Epicenter also showed his desire to win as he battled with Zandon for most of the last quarter-mile of the race and was drawing away by a length from his foe at the end even after Rich Strike had secured victory. After earning four successive 97 figures including when winning the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford and Louisiana Derby, Epicenter improved to a career-best 105 figure, and if he can take even the slightest step forward in the Preakness this race could yield one heck of a stretch battle once again with Secret Oath and with Creative Minister if both repeat their most recent efforts.
Honorable mentions go to Simplification and to Early Voting. Simplification rallied past 11 horses to finish fourth in the Derby, earning a career best 101 figure. He may find the slightly shorter distance of the Preakness to his liking, although it must be noted when racing one mile and one-eighth for the first time in the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill 'n' Dale Farm at Xalapa prior to the Kentucky Derby, Simplification lost both ground and position in the final eighth of a mile when going from second (a head behind the leader) to third (2 ¼ lengths behind the winner). Early Voting has been freshened since his neck defeat in the Wood Memorial in April and trainer Chad Brown made the conscious decision to skip the Derby in favor of this race. The colt is on a pattern for nice improvement as he earned a 79 Equibase Speed Figure in his debut, then a 81 figure winning the Withers Stakes, and lastly a 102 figure in the Wood Memorial. My main concern with Early Voting has to do with the fact that he led from start to finish in the Withers and tried the same tactics in the Wood. In this field both Armagnac and Fenwick are both very likely to want the lead from the start as that appears their only hope of success, and if that scenario occurs, Early Voting may find himself in a position (third) in the early stages he’s never been in previously.
The rest of the Preakness Stakes field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures is Armagnac (92), Fenwick (91), Happy Jack (98 in a sprint race), and Skippylongstocking (100).
Win contenders in preference order:
You can get Ellis' 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.