The 148th running of the $1.5 million, Grade 1 Preakness Stakes Saturday at Pimlico brings together a field of eight, led by Mage, winner of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve two weeks ago. Mage is the only Derby entrant to return in the Preakness, with the seven horses and their connections facing Mage having had a bit more time off to plan how they will attempt to play spoiler and keep Mage from winning the Preakness and thus and head to the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in three weeks with a chance at becoming a Triple Crown winner.
The horse with the best chance of playing that role appeared to be First Mission (NOTE: First Mission was scratched from the Preakness May 19), who is undefeated in two route races including the Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes in his most recent race on April 15, but he was scratched from the race. Another horse entering the Preakness off a stakes victory is Perform, who captured the Federico Tesio Stakes on the same day as the Lexington Stakes. Red Route One won the Bath House Row Stakes on April 22 and is another who may be peaking at the right time. Chad Brown trains Blazing Sevens, who was last seen finishing third in the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on April 8. The colt attempts to follow an identical pattern as 2022 Preakness winner Early Voting did, also trained by Brown: skip the Derby and enter the Preakness fresh. National Treasure most recently was a non-threatening fourth in the Grade 1 Runhappy Santa Anita Derby and has won just once in his career, but it should be noted that was the same amount of success Mage brought into the Kentucky Derby. Coffeewithchris won the Miracle Wood Stakes around one turn in February but was second in the Private Terms Stakes after that and most recently fifth in the Federico Tesio. Chase the Chaos rounds out the field off an eighth-place effort in the California Derby and a seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes prior to that.
First Mission (NOTE: First Mission was scratched from the Preakness May 19) and Mage appeared to hold the bulk of the probability to win this year’s Preakness Stakes because if we could run this race with this field 100 times, these two might have won about 66 times in 100. Of the pair, I gave First Mission the slightest of edges based on the fact that he has shown the ability to relax in third and second in the middle stages of his similar two-turn races, whereas Mage has been nearly last in the early stages in his last two races. First Mission debuted at six furlongs in mid-February, three weeks after Mage made his winning debut at seven furlongs. In that debut First Mission showed some talent when rallying from fifth to second, missing by less than a length to Bishops Bay, who just last weekend lost by a head in the Peter Pan Stakes. Stretched out to two turns for his second career start in March, First Mission won easily in a 10-horse field, handily drawing off by nearly seven lengths with gas left in the tank. Four weeks later the colt proved a solid choice as the favorite when winning the Lexington Stakes by a half-length and improving to a career-best 103 Equibase Speed Figure (from 95 one month earlier). Since then trainer Brad Cox has explicitly stated the Preakness was the colt’s next target and the race dynamics looked like they would enable him to be in front of the field in the stretch before Mage got into high gear. As such, First Mission appeared capable of posting the mild upset to win this year’s Preakness Stakes, but it was not meant to be as he was scratched May 19 with an issue with his left hind leg.
Two weeks ago, Mage won the 149th running of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby by making a sharp move from sixth with a quarter mile to run to reach second with an eighth of a mile left to run, before pulling away from Two Phil’s and Angel of Empire in the final strides. Five weeks earlier the colt had made a similar move in the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm at Xalapa, going from seventh with a quarter mile to run to lead with an eighth of a mile to go, before being passed by Forte and settling for second. His Derby effort was the moment the light bulb completely went on, as this time Mage showed the same quick burst of speed and was not passed in the latter stages of the race. Following his debut win at seven furlongs, Mage could only manage fourth in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in March, but still ran faster, improving from an 88 Equibase Speed Figure to 95. Incidentally, that 95 figure was the same as First Mission earned in his second career start. In the Florida Derby, although Mage was beaten by the much more seasoned Forte – who had run five times until then as compared to two – he improved once more to a 102 figure. The 104 figure he earned winning the Kentucky Derby continued the pattern of improvement and there is every sign this colt, who is making only the fifth start of his career, can run even better.
Honorable mention goes to National Treasure and Red Route One. National Treasure, who has earned 101 figures in his last two races, won his debut last summer at 6 ½ furlongs and has finished no worse than fourth in four races since, all stakes. He adds blinkers for the Preakness and drew the rail, so there is little doubt the plan will be to put the colt on the front and try to play “come catch me” with the field. However, Coffeewithchris may have something to say about that plan as he has been no farther back than second after a quarter-mile and half-mile in each of his last six races. That may cause National Treasure to go a bit too fast to have enough energy in the late stages to hold off Mage. On the other hand, if Coffeewithchris takes back and allows National Treasure an easy early lead, National Treasure may prove difficult to catch in the final stages.
Red Route One, even perhaps more than Mage, starts far back in the early stages of his races. He rallied from 11th and last to finish second in the Rebel Stakes in late February (earning a 102 figure) and two races later he rallied from eighth of nine (11 lengths back) to win the Bath House Row Stakes with the same 102 figure. In this field of eight it appears unlikely the colt can run on from last – but on the other hand, Joel Rosario who was in the saddle for the first time in the Bath House Row, rides back and is certainly capable of getting the colt to improve the slightest bit necessary to be there at the finish in the Preakness.
The rest of the Preakness Stakes field (with best Equibase Speed Figures): Blazing Sevens (98), Chase the Chaos (98), Coffeewithchris (94) and Perform (98).
Top win contender:
Red Route One
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.