A Triple Crown series like no other will conclude Saturday with the 145th running of the Preakness Stakes at fan-free Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The $1 million Preakness remains at its customary 1 3/16-mile distance, but it typically serves as the middle leg run on the third Saturday in May.
The pandemic, of course, forced major changes. The Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, instead of being the climactic “Test of the Champion,” opened the series on June 20. It was run as a one-turn, 1 1/8-mile contest instead of the traditional mile and a half. That led into the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, held on the first Saturday in September instead of the first Saturday in May.
There was talk of a Triple Crown that would have to carry an asterisk after Tiz the Law dominated the Belmont Stakes, but he was upset by pacesetting Authentic in the Derby.
With Tiz the Law skipping the Preakness, Authentic can take a major step toward champion 3-year-old honors if he is able to add the Preakness to his emphatic Derby score for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
NBC’s Preakness coverage will run from 4:30-6 p.m. ET on Saturday. It also will be available on nbcsports.com and on the NBC sports app. NBC analyst Jerry Bailey, a retired Hall of Fame rider, covered a wide range of topics during a question-and-answer session with Tom Pedulla that was conducted on behalf of America’s Best Racing.
PEDULLA: Has the Triple Crown felt like the Triple Crown?
BAILEY: No. No, it hasn’t. With the Belmont being first and run at the shorter distance, that puts it upside down right there. But I’m relieved that we’re just getting the races in. It’s out of order, it’s upside down. At least they are getting to run them.
PEDULLA: I am sure that has meant a great deal to the industry.
BAILEY: The people who run the horses have to be there to take care of them anyway. The horses have to eat. They have to train. They have to be cared for. The running part is actually the easier part. It takes less people and, if you remove the fans, that’s probably the easier of the two dynamics.
PEDULLA: Can Authentic repeat his Derby effort?
BAILEY: Well, he can. But it’s not going to be as easy, I don’t think. A lot of times horses that win essentially gate to wire are horses that are considered suspect at the distance, so they don’t have a target on their back as much. I think they are pretty much left alone. … This time in the Preakness, he is going to have a target on his back. People aren’t going to assume that he can’t get the distance.
PEDULLA: Why are 10 other horses willing to challenge Authentic?
BAILEY: It’s a Triple Crown race. It’s a big purse. And people need to see it again.
PEDULLA: Can Art Collector overcome a layoff after being scratched from the Derby with a minor foot issue?
BAILEY: In this day and age, horses are used to running with a lot of time off. If he doesn’t win, I personally don’t think it’s because of the layoff.
PEDULLA: Can Swiss Skydiver beat the boys?
BAILEY: I have my questions about that. You never say never in horse racing and sports. But she couldn’t beat Art Collector fair and square in the [Toyota] Blue Grass [Stakes] and now she has another formidable challenger in Authentic, so I don’t think her job gets any easier.
PEDULLA: Can Mr. Big News improve on his surprising third-place Derby finish?
BAILEY: The Derby race was such an improvement from his prior races. I suppose he could because he was three wide the first turn and five wide most of the second turn. So, I suppose with a better trip he could run better.
PEDULLA: Will there be any carryover for Thousand Words after a fall in the paddock forced him to be scratched from the Derby?
BAILEY: He’s not really that kind of skittish horse, by most accounts. I would expect that he wouldn’t do that again, but I don’t know about the psychological effect.
PEDULLA: Of Steve Asmussen’s three starters – Excession, Max Player, and Pneumatic – who do you give the best shot to?
BAILEY: Pneumatic. He’s tactical. Excession hasn’t run in 6 1/2 months, so it’s a tall order. And Max Player got beat pretty solidly in the [Runhappy] Travers [Stakes] and again pretty solidly in the Derby. I wouldn’t expect that big of an improvement from him.
PEDULLA: Who is your live longshot?
BAILEY: I guess Excession would be the live longshot. He hasn’t run in 6 1/2 months, but the race against Nadal [in the Rebel Stakes], that was a really good race. It was a pretty good trip, but it wasn’t perfect. If you can forgive the 6 1/2 months, he would be.
PEDULLA: Who do you pick to win?
BAILEY: I’m going to pick Art Collector. I think he has the potential to improve a little bit and, based upon numbers, he doesn’t have to improve much.