Making the Grade, which will run through the 2019 Belmont Stakes, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Riding a six-race winning streak into the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, Alwaysmining will attempt on Saturday to become the first Maryland-bred to win the Preakness Stakes since Deputed Testamony in 1983. In a year in which none of the official top three from the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve nor the horse who crossed the finish line first and was disqualified will move on to the Preakness, Alwaysmining has a golden opportunity to end the 35-year drought for Maryland-breds.
Ability: Winless in three starts in Kentucky to begin his career, all in races at 5 ½ furlongs or less, Alwaysmining established himself as a racehorse when he moved to Maryland. He won his fourth career start at Laurel Park by 4 ½ lengths before back-to-back unplaced finishes, one of which came in his lone start on grass in the Laurel Futurity on Sept. 22, 2018. Since that race, which was his first start for new trainer Kelly Rubley, Alwaysmining has not lost a race.
Alwaysmining won an allowance race by 10 lengths on a sloppy track on Oct. 27 and then closed his 2-year-old season with clear wins in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity and Heft Stakes at Laurel Park in December, earning a new career-best 96 Equibase Speed Figure for the former before smashing that with a 107 for the Heft. Alwaysmining defeated by 1 ½ lengths in the Heft previously unbeaten favorite Win Win Win, a future stakes winner who qualified for this year’s Kentucky Derby via a runner-up finish in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes.
Seven weeks later, Alwaysmining made his 3-year-old debut in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel and led every step of the way en route to a 4 ¼-length victory. Stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time in the Private Terms Stakes on March 16 at Laurel, Alwaysmining powered to a front-running 6 ¾-length romp that earned his a new career-best 109 Equibase Speed Figure as well as an eye-catching 95 Beyer Speed Figure. His final five-sixteenths of a mile in 29.99 seconds in the Private Terms was reason for optimism.
Rather than test Alwaysmining on the Kentucky Derby trail, his connections opted to target the Preakness and entered him in the local prep race, the Federico Tesio Stakes at 1 1/8 miles, and he won by 11 ½ lengths as the 1-20 favorite.
He took a small step back in terms of speed figures in the Tesio, earning a 104 from Equibase and a 92 Beyer Speed Figure, but he did rate comfortably in third through a half-mile in that race and also showed he could stretch out to 1 1/8 miles.
The Preakness at 1 3/16 miles will be a sixteenth of a mile longer, but based upon his final three-eighths of a mile in 37.15 seconds and final eighth of a mile in 12.47 seconds, Alwaysmining should be able to handle the distance.
Running style: After leading from start to finish in his previous five victories, Alwaysmining went back to the tactics he employed in his maiden win and rated off the pace in the Tesio. He did so quite comfortably while racing about three to four lengths off a leisurely pace. Most impressively, when was given his cue by jockey Daniel Centeno, Alwaysmining shifted gears and made a powerful move entering the final turn to open a clear lead at the top of the stretch. Despite expending energy to take command, he still had enough stamina in reserve to finish very well. That was no doubt due in part to the slow early pace, but it’s also promising to see a 3-year-old capable of multiple moves in a race.
Tactical speed has been key in recent editions of the Preakness with four front-running winners in the last 11 editions, and only two of the last 11 winners and four of the last 17 winners more than 3 ¼ lengths back after the first quarter-mile.
Connections: Runnymede Racing is the Thoroughbred racing operation of Greg and Caroline Bentley, whose farm is near Coatesville, Pa. BloodHorse wrote a nice feature on the couple, who started out racing steeplechase horses as a hobby but became hooked on flat racing after a jumper named Hardest Core win the 2014 Arlington Million. They have since been active purchasing mares at auction and breed their own racehorses.
BloodHorse also wrote a terrific profile of Kelly Rubley, who trains for Runnymede and is based out of Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. A lifelong horse lover, Rubley joined up in 2009 with Barclay Tagg, best known as the trainer of dual classic winner Funny Cide, and became his top assistant. She subsequently served as an assistant for Jimmy Toner before venturing out on her own in 2014. Her lone graded stakes winner to date is Divisidero.
Daniel Centeno picked up the mount on Alwaysmining to start his current six-race winning streak and has been aboard for each of those victories. A six-time leading rider at Tampa Bay Downs and two-time winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, Centeno will be riding in the Preakness for the first time and seeking the first Grade 1 win of his career. He has won 2,805 races since taking out his jockey’s license in 1996.
Pedigree: Alwaysmining is from the third crop of 2011 Travers Stakes winner Stay Thirsty, by 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini. Stay Thirsty ranked in the top 10 among third-crop sires in 2018 and topped the sire list in California.
Stay Thirsty was a winner from three-quarters of a mile to 1 ¼ miles and finished second by three-quarters of a length in the 2011 Belmont Stakes at 1 ½ miles.
In addition to several Southern Hemisphere Group 1 winners, Stay Thirsty is the sire of Grade 1 winner Mind Control and 2019 Godolphin Mile winner Coal Front, the latter a winner of seven of nine starts who has earned more than $1.6 million.
The bottom half of Alwaysmining’s pedigree is anchored by his fourth dam (maternal great-great grandmother), Cequillo, by Princequillo, who produced four stakes winners and is responsible for 2000 Belmont Stakes winner Commendable, Grade 1 winners and notable sires Fappiano, Ogygian, Quiet American, and Honour and Glory, and champion sprinter Dr. Patches as well as many other notable Grade or Group 1 winners.
While much of the class is deeper in the bottom half of this pedigree, there are reasons for optimism as his dam (mother), What Will Be, by Anees, placed in 14 of 33 starts with four victories, including one at 1 1/8 miles. His grandam (maternal grandmother), Che Sara Sara, by Golden Act, also was a winner at 1 1/8 miles and twice ran second in stakes at 1 1/16 miles. His third dam(maternal great-grandmother) is Tartan Farms homebred stakes producer Consequential, by Hall of Famer Dr. Fager. I don’t typically delve this deep into pedigrees for this feature, but there is some serious back class in the pedigree and that could come into play in what is a huge class test for Alwaysmining in the Preakness.
I think we have a chance to see a true breakout performance in the Preakness from a racehorse who is in impeccable form. Alwaysmining is very fast, he has tactical speed, he’s versatile, and he’s facing a field that is missing the first four to cross the finish line in the Kentucky Derby. I respect Grade 1 winner Improbable and multiple graded stakes winner War of Will as well as several of the other new shooters, but Alwaysmining is my pick to win the Preakness.