5 questions to be answered in the Preakness

Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Run at 1 3/16 miles, the $1.5 million Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course is the second jewel of horse racing’s coveted Triple Crown.

Ten of the last 20 Kentucky Derby winners have gone on to win the Preakness too, but only American Pharoah also won the Belmont and completed the Triple Crown.

Favorites often win the Preakness and longshots rarely do. Thirteen of the last 16 Preakness winners closed at odds of 3-1 or less and nine of those were the post-time favorite. Last year’s winner Exaggerator was the 5-2 second choice behind Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist.

Despite the short, two-week turnaround, the Kentucky Derby is still the main steppingstone to the Preakness. Eleven of the last 13 Preakness winners exited the Kentucky Derby, and remember in 2009, the filly Rachel Alexandra, similarly had a quick turnaround off her romp in the Kentucky Oaks against fellow females.

In the last 35 years, only four Preakness winners did not exit the Derby, or the Oaks, in the case of Rachel Alexandra – Bernardini in 2006 and Red Bullet in 2000, Deputed Testamony in 1983 and Aloma’s Ruler in 1982.

1. Will Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming be tough to beat in the Preakness?

Always Dreaming was the best horse going into the Kentucky Derby and he proved it. As it turned out, post No. 5 was a blessing. It would have been interesting to see how he would have performed if sandwiched at the start like some of the others drawn much further outside. He also got a composed and brilliant ride from John Velazquez, who patiently allowed State of Honor to clear him before re-engaging, taking back over and guiding his partner back over to the golden rail. The early fractions were honest, but Always Dreaming kept going.

Joe’s answer: A resounding YES. Always Dreaming is a machine. He bounced out of the Kentucky Derby in great shape. He trains like an eager and aggressive horse, but on race day, he’s composed before and during the race.

Classic Empire. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports/Jamie Rhodes

2. Can Classic Empire turn the tables?

All but eliminated at the start, the 2-year-old champ didn’t have the cleanest of trips thereafter, but remarkably, he finished fourth. After tumultuous spring, Classic Empire’s Arkansas Derby was a strong hint that he might be back on top of his game, and the Kentucky Derby run confirmed it. He’s well drawn just outside of Always Dreaming, and with a clean break, he should get a prime, stalking trip.

Joe’s answer: Again, the answer is YES. True rivalries in horse racing are few and far between. It’s not a stretch to say that at this stage of the season, Always Dreaming and Classic Empire could separate themselves from the rest of the crop, which could make for a fun summer and fall. In the Preakness, Classic Empire should be in position to test Always Dreaming from the quarter pole to the wire, the question is whether or not he can keep up with him in the final furlong.

3. What about Lookin At Lee and the other Derby also-rans … any shot?

The dreaded rail post in the Kentucky Derby turned out to be a blessing for Lookin At Lee. He broke alertly and never once encountered traffic while taking the shortest way around on the golden rail. His stablemate Hence was compromised at the start, took a ton of mud in the face and encountered traffic during his journey. The same can be said for Gunnevera.

Joe’s answer: Never say never, but I would be very surprised if Lookin At Lee, Hence or Gunnevera won the Preakness. Lookin At Lee got a dream trip in the Derby, and this will be Gunnevera’s fifth race in 15 weeks. Of the three, I’ll be using Hence most prominently in my gimmick tickets.

Hence.  Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports/Mark Zerof

4. Do the fresh faces have a chance to upset?

Half of the Preakness field did not compete in the Kentucky Derby. Of these, I’m most interested in Conquest Mo Money. The winner of three straight to begin his career, he was most recently second in both the Sunland Derby behind the high-flying Hence and the Arkansas Derby behind Classic Empire. Compromised by a slow start as the second choice in the Wood Memorial, Cloud Computing would finish a non-threatening third behind Irish War Cry. Javier Castellano rides, while Mike Smith takes over the reins on Gunnevera. With a dull sixth in the Louisiana Derby sandwiched between two wins, Senior Investment swings back off a solid victory in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Mutliplier has improved with every start, most recently taking the Illinois Derby in his stakes debut. Term of Art hasn’t been a factor in any of his most recent stakes tries in SoCal. He puts the blinkers back on and is trained by Doug O’Neill, but I think he’s just here for the crab cakes and the after party.

Joe’s answer: A Preakness win would be a stretch, but I do think, in order of preference, Conquest Mo Money, Cloud Computing, Senior Investment and Multiplier have a chance to hit the board. Term of Art, not so much.

5. Who wins the Preakness and why?

Joe’s answer: Chances of winning – Always Dreaming: 65 percent, Classic Empire: 30 percent, everybody else: 5 percent. With Always Dreaming and Conquest Mo Money being the only pace pressing types in the Preakness, the early fractions should be moderate. Cloud Computing and Classic Empire will likely lead the second flight. Unless something unexpected happens, the deep closers will be up against it.

Joe’s Preakness picks: 1. Always Dreaming 2. Classic Empire 3. Conquest Mo Money 4. Cloud Computing

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