Preakness 2014 Field: Handicapping the Horses at Pimlico

Brendan O'MearaFeatured ColumnistMay 16, 2014

Preakness 2014 Field: Handicapping the Horses at Pimlico

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    California Chrome gets ready to make history at Pimlico.
    California Chrome gets ready to make history at Pimlico.Gary Jones/Associated Press

    The traffic in the Preakness Stakes is cut down by half from the Kentucky Derby. Trips shouldn't be as big of an issue as the horses head into the clubhouse turn. What you'll see is a true sense of how all of these horses run. Perhaps ESPN.com's Gary West says it best about the Preakness:

    Circumstances dominate the Kentucky Derby, and stamina usually wins the Belmont. But talent takes the Preakness -- commanding, lordly, assertively eminent talent. The Preakness distills all the variables and all the factors down to the singularly overwhelming question of who's best. The middle jewel isn't the most famous or coveted, and it's certainly not the longest or most demanding, but it is indeed the most telling: The Preakness is the definitive race in the Triple Crown.

    And so the eyes turn to the favorite California Chrome, who looks to become the first Santa Anita Derby winner since I'll Have Another in 2012 to pull off the Kentucky Derby-Preakness Stakes double. 

    The following slides break down the mounts with no chance, the dark horses, the contenders and the favorites. There are only 10 horses, but there are still enough to fill up the scorecard here.

    Let's stop wasting time and get right into it, starting with...

Horses with No Chance

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    Linda Rice trains Kid Cruz, winner of two in a row...very...slowly.
    Linda Rice trains Kid Cruz, winner of two in a row...very...slowly.Garry Jones/Associated Press/Associated Press

    Kid Cruz: 20-1

    Here's what's good about Kid Cruz: He's won two stakes races in a row. 

    Here's what not good about him: He won those ungraded races with abominably slow times. We're talking junior varsity times. Time, in this instance, is an indicator of weakness.

    He won the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel from 25 lengths off the pace. He closed into some of the slowest fractions you'll ever see in the race and covered the nine furlongs in 1:54.82 (red flag).

    He then won the Federico Tesio Stakes at Pimlico (so he has a win on the surface), but he ran the 1 1/16 miles in a time of 1:47.38. Fast horses run 1 1/8 miles in that time (red flag).

    He's a closer and that always takes guts, but he's in over his head against several horses that will bury him in this race.

     

    Ria Antonia: 30-1

    Ah, yes, the filly who is taking on the boys.

    She hasn't won a race in a long time. She ran second in the Santa Anita Oaks and a disappointing sixth in the Kentucky Oaks. Why is she here in a Grade 1 against the best colts of this generation? It's awful tough to like her in this spot.

    She gets the services of Calvin Borel, our rail-skimming superhero. He won this race aboard Rachel Alexandra in 2009, but Ria Antonia only shares one thing in common with Rachel Alexandra: her initials.

     

    Pablo Del Monte: 20-1

    Pablo Del Monte actually drew into the Derby after the scratch of Hoppertunity, but trainer Wesley Ward, elected to skip since the horse would be breaking from Post 20. Good move.

    Pablo Del Monte has done all of his best running on artificial surfaces. He won two races over Keeneland's Polytrack and set the pace before fading to third in the Blue Grass Stakes. There's a good chance he'll be in that first flight of horses in this race, but his best surface may be artificial or grass for this son of Giant's Causeway.

     

    Ring Weekend: 20-1

    Ring Weekend won the Tampa Bay Derby by getting very loose on the lead. In the Calder Derby, he rated just off the leaders, and when he made his move to the front, he was turned away by the eventual winner. Our Caravan won the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:54.32, a pedestrian time at a track that is normally biased for speed.

    Ring Weekend was nowhere near Our Caravan in the final 16th, and that doesn't bode well for him in this spot.

The Dark Horses

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    Dynamic Impact won the Illinois Derby.
    Dynamic Impact won the Illinois Derby.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    Dynamic Impact: 12-1

    Dynamic Impact won the Grade 3 Illinois Derby with a thrilling stretch drive against the highly regarded Midnight Hawk. Dynamic Impact won that race in 1:49.07, a respectable though not impressive time for nine furlongs. 

    His sire, Tiznow, was a late-bloomer, and Dynamic Impact may be as well. If he moves forward off that Illinois Derby, he could be trouble. But he was all out to win a Grade 3, and now he's stepping into Grade 1 waters. 

    "Was his last race a fluke, or is he just getting that much better?" said his trainer Mark Casse, per ESPN.com. "If it wasn't a fluke, then he's going to be a horse that has to be reckoned with this year. But I still don't know what I have."

     

    Ride On Curlin: 10-1

    Derby horses tend to run well in the Preakness, and Ride On Curlin ran a respectable Derby, finishing seventh. He didn't have the greatest trip, and part of that may have been Calvin Borel's fault—at least that's what trainer Billy Gowan though by taking Borel off the mount and giving it to Joel Rosario.

    But Ride On Curlin, tough as he is, is a dark horse and not a contender because he hasn't won at this level yet. He always closes hard and finishes well, but he can't crack the top. There will be a lot of speed in this race, and that gives this son of Curlin—the 2007 Preakness winner—a stab at the black-eyed Susans.

The Contenders

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    Bayern is lightly raced with a ton of talent.
    Bayern is lightly raced with a ton of talent.Garry Jones/Associated Press

    Bayern: 10-1

    Bayern is an interesting horse who has a lot of speed on the front end and still manages to stretch that speed fairly well. He's never finished worse than third, and when his trainer, Bob Baffert, didn't win the Arkansas Derby with him, Baffert immediately changed gears and focused on the Preakness.

    Bayern "lost" the Derby Trial after he was taken down after a jockey objection. He won the race below Rosie Napravnik originally. 

    Baffert takes the blinkers off this colt, so he won't be too keyed up early. That's an indication that the horse is not going to the lead and will be happy to sit off it. Bayern is fit, well-rested and ready to run a big effort in just his fifth career start. 

    It will be interesting to see if he wants to pull Napravnik to the lead, or if she can use her Jedi-like mind skills to relax him. She finished third in this race a year ago with My Lute and could very well hit the board or win this thing aboard Bayern.

     

    General a Rod: 15-1

    General a Rod never had a shot in the Derby. He had a terrible trip and finished way back. His trainer, Mike Maker, liked what the horse was telling him and wheeled him back. 

    General a Rod's biggest knock is that he hasn't won at over a mile. He's a fighter, no doubt, but he could have distance limitations. People said similar things about Shackleford in 2011, and he went out and won the Preakness. 

    General a Rod will sit in the middle of the pack and try to get one good crack at the leaders while turning for home. At 15-1—and there's no reason those odds will change muchhe's a nice play and a definite contender at a nice price.

The Favorites

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    Many believe Social Inclusion could run a big one at Pimlico.
    Many believe Social Inclusion could run a big one at Pimlico.Gary Jones/Associated Press

    California Chrome: 3-5

    The Derby winner is a worthy favorite. He won the Derby in what many called a pathetically slow time. Sure, 2:03.66 on a fast track is historically slow, but that doesn't matter. Think of these races like the Olympic Trials: It doesn't matter what the time isall that matters is that the horse wins its heat.

    In the one heat that featured 19 horses in the Derby, Chrome won his heat. End of story. The clock is for history.

    At one point Chrome was clear by five, and jockey Victor Espinoza, in effect, put Chrome on cruise control to win by 1 3/4 lengths. At Pimlico Race Course, Art Sherman, Chrome's trainer, said after the post draw, per Preakness.com: "My horse is kind of push-button. People don’t know that he’s got enough lick that he can stay with any horse in the race. He likes a target to run at and I know that Victor is going to ride him well.

    For the Derby, he ran easy. He'll be forwardly placed just a length or two off the main speed in this race. Espinoza won this race in 2002 aboard War Emblem. He could do it again here.

     

    Social Inclusion: 5-1

    Social Inclusion is crazy talented. In his second start, he crushed Honor Code by 10 lengths at Gulfstream. Honor Code, at the time, sat atop many people's Derby lists as the horse to beat. 

    In just his third start, Social Inclusion set the pace in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial and nearly held on for second. He finished third behind Wicked Strong and Samraat, who were fourth and fifth in the Derby, respectively. 

    Now in his fourth start, people have wizened up. Social Inclusion will be the speed in this race, and he's the type of front-runner who won't flatten out. He's going to be in the mix in the final 1/16. Whether he has enough in the tank to hold off California Chrome and any other closer is the big question. We'll find out a little after 6:18 p.m. ET.

    Gary West of ESPN.com wrote:

    Social Inclusion set a track record in only the second start of his career, at Gulfstream Park, and then he led for most of the Wood Memorial, moving clear in midstretch, only to falter in the final strides and finish third. [He may have] sufficient speed to deprive California Chrome of that cozy self-satisfied feeling he had to be experiencing on the backstretch at Churchill Downs.