Heading into the 2014 Preakness Stakes, it's time to resurface one annual reminder about Pimlico Race Course—it's not for everyone.
The distance of the track at Pimlico—at 1 3/16 miles—is the shortest among the three Triple Crown race tracks, shorter than the 1 1/4-mile Churchill Downs and 1.5-mile Belmont Park, which host the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, respectively.
Plus, the field of 14 horses offers plenty more movement around the track as opposed to the 20-horse Kentucky Derby.
With a short track shoved in between two longer races, the Preakness often sets up to be a nightmare for any horses that come on late. Meanwhile, horses that are fast out of the gates tend to find more success at Pimlico.
Each horse has their own strengths and weaknesses, and these contenders shape up to fit the mold that Pimlico requires of its winners.
|2014 Preakness Stakes: Entries|
|2||Pablo Del Monte|
|5||Ride on Curlin|
|10||General a Rod|
Note: Updated lineup can be found at Preakness.com
California Chrome has history on his side entering Pimlico.
Jockey Victor Espinoza rode California Chrome to victory at Churchill Downs. The last time the 41-year-old Espinoza won the Derby in 2002, he went on to win the Preakness with War Emblem.
But the reason why California Chrome will likely win the Preakness has everything to do with his ability to pull away down the stretch.
California Chrome does come on late in his races, but it's always at the beginning of the stretch run and he should have plenty of time to distance himself before the 1 3/16 miles are up. In fact, contenders Commanding Curve and Danza were catching up to him in the late moments when the Preakness would already be concluded.
This horse gets it done in the later halves of races, and while that doesn't fit the mold of an ideal Pimlico horse who would start off quick, California Chrome has been so fast in 2014 that his pull-away speed down the stretch should be enough to win even on this short track.
Given how easily he's won recent races, California Chrome will be an easy favorite with more than enough in the tank to pull away on this short track.
General a Rod
After a disappointing showing at the Kentucky Derby, General a Rod will look to bounce back at the favorable shorter track of Pimlico.
General a Rod struggled to an 11th-place finish at Churchill Downs, but much of that finish had to do with getting stuck in the pack down the stretch after starting out promising.
Before that, this horse has seen plenty of successes on short tracks. Going up in distance in each of his 2014 races, General a Rod won the one-mile Gulfstream Park Derby, finished second in the 1 1/6-mile Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes and third in the 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 Florida Derby before his Derby showing.
Trainer Mike Maker is looking to win in his first appearance at the Preakness, and admitted a less than stellar Derby showing motivated them to put their horse in the Pimlico field, per Associated Press' Beth Harris via Miami Herald.
"He didn't get a chance to show his true colors in the Derby," Maker said, per Harris, "so it's the Preakness and we figured we'd give it a shot."
At the Preakness, General a Rod will have a better chance to show his speed early on. If he can avoid getting jammed up and find some space, he should be in it down the stretch.
Experience at the jockey spot—2006 Preakness winner Javier Castellano—only further boosts General a Rod's chances of pulling off an improbable upset over California Chrome.
Bayern has the complete package of an experienced trainer, a skilled jockey and an impressive recent track record that makes him a budding upset pick at Pimlico.
The Kaleem Shah-owned horse opened up 2014 with successive victories at Santa Anita in January and February, then finished third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Lastly, Bayern raced at the Grade 3 Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs, where he finished second on the one-mile track.
Strong finishes on those short tracks help Bayern's cause on the shorter Pimlico track, and we haven't even seen what he can do with those extra furlongs.
Jockey Rosie Napravnik became the third female jockey to ride in the Preakness last year, so she's recently become accustomed to the track. Trainer Bob Baffert has sent flocks of horses from the Derby into the Preakness, and the extra time off he's had in not running in the Kentucky Derby means he's been preparing even longer for the Run for the Black-Eyed Susans.
Bayern will be tough to hold off at Pimlico for California Chrome or any other contender.
All information courtesy of Preakness.com unless otherwise noted