The field may be smaller than most expected, but the 2015 Preakness Stakes still continues to shape up as one of the most intriguing in recent memory.
Last year's iteration, by comparison, wasn't so hot. There wasn't a horse in the field strong enough to stand up to California Chrome, and everyone seemed to know it going into the affair.
The same does not apply to American Pharoah this year, even though Bob Baffert's crown jewel is the best horse in the sport. An iffy post position, unpredictable weather and a small field with several other explosive names have the outcome very much up on the air.
With the gates opening Saturday, let's take a look at all the pertinent information.
Preakness Viewing Information
Date: Saturday, May 16
Where: Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore
TV Time: 4:30-6:30 p.m. ET
Post Time: 6:18 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra
2015 Preakness Stakes Post Positions
|1||American Pharoah||Bob Baffert||Victor Espinoza|
|2||Dortmund||Bob Baffert||Martin Garcia|
|3||Mr. Z||D. Wayne Lukas||Corey Nakatani|
|4||Danzig Moon||Mark Casse||Julien Leparoux|
|5||Tale of Verve||Dallas Stewart||Joel Rosario|
|6||Bodhisattva||Jose Corrales||Trevor McCarthy|
|7||Divining Rod||Arnaud Delacour||Javier Castellano|
|8||Firing Line||Simon Callaghan||Gary Stevens|
At first glance at the lineup, things seem pretty cut-and-dry for American Pharoah, right?
Just eight participants means jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode California Chrome to victory last year, can navigate well and either lead the pack or hang back and strike late, as he did at Churchill Downs.
There are a few problems with the thought process, though. One is weather, considering Weather.com lists a 30 percent chance of rain with scattered thunderstorms. Granted, this could mean things are dry, too, but if the track gets sloppy, it may hinder American Pharoah's speed or open things up for others.
|Preakness Purse Payouts|
The other issue is post position.
A slot at No. 1 means American Pharoah must get comfortable with the rail and not allow the rest of the field to pinch him down. It doesn't help that Dortmund, Baffert's other top contender, sits right next to American Pharoah and has wire-to-wire speed capable of beating any horse down the stretch.
Baffert seems well aware of the dilemma, as the Courier-Journal's Twitter account captures:
Derby News @KentuckyDerbyCJ
Bob Baffert says 1st turn means everything in Preakness. “Dortmund is going to be tough again. The way he came out of it, he could jump up."2015-5-15 13:10:45
As far as non-Baffert horses go, Firing Line is the name to watch.
With 52-year-old legend Gary Stevens up top and past strong performances against top contenders on the resume, it wasn't a shock to see Firing Line hold the lead at Churchill Downs late before American Pharoah kicked into gear.
Now Stevens and the most underrated horse of the year sit in a superb post position on the outside. He spoke with USA Today's Dan Wolken about what the post position means for his chances Saturday: "It's a huge advantage. Having American Pharoah on the outside of me in the Derby, Victor had options and he took advantage of them. Hopefully I'll be able to take the same kind of advantage in this race. I'm going to sleep a lot easier tonight than had I drawn on the inside."
Other than the Big Three, jockey Joel Rosario and Tale of Verve require attention. Like others, such as Bodhisattva and Divining Rod, the two don't feature much in the way of marquee wins to this point, but fresh legs and obvious talent can change such a resume in a hurry at Pimlico—especially if adverse weather hampers contenders.
Taking everything into account, as well as the purse info above, it's no wonder the Preakness returns to prominence this year. In past years, non-Triple Crown contenders found it easier to skip Pimlico in favor of resting up more and putting themselves at an advantage in the Belmont Stakes.
Instead, the top three finishers from the Kentucky Derby will be in Pimlico this weekend for unpredictable results thanks to factors out of each horse's control.
It's a recipe for the most exciting Preakness in quite a long time, regardless of whether it produces another legitimate Triple Crown contender or not.
Stats and information via Preakness.com unless otherwise specified.