On Saturday, up to 14 three-year-olds will traverse the 3-16th-mile stretch and then take a full lap around the one-mile Pimlico oval in a battle for the Woodlawn Vase, the most valuable trophy in sports. The winner, of course, will be the 136th Preakness champion.
Animal Kingdom, who overcame trouble on the far turn to score a resounding win in the Kentucky Derby, is almost assuredly going to go off as the favorite. If he hits the wire first, he'll be only a mile-and-a-half from Triple Crown immortality.
The post positions won't be drawn until Wednesday, and several key players, including Nehro, are still noncommittal for the nation's second Classic. But assuming that the Top 14 eligible contenders do go to the post, here are the projected odds and contenders for the 136th Preakness Stakes:
A rapidly improving son of dual Classic winner Smarty Jones, Concealed Identity just seems to be a bit below the level of the top horses in this field.
However, he did hold on to beat Ruler On Ice on Derby Day over this very Pimlico track, taking the Federico Tesio by two lengths.
And Maryland-based longshots have been known to surprise in the Preakness, with Magic Weisner running second in the 2002 Preakness off a second in the Tesio.
Magic Weisner was even more of an outsider than Concealed Identity could ever be, bred out of a mare his owner/trainer/breeder/excercise rider had purchased for one dollar.
Nancy Alberts, Magic Weisner's owner/trainer/breeder/excercise rider mentioned above, died four days before the Derby this year after suffering a stroke in April. Wouldn't it be a fitting tribute to her if another Maryland longshot took the Woodlawn Vase in the Preakness?
This horse might just be more game than his odds suggest. He could be worth a gamble in exotic wagers.
The first four starts in Norman Asbjornson's career were anything but impressive, never earning a Beyer figure greater than 54. But since stretching out, he's shown a decent improvement, finishing second behind Derby longshot Stay Thirsty in the Gotham and then running fourth in the Wood Memorial.
But Norman Asbjornson wasn't good enough in the Wood and was losing ground at the wire after a troubled start. None of the horses who finished ahead of him in the Wood have run back yet, with both Toby's Corner and Uncle Mo getting scratched Derby week.
This really is a tough call. He's not the same horse he was as a juvenile and has been getting better each start. He's working well.
Could he step up? Yes. But I just think the distance will prove too much.
The third place finisher in the Santa Anita Derby, Mr. Commons is actually one of the more consistent horses in this field. Akkadian, the runner-up when Mr. Commons broke his maiden, has won twice in three starts since that effort and is quickly blossoming into a good horse.
But the Santa Anita Derby performance needs to be held in perspective.
Mr. Commons was not good enough to keep up with Comma to the Top, while Midnight Interlude blew right by him. Both horses were severely outclassed in the Kentucky Derby.
Why should a horse that wasn't good enough for two of the weakest Kentucky Derby runners have any chance in a race that will include four or five of its best?
California's three-year-old crop has never been this weak. Avoid Mr. Commons at all costs.
A sentimental favorite, King Congie is named for Congie DeVito, who passed away in February due to complications with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, at the age of 35. DeVito spent his entire adult life working for West Point Thoroughbreds, the racing partnership that owns King Congie, first as a volunteer on the company's website and later as its communications specialist.
King Congie just missed out on a Derby spot, finishing third, beaten a head, in the Blue Grass Stakes. He's a two-time stakes winner on turf.
His only two starts on dirt, the first two of his career, were uninspiring, but his sire, Badge of Silver, was a Grade II winner on dirt.
The distance may be too much to ask, and the dirt surface could be a question mark. I think I'll pass straight-up, but may try King Congie lower down in the exotics.
Along with Mr. Commons, one of the two Classic newcomers who won't be up near the pace, Sway Away makes for an interesting proposition.
He was clearly fourth-best in the Arkansas Derby off of a non-showing in the Rebel as the second-choice, a disappointing spring for the son of Preakness-winner Afleet Alex. Also out of a Seattle Slew mare, the distance was never expected to be the problem.
Sway Away likely will be near the rear. He was mid-pack in the Arkansas Derby, but that was because he was rank coming out of the gate. It was a race that was set up for the closers, and that he held fourth was impressive.
I think Sway Away is a definite play in all exotics, and he's worth putting on top if he goes off at good odds.
By A.P. Indy out of a Quiet American mare, Astrology would have been worth a look in the Kentucky Derby had he, not Twice the Appeal, earned the winner's share of graded earnings in the Sunland Park Derby.
Astrology, like most of the other newcomers, likes to be close to the lead but never takes it for himself, usually sitting within a length of the lead in second or third. But he also doesn't seem to like to pass anyone in the stretch, preferring just to hang on for second or third.
In fact, he is so remarkably consistent, finishing in the money in every start with Beyer numbers all between 70 and 87 on a fast track, it is almost as if he's only run one race.
Expect Steven Asmussen to change something up. Just as Nehro was rated much closer to the front in the Kentucky Derby than he was in earlier starts, I'd like to see Asmussen change Astrology's style.
Julien Leparoux sent Astrology too early on the far turn in the Sunland Derby, and he was empty in the stretch. A better ride from off the pace could get Astrology into consideration.
I was big on the forgiving path for the Florida Derby. Was. But other than Shackleford, none of the Florida Derby horses have impressed me since.
Out of the first crop by Grade I winner Pomeroy, Flashpoint is showing good promise. He was extremely impressive in running away, with the Hutcheson two back off of an easy maiden score. But like his sire, Flashpoint should be considered a sprinter. In fact, I'd be highly surprised if he turns out to be anything more.
Watch out for Flashpoint going forward. But not until he cuts back. Flashpoint has the potential to become a top-notch six furlong horse.
No time for making excuses for his Kentucky Derby: Midnight Interlude wasn't good enough. Not even close to good enough. He didn't experience the worst trip and yet finished behind the horse who did, Archarcharch. He was empty early and throughout.
This was a weak group of three-year-olds running out in California. Midnight Interlude was the best, sure, but what does that mean? Philadelphia was the best team out of the East in the NBA in 2001. That didn't mean Philadelphia was any good.
Expect Midnight Interlude to yet again show that he was the second-most over-hyped horse in the Kentucky Derby. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Other than Animal Kingdom, Shackleford was far and away the most impressive horse on the first Saturday in May. Racing on a track that was cruel to speed all day, he stayed on and was only passed when he was out of gas, and even then by only three horses. The other speed horses all collapsed to the back of the field.
The cut back in distance, as well as a track that cannot possibly be as malicious to speed horses as Churchill was playing, should play right into Shackleford's advantage.
He's run two great races in a row and should be considered a legitimate player in every wager.
The first thing I noticed when I got to this horse was that his breeding fee was $15,000. I figured that was appropriate, since City Zip, his sire, was still an unproven sire back in 2007 when dam Ballet Colony was bred to him.
But City Zip is still standing for $15,000 at Lane's End in Versailles, Ky., and that has got to be one of the biggest steals in the industry.
Anyway, Dance City held third in the Arkansas Derby behind Archarcharch and Nehro off of a pace that set up well for the stalkers and despite a heap of trouble. The only other horse to have ever beaten him was Arthur's Tale in his debut. Arthur's Tale, of course, ran second, ahead of Uncle Mo, in the Wood Memorial.
But the distance should be considered a problem. While a few of City Zip's progeny have been able to go longer distances, including millionaire Get Serious, they did so on the turf. His best dirt horses have all been sprinters or milers. Dance City might just fall into this latter category.
I'd avoid Dance City. The distance should prove to be too much.
Mucho Macho Man overcame a ton of trouble to finish third in the Kentucky Derby, getting jostled, running wide and just having to make up too much ground off of a pace too slow for any horse not named Animal Kingdom.
The Kathy Ritvo-trainee will still be a sentimental choice in the Preakness, but expect him to be back in seventh or eighth yet again. There are just too many horses that are a bit quicker.
He's a very solid horse, and the consistently high Beyer figures from his last six races are a testament to this. He's been able to contend and run well regardless the trouble he gets himself into.
If Mucho Macho Man can get a clean run turning for home, he certainly could win this thing.
I wrote that the Derby just wasn't Dialed In's place. I thought he might have been the best horse in the field, but it was asking too much for him to make up that much ground.
Turns out, I was wrong. Not about the Derby not being his spot—I was dead on there—but about Dialed In being the best horse in the Derby.
Even though he was passing horses at the end, he wasn't going nearly as fast as Animal Kingdom, and since he was coming from so far back, was passing horses without having to negotiate through as much traffic.
With so many horses going to be up and near the lead, but only one horse that wants the lead, Dialed In again will likely see a slower pace and have to negotiate past a dozen horses that may still yet have something left.
Hate to say it, but yet again, I don't see this race shaping up for Dialed In.
Nehro was second choice on the morning line in Louisville after the scratch of Uncle Mo, but went off as third choice, barely lower than Mucho Macho Man and Midnight Interlude, the fourth and fifth choices.
Despite breaking from the 18-hole, Nehro was able to clear over nicely and stay much closer to the pace than anyone expected.
It was an intelligent tactic from Steve Asmussen and jockey Corey Nakatani considering the slow pace, and kept Nehro from having to negotiate through a wall of horses like Animal Kingdom and Mucho Macho Man had to.
But everything considered, it was a perfect and fortunate ride, and Nehro still wasn't good enough.
He may factor in the money (he always seems to), but he's not good enough to win the Preakness. The big field in the Kentucky Derby gave him a fighting chance, and he still couldn't win.
I'd pass on a win bet regardless of his odds.
The Kentucky Derby winner should go off as an emphatic favorite after how impressively he won. Animal Kingdom did not get the luckiest of trips, but John Velazquez did a remarkable job to guide him through from well back off of a slow pace to record one of the most impressive Derby victories in recent history.
The fact that he blew by Nehro, who had a very fortunate trip, will only shorten his price.
Animal Kingdom's biggest question entering Louisville was if he could handle the dirt. I said he couldn't. I was wrong. Dead wrong.
He's the best horse in this field and my pick to move one step closer to becoming racing's 12th Triple Crown champion. If he gets even a decent run, he should be good enough to do it.
I do not want to be wrong again.