2011 Preakness Stakes Contenders: Where Does This Field Rank Agains Last Year's?
Almost every year, it seems we jump on and lambaste the depth of the three-year-old crops.
I remember it last year and the year before that, although the vitriol against the crop has never been as strong as this year.
Of course, when you are looking at an athlete's field of work so early in his career, it's easy to think it empty. How many rings did Lebron James win over his first few years in the league? Did Novak Djokovic figure out how to unlock Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in his first three years chasing down their shots?
So let us keep everything in perspective. Yes, on paper, this is a weak and unaccomplished Preakness field, just as we had last year. But what ended up happening to last year's Preakness runners? Well, they turned into a decent crop.
Last year's field was surprisingly deep and turned out to actually be a good field. While the race was wide-open heading in, it was because of perceived weakness and it's only with hindsight we can analyze it like this.
Winner Lookin At Lucky rose to great things, and runner-up First Dude has become a solid colt. Paddy O'Prado became a top turf horse last summer and is still awaiting his four-year-old debut. Yawanna Twist is off to a great start this year in sprint races.
Caracortado continues to be competitive in graded stakes competition out in California, and Aikenite has won consecutive Grade II races this spring.
In hindsight, it was actually a fairly strong field.
And again, as we enter the Preakness this year, we appear to have a weak field. The depth just isn't there.
But while everyone has been maligning this crop of three-year-olds, I've been defending it, and I still will.
This is not a bad crop of three-year-olds.
It's a bad crop of Kentucky Derby-distance three-year-olds, or anything really from 1-1/8 to 1-3/8. There are a lot of good milers, a lot of good sprinters, and as we'll see next week at Belmont, a lot of good distance horses.
Brilliant Speed, Master of Hounds, and Santiva are all going to be back and rearing to take down Mucho Macho Man and Animal Kingdom in the Belmont. Even Dialed In will have a much better shot on America's largest oval. If they all go, it'll be the best Belmont Stakes field in years.
But Preakness field? Please.
Flashpoint and Dance City can still mature into nice horses, but at shorter distances. Same can be said about Midnight Interlude.
But at the Classic distances, it's Mucho Macho Man, Sway Away, and the horse all eyes will be on, Animal Kingdom. Those are the only horses good enough to win this race.
Those are the only horses where you can make a good argument that this race sets up for them.
And that is sad. At least last year you could make a good argument about half the field.
But don't call this field weak, because that would be wrong.
As we can always do well after the fact, hindsight will come kindly on this Preakness field, just as hindsight has come kindly on last year's field.
Most likely, no one will confuse this three-year-old crop with, say, the 1970 foals, which included Secretariat, Sham, and Forego. I don't think anyone would be willing to draw anything close to that comparison.
But in a year's time we'll be able to look back and say, “this field really wasn't that bad.” The same will be said about the entire crop.
Flashpoint will become a tough sprinter; Dance City will aim to the dirt mile. King Congie can still achieve a lot on the turf. Midnight Interlude, we'll see, but I think if he heads back to California he can have a nice mile rivalry with Comma to the Top.
Of three-year-olds not in this race, The Factor may still be a factor sprinting (pun most certainly intended). He has shown good speed. Same for To Honor and Serve, an early Derby favorite that I ridiculed all winter. Expect him to be back at a mile or shorter as a solid horse.
Despite two consecutive losses against allowance horses, I know better than to count out Albert Stall's Bind, a horse that he is hoping can be a repeat of last year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner Blame.
So call this a weak Preakness field if you want. Based on the racing form you'll get this weekend, you'll be correct. But don't call this a weak crop.
It's a weak crop at this distance, as weak as we've seen in years. Even last year there were enough horses seemingly meant for this distance that you could have made a good case for half the Preakness field.
But overall, this is a decent crop of three-year-olds. It's a lot better than anyone is giving it credit for being. And that will show up over the next couple of years.
It'll never be confused for 1973's three-year-olds, and it is overall one of the weaker crops, but it's not as bad as it's reputation. It's definitely not the worst ever.
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