The Triple Crown quest ended early this year when Kentucky Derby winner Country House withdrew from the Preakness Stakes. The place (Code of Honor) and show (Tactitus) finishers are also sitting out this weekend's second leg, and Maximum Security won't be present to avenge a controversial disqualification.
This forces bettors to get familiar with a drastically different field. Improbable represents just one of four horses set to run two weeks after partaking in the Run for the Roses.
Another favorite, War of Will, opens from the first gate following a seventh-place showing at Churchill Downs. Win Win Win and Bodexpress will look to redeem underwhelming finishes of ninth and 13th, respectively.
Let's take the look at the lineup heading into Saturday's Preakness at Pimlico Race Course.
2019 Preakness Stakes Lineup (Jockey)
1. War of Will (Tyler Gaffalione)
2. Bourbon War (Irad Ortiz Jr.)
3. Warrior's Charge (Javier Castellano)
4. Improbable (Mike Smith)
5. Owendale (Florent Geroux)
6. Market King (Jon Court)
7. Alwaysmining (Daniel Centeno)
8. Signalman (Brian Hernandez Jr.)
9. Bodexpress (John Velazquez)
10. Everfast (Joel Rosario)
11. Laughing Fox (Ricardo Santana)
12. Anothertwistafate (Jose Ortiz)
13. Win Win Win (Julian Pimentel)
Per ESPN Stats & Info, this is the first Preakness since 1996 that won't feature the Kentucky Derby winner. Much like the Triple Crown's opening leg, the result is a wide-open field with no dominant favorites.
Considered a top contender at Churchill Downs, Improbable enters Pimlico as the front-runner. Part of that stems from the veteran guidance of jockey Mike Smith, who steered Justify to a Preakness triumph last year.
Originally slated to ride Omaha Beach at The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports, Smith switched to underdog Cutting Humor when the favorite was scratched. After settling for 10th place, the 53-year-old now has a better opportunity of snagging his eighth win at a Triple Crown event.
He picked up three of those last year with Justify, trained by Bob Baffert. The duo will reunite on Saturday in hopes of directing Improbable to his first win of 2019.
Smith had also steered Baffert's Roadster before switching allegiances to Omaha Beach. According to Newsday's Ed McNamara, the jockey said neither of them harbors any resentment toward the other.
"He's good on both sides of it," Smith said of Baffert. "If he's having to make the change, he's the first one to tell you, and it's nothing personal. And he's extremely just the same if it's the other way. I've never seen him get upset about it."
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Tyler Gaffalione will make his Preakness debut saddling War of Will. The youngest of the 13 jockeys ranked second and sixth in wins in 2017 and 2018, respectively, per Equibase.
The 24-year-old also had a hectic introduction to the grand stage, narrowly avoiding a collision with Maximum Security before finishing seventh.
"If War of Will clips heels and goes down at that point in the race, who knows how many other horses go down," trainer Todd Pletcher told McNamara. "It was a great job by Tyler to stay on, and a great job by War of Will to stay upright."
Prior to the Derby, War of Will had won two races before stumbling to ninth at the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. A smaller field could lead to a cleaner break for the Mark Casse trainee, and bettors have tabbed him as the runner-up favorite.
Javier Castellano's two Preakness wins—spread by 11 years in 2006 and 2017—tie him with Smith for the lead among all competing jockeys. Neither Bernardini nor Cloud Computing was a heavy favorite when first crossing the finish line, so perhaps he can strike magic again with Warrior's Charge.
Positioned in the third post, the horse is coming off back-to-back victories at Oakland Park. Per Equibase, he recorded his highest speed figure (108) to win by six-and-a-half lengths at last month's Allowance Optional Claiming.
Yet to run in a graded event, Warrior's Charge a bit of an unknown facing far tougher adversaries at Pimlico. However, his speed and Castellano's experience make him an interesting dark horse with a chance to prevail.