Preakness 2021 Contenders: Horses and Jockeys with Best Chance at Pimlico

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 14, 2021

John Velazquez riding Medina Spirit leads Florent Geroux on Mandaloun and Flavien Prat riding Hot Rod Charlie to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

The 2021 Preakness Stakes is set to start at 6:50 p.m. ET on Saturday, with Medina Spirit seeking a shot at the Triple Crown. 

This year's bid for the elusive honor doesn't come without controversy, though. 

The Kentucky Derby winner might not hold onto that distinction. After besting a 20-horse field at Churchill Downs, the Bob Baffert-trained colt tested positive for betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug. 

Baffert maintains the test was a result of a skin ointment used to treat a skin condition for the horse. However, the results of the split sample test will determine if the colt remains the 2021 Kentucky Derby winner. 

For now, though, Medina Spirit is allowed to run in the Preakness and will be part of a 10-horse field at Pimlico Race Course in an attempt to win the second jewel of the Triple Crown. 

The colt and jockey John Velazquez will be the tandem to beat on Saturday, but there are other worthy challengers who will provide stiff competition on the 1 3/16th-mile track. 


Medina Spirit and John Velazquez

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Medina Spirit's upset win at Churchill Downs was an impressive showing for the horse but also showed Velazquez's skill as well. He put his mount in a position to take advantage of some bad breaks for his rivals in the field. 

In all, the 49-year-old has claimed seven wins in Triple Crown races. Five have come at the Kentucky Derby, while two have come at the Belmont, which he won in 2007 and 2012. The only one that has evaded him is the Preakness. 

Medina Spirit has the running style to be competitive. As shown in his Derby victory, he's a pace-setter who will look to get ahead early. With a shorter track at Pimlico, there will be even less time for any late closers to catch him. 

Velazquez's steady hand could play an important role Saturday. Navigating the pack and getting a clean break from the No. 3 gate will be crucial to another victory. 


Concert Tour and Mike Smith

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Medina Spirit might be strongly fancied on Saturday, but he may not even be the best Baffert-trained horse in the lineup. That distinction could belong to Concert Tour. 

A bad showing in the Arkansas Derby led to the trainer pulling the horse from the Run for the Roses, although he had three wins in three starts before that third-place finish on April 10. The colt's connections decided a run at Pimlico would be best. 

We haven't seen Concert Tour run for more than a month, but assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes is excited about the post draw for both of the Baffert horses, with Concert Tour starting from the No. 10 gate. 

"The posts are good," he said, per Bob Ehalt of Blood-Horse. "That's how our horses run. They both try to get away from there (at the break) and stay clean to give yourself a fair shot."

Jockey Mike Smith will be on board the colt at the Preakness. He won the Preakness in 1993 aboard Prairie Bayou and as part of the 2018 Triple Crown with Justify. 

Given Smith's experience and Concert Tour's running ability, they may close as the favorite. 


Midnight Bourbon and Irad Ortiz Jr. 

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

The best bet to prevent another Baffert win on Saturday is the Steve Asmussen-trained Midnight Bourbon. The son of Tiznow is one of the most-raced horses in the field and has been fairly consistent throughout his career. 

In eight career starts, he's hit the board seven times, including top-three finishes in the Louisiana Derby (Grade 2), Risen Star Stakes (Grade 3) and Champagne Stakes (Grade 1). 

The most impressive run to date, though, may be his sixth-place finish at the Kentucky Derby. He had an unfortunate trip in the busy 20-horse field, when was forced to run on the outside through both turns. But he still found a way to close distance down the stretch. In a less-crowded field, he's one to watch.

Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. has more wins than anyone in 2021 by a comfortable margin. He is the Eclipse Jockey of the Year Award winner three years running, but a victory at the Preakness has eluded the 28-year-old. 

That could change with him getting the mount for one of the best horses in the field.