As has become more often the case in recent years, “new shooters” will outnumber Kentucky Derby (G1) participants when the field for the $1.5 million Preakness (G1) takes to the track at Pimlico on May 18.
Following the defections of Derby winner Country House and runner-up Code of Honor, the number of horses considering wheeling back in two weeks currently stands at three: Improbable, War of Will, and Bodexpress.
The last time a Derby winner skipped the Preakness was in 1996, when Grindstone exited the Churchill Downs classic with a career-ending injury. The last time none of the top three finishers in the Derby ran in the Preakness was way back in 1951.
In the last 50 editions of the Preakness, since 1969, new shooters have won the Preakness a mere eight times, which is not a great percentage. However, if lacking the requisite class to win the blanket of Black-Eyed Susans, they can’t be entirely discounted from finishing second or third. Fifteen new shooters have completed the Exacta and 18 have completed the Trifecta in the Preakness during that span. The last time new shooters occupied the top three slots in the Preakness was in 1982, a race passed by Derby winner Gato del Sol.
Here are quick thoughts on the seven new shooters currently under consideration:
Alwaysmining will be the sentimental choice among the Maryland faithful as he’ll seek to become the first Free Stater to win the Preakness since Deputed Testamony in 1983. Connections never caught a whiff of Derby Fever, which has been to the gelding’s benefit as he’s reeled off six wins in a row, many by open lengths. The Preakness, obviously, will be a much more stringent task despite the absence of many high-profile names, but we don’t really yet know how good this one is.
Anothertwistafate didn’t quite make the Derby cut on points after second-place finishes in the Sunland Park Derby (G3) and Lexington (G3), though he could have made the field if he had entered due to the late scratches of Omaha Beach and Haikal. However, connections felt that after the Lexington a five-week break was necessary and that their best shot at a classic would come in Baltimore. No argument here. His run in New Mexico was solid, and note he encountered early trouble in the Keeneland race. Intriguing contender.
Bourbon War has the benefit of having run in what turned out to be two of the key Kentucky Derby preps. He was a close second to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth (G2), and then fourth behind Maximum Security in the Florida Derby (G1). A day after seeing what transpired at Churchill Downs, connections re-thought their initial plans of running in the May 11 Peter Pan (G2). Given the evidence in his three stakes attempts thus far, he’s dependent on a fast pace.
Laughing Fox, fourth in the Arkansas Derby (G1) behind Omaha Beach, Improbable, and Country House, rallied to win last Saturday’s $300,000 Oaklawn Invitational, a “Win & You’re In” prep for the Preakness, by a neck. He’s another who does his best running late, but at the moment seems a cut below most of these on this list.
Mr. Money impressively captured the Pat Day Mile (G3) on the Kentucky Derby undercard, suggesting one-turn races might be more his strong suit. Wide trips hurt in the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2), and he was eight lengths adrift of stablemate By My Standards in the latter when more than twice the price at 50-1.
Owendale shook off a bad eighth behind War of Will and Country House in the Risen Star to win the Lexington by nearly two lengths over Anothertwistafate, making a big move into contention around the far turn and motoring home through the short stretch. He’s really come on in recent months and can be in the mix with a repeat of his latest.
Signalman won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) and placed in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last season, but a poor try in the Fountain of Youth left him behind the eight-ball on points and he missed what was thought to be the Derby points cutoff when finishing third in Blue Grass (G2). The Preakness marks the third start of his form cycle and distance is absolutely not an issue for this son of General Quarters. Remains a tad suspect from a speed rating perspective, but wouldn’t dare leave him out of the exotics.
Owendale photo (c) Wendy Wooley/EquiSport Photos