The Jury: Bets and fades for 2022 Preakness Day
The middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness (G1) at Pimlico, dominates the American racing landscape this weekend. The TwinSpires Jury of James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson are back with thoughts on the big day at Old Hilltop and elsewhere.
What is your best bet?
James Scully: #5 Early Voting (7-2) graduated impressively at a tricky one-mile, one-turn distance in his debut, and followed with a romping win in the Withers (G3), but didn't face quality competition in those spots. He stepped up to face a deeper group in the Wood Memorial (G2) and ran well on the front end, finishing a neck second to Mo Donegal. That race will benefit him significantly from a seasoning perspective, and I like how he's broken running in both stakes starts, displaying quality early speed that none of his Preakness rivals possess. The Gun Runner colt appears to be training forwardly in preparation for Chad Brown, and Early Voting is poised to run a big race on the front end in my estimation.
Kellie Reilly: As much as I like Crystal Cliffs in Saturday's Gallorette (G3), there's a better-priced option in the James W. Murphy S. later on Preakness Day — #7 Riot House (4-1). The son of Violence and Grade 2-winning turf mare Tuttipaesi is 2-for-2 since switching to Danny Gargan, who stretched him out in turf routes at Gulfstream Park. With the favorites having a question or two to answer here, Riot House can enhance Gargan's stats with shippers (26%) and in non-graded stakes (23%). The gray gelding figures to secure a forward position for new rider Luis Saez and kick on down the lane.
Vance Hanson: I'm going in a different direction in the James W. Murphy and siding with #5 Ready to Purrform (5-2), who displayed a great deal of promise in a prior trip to Maryland last fall when smartly taking the Laurel Futurity by 3 1/4 lengths. Although he showed little in a Breeders' Cup undercard stakes at Del Mar a month later, this looks like a good comeback spot for the Brad Cox trainee, and he looms a huge threat if he gets some pace to run at.
Who is the horse to fade?
JS: #1 Ethereal Road (3-1) figures to be a short price in the Sir Barton S. on the Preakness undercard, but his plodding run style is a concern in a field lacking pace. He hasn't run back to his runner-up finish in the Rebel (G2) three back, recording a pair of unplaced outings, and a minor award is probably a more realistic scenario for Ethereal Road on Saturday.
KR: #6 Atone (5-2) brings fine form into the Dinner Party (G2) for Three Diamonds Farm and trainer Mike Maker. Yet the Godolphin castoff continues to strike me as an understudy, rather than one poised to take a starring role at this level. The 1 1/16-mile affair appears pretty open, especially if Set Piece doesn't improve second off the layoff. I wouldn't be surprised to see a mild upset, perhaps in the form of Novo Sol, whose dam is a half-sister to Brazilian Horse of the Year and multiple U.S. Grade 1 hero Bal a Bali.
VH: She's the only previous graded stakes winner in the field, but that doesn't mean #6 Cilla (7-2) is the class standout in the Skipat S. at Pimlico, a six-furlong dash for fillies and mares. Winner of the Prioress (G2) at Saratoga last summer against fellow three-year-olds, she figures to appreciate a major class drop after running sixth in the Madison (G1) at Keeneland last month. However, she's spent a good chunk of her career outclassing lesser foes in Louisiana, and there are seemingly plenty of viable options at better prices here.
What else is worth noting?
JS: Crystal Cliffs is the likely second choice in the Gallorette, and she will be a single for all multi-race wagers early on the Preakness undercard. The five-year-old mare returned from a lengthy layoff last year with a nose second in the Dahlia S. at Pimlico, but she made only one more start before heading to the sidelines for the rest of the season. Graham Motion got a prep race this year, a convincing score in the Sand Springs S. on the Florida Derby undercard, and Crystal Cliffs looks poised to show more off the encouraging effort.
KS: One week after Highland Chief stunned the Man o' War (G1), could another Fitri Hay import strike in Sunday's Seek Again S. at Belmont Park? Group 2 winner Duke of Hazzard makes his debut for Wesley Ward, and first start as a gelding, in that mile stakes. The six-year-old is a lot more exposed than Highland Chief, and he hasn't won since the summer of 2019. Yet Duke of Hazzard likewise has snatches of European form to his credit, including placings to Space Blues (the future Breeders' Cup Mile [G1] victor) and Real World. Last seen tiring to sixth after chasing the pace in the Sept. 18 Woodbine Mile (G1), the son of Lope de Vega might have more to offer with the change of scenery. Another ex-European, Masen, will give him a proper test.
VH: Given the general popularity of grass racing with horsemen, it was highly disappointing to see such short fields for long-standing Pimlico fixtures such as the Dinner Party (nee Dixie) and Gallorette. What should be among the most competitive and popular betting races on the entire Preakness Day undercard instead came up with relatively top-heavy fields of seven and will both be run in the middle of the card. The industry has an increasingly difficult problem of having too many stakes chase too few horses, but the appeal of running on one of the biggest days of the year sadly isn't as strong an enticement as one wishes it were.