Preakness Stakes Profile: Friesan Fire
by Trevor Whenham - 05/12/2009
Last race: The Kentucky Derby was a disaster for Friesan Fire. Thanks to the late scratch of I Want Revenge, Friesan Fire went off as the post-time favorite in the big race. Nothing went right. He had a very rough time out of the gate, getting bumped and jostled repeatedly, and even getting cut up. He never got comfortable after that, and he never got a good spot to run. He was five wide down the backstretch, was unable to make any headway charging into the final turn, and seemed to give up soon afterwards. Sometimes a horse just doesn't have a good day, and that was certainly the case here.
Career highlights: It took this horse a while to grow into himself. He was unspectacular as a two year old, but turned into something special at three. Undefeated this year heading into the Derby, he had terrorized the Louisiana circuit with three straight wins. He started with the LeComte, followed that with the Risen Star in which he beat Derby entrant Nowhere To Hide, and then capped it with an incredibly impressive seven-length win in the Louisiana Derby. Fellow Preakness entrants Papa Clem and Terrain were up the track behind him that day. Louisiana Derby runners virtually always have one more prep before the Derby, but in a controversial choice this horse didn't. That meant that he came to Kentucky off a seven-week layoff. That's an extraordinarily long layoff - longer than any Derby winner has ever had, and it's an easy reason to explain the poor showing in the big race.
Jockey: Gabriel Saez. Saez continues on the horse despite the disappointment of his last race. Saez is just 21, but he has quickly emerged as a promising young jockey. He had a particularly good time at Churchill Downs last May, winning the Oaks aboard Proud Spell and then finishing second in the Derby on Eight Belles. That filly broke down soon after the race and had to be euthanized, though, so Saez might feel that he is cursed with the Derby. Saez is based out of Delaware Park, and frequently spends time at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn.
Trainer: Larry Jones. Jones has been very prominent in the Derby in recent years, but not necessarily in a good way. Two years ago he trained Hard Spun. That horse was very good, but he had the misfortune of coming up against a ridiculously strong class of three year olds that year that included Curlin, Street Sense and the filly Rags To Riches. Hard Spun was second in the Derby, third in the Preakness, and fourth in the Belmont. The next year he had Eight Belles, and we know her story - both heroic and tragic. Jones is retiring this year, so this is his last Triple Crown run. It was set up for a fairytale ending, but so far that fairytale has been a nightmare. This is another shot for Jones to finally have a happy ending.
Breeding: Friesan Fire is sired by racing royalty. A.P. Indy was Horse of the Year in 1992 when he won the Belmont. He's one of the top sires alive, and has sired Preakness winner Bernardini and Belmont winner Rags To Riches. A.P. Indy was sired by Seattle Slew, the 1997 Triple Crown winner. A.P. Indy's dam, Weekend Surprise, was sired by Secretariat, another Triple Crown winner. Friesan Fire's damsire, Dehere, was the champion two year old in 1993, but was injured before the Derby.
Running style: Friesan Fire likes to set up on or near the pace, make sure that that pace remains crisp, and then unleash a late run. That style closely matches the one preferred by Rachel Alexandra, so it could be very fun to watch on Saturday. The horse wasn't able to run his style of race in the Derby and it went very poorly, so he doesn't appear to be as adaptable as some horses.
Preakness prognosis: I really have no idea what to expect here. He's obviously a much better horse than he appeared to be in the Derby, and he's had a race to tighten him up off his long layoff. These are positives. On the other hand, he's going to be challenged early and often in this race, and the Derby didn't convince me that he's tough enough to stand up to that. He's a legitimate contender in this race, and he could certainly win, but I am leaning towards excluding him from win bets and the top of exotics.