Preakness Stakes Profile: Papa Clem
by Trevor Whenham - 05/07/2009
Last race: Papa Clem finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby, just being edged out in the three-way battle between Pioneerof The Nile and Musket Man. It was a positive result considering the challenges the horse faced in the race. He was bumped right out of the gate, and collided roughly with Dunkirk soon after that. Perhaps because of that contact, the horse refused to settle down, and jockey Rafael Bejarano had to forcefully restrain the horse for the middle section of the race. Despite that, he secured a good position right behind the leaders and maintained it until swinging wide down the stretch.
Career highlights: In his last prep race, he joined esteemed company by winning the Arkansas Derby. Recent winners of that race have included such stars as Lawyer Ron, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, and the great Curlin. He outdueled the favored Old Fashioned to take that win. Prior to that, he finished a well-beaten second to Kentucky Derby favorite Friesan Fire in the Louisiana Derby. Earlier this year, he also finished second to Pioneerof The Nile.
Jockey: Rafael Bejarano. Bejarano has been riding the horse through his best performances. Bejarano has only been in North America from his native Peru since 2002, but he has made a serious impact in that time. He led the nation in wins in 2004, has won titles at prominent meets around the country, and has two Breeders' Cup titles. Papa Clem is well handled.
Trainer: Gary Stute. Stute has racing in his blood. He has never had a Triple Crown horse before, but his father, late California trainer Mel, won the Preakness in 1986 with Snow Chief. Stute runs a small stable, currently with just six horses, so Papa Clem has careful attention directly from the trainer every day. That's more than the horses in the monster stables like those of Todd Pletcher and Bob Baffert can claim.
Breeding: Papa Clem doesn't have any direct Triple Crown experience early in his pedigree, but his sire is quickly becoming racing royalty. Smart Strike was the No. 1 sire in the country last year, and sired both Curlin and champion turf horse English Channel.
Running style: Papa Clem has a tendency towards early speed, but doesn't have the stamina to maximize that style. He is at his most successful when he is able to settle in mid-pack and bide his time until the opportunity to make a move presents itself. That's often easier said than done, as in at least his last two races Bejarano has had to fight the horse to get him to settle. Far from being a bad thing, though, that shows that the horse is fiercely competitive and will fight for his due.
Preakness prognosis: Papa Clem has the talent to be a classic winner. I can't put my finger on a reason, though, but I just don't see him as a top-level contender here. He can easily handle the surface or the distance, but to win I think he would need more than one of the other serious contenders to have a bad day. I wouldn't leave him out of exotics, but he's far from my first choice for a straight win bet.