Early Look at 2009 Preakness Stakes
by Trevor Whenham - 05/07/2009
The Preakness field is setting up pretty much like you would expect it to be a few days after the Kentucky Derby. Or at least it was until some big news threatened to throw a giant wrench into the whole thing, but we'll get to that in a bit. First, we'll look at the horses that are confirmed entrants.
As of Thursday morning there are nine confirmed starters for the middle jewel in the Triple Crown, to be held May 16 at Pimlico in Baltimore. The first on any list has to be the Kentucky Derby winner, and Mine That Bird will be there. Coming off perhaps the most unexpected result in Derby history, the horse will be looking to prove that his remarkable performance wasn't a fluke. Derby winners are regularly Preakness favorites, but it is more than likely that Mine That Bird won't be here.
Mine That Bird's closest Derby contender that is entered is third place finisher Musket Man. That horse has never been off the board in seven career starts, including five wins, so it would be far from surprising to see him wind up in the top three in Baltimore. He'll be joined in the Preakness by Papa Clem, the horse that he edged out at the finish line. Papa Clem won the Arkansas Derby. So did Curlin, the Preakness winner two years ago.
There are two more Kentucky Derby starters that are confirmed Preakness entrants. General Quarters, who finished 10th, will try to add another chapter to the fairytale story that has gotten him this far - he's a former claimer that is trained by a former high school principal who has just one horse. Also making the trip is Flying Private, the last place finisher in Kentucky. He didn't look comfortable at any point in the Derby, and he quit after being forced five wide on the first turn. Legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas obviously sees something in this horse that isn't immediately obvious given that he has won just once in 11 starts.
Those five Derby starters have four confirmed outsiders ready to give a challenge. The biggest name is Big Drama. He was a highly-touted two year old late last year, but an injury sidelined him, and he didn't return to action until the end of March. He was second in the Swale, and was deemed unready for the Derby. This is his first start since then. He's an obviously talented horse, but it remains to be seen if that talent can make up for his lack of experience.
The most intriguing of the entrants is Hull. He's a son of Holy Bull that has been unbeaten and impressive in three starts this year. He's won those races - one of which was against stakes company - by a combined 16 lengths. Trainer Dale Romans could have a star on his hands, but he'll have to prove it here.
The last two entrants are less impressive. Take The Points is a Todd Pletcher horse that was considered for the Derby before being held out. He struggled to break his maiden as a two year old, and struggled to distinguish himself in two stakes races this year. It's telling that Pletcher chose to enter three horses in the Derby but not this one, even though he was eligible. Terrain is another runner that has failed to distinguish himself against stakes company. He was third in the Louisiana Derby and fourth in the Blue Grass. He'll need to take a massive step forward here. I'm not optimistic.
There are several other potential entrants. Chief among those is Pioneerof The Nile, the second place finisher in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Bob Baffert has been surprisingly silent on the issue, but the horse has been working like he is heading to Baltimore, and he would have a good shot at being the Preakness favorite if he was entered. Other horses under consideration include Derby favorite Friesan Fire, who would have to bounce back from a dismal 18th-place finish in that race, Conservative, who was second in the Lexington in his stakes debut in April, European invader Sky Gate, and Maryland-based Tone It Down, who would be making a major jump up in class.
And now for that news that could change everything. Rachel Alexandra is the filly that was indescribably stunning in winning the Kentucky Oaks by more than 20 lengths the day before the Derby. It was the best performance of the year, and left little doubt that she is the best three year old in the country right now. Her owners held firm that she would not face the boys on the Triple Crown trail. That all changes now that she has been sold. Jess Jackson, the wine magnate that owns Curlin, bought the horse on Wednesday and transferred him from trainer Hal Wiggins to Steve Asmussen, one of the top trainers in the country and the guy who trained Curlin. Though nothing has been confirmed, Jackson has been in contact with the Maryland Jockey Club, and the speed of the sale makes it seem likely that the Preakness is a target. The filly isn't nominated to the Triple Crown races, so she could only run if fewer than 14 horses entered the Preakness and if her owners paid $100,000 to enter her. If she were to enter she would become the overwhelming favorite, and she would likely scare off an entrant or two. She would also create a serious headache for one jockey. Her rider, Calvin Borel, also rides Derby winner Mine That Bird. He'd have to choose between the two. That would likely lead to the first time ever that a horse won the Derby and lost a jockey.