2013 Preakness Stakes Pace Scenarios
by Trevor Whenham - 5/15/2013
The pace scenario for the Preakness in 2013 seems to be reasonably straightforward. Of course, the same could have been said for the Kentucky Derby, and one horse blew it all to pieces.
Palace Malice, one of the five Todd Pletcher horses in that race, was probably sent to the front early to keep the pace honest for Verrazano and Revolutionary behind. The last thing Pletcher wanted was for Goldencents to settle on the front at a casual pace. What wasn’t expected, though, was that Palace Malice would run away on jockey Mike Smith. He basically ran as fast as he could until he ran out of gas, and he took the rest of the frontrunners and close stalkers with him.
It was uncertain before the race if the closers like Orb would be able to overcome the frontrunners because they usually rely on a solid early pace to exhaust the horses in front of them. As it turned out, the race set up perfectly for the closers, and the top of the board was littered with them.
In my eyes there is nothing more important to consider when handicapping a race than pace. It doesn’t matter how good a horse is in all but the most extraordinary situations if he is forced to do something that he isn’t comfortable with by the other horses. In this race, as in all others, you need to get a sense of what is likely so you can determine if your horse can be at his best. Here’s how the Preakness likely sets up:
The early pace
As in the Derby, Goldencents is the horse that is likely to be most determined to get the lead. He won’t be left alone up front, though. Govenor Charlie, the Bob Baffert colt with the misspelled name that is driving me insane, isn’t pure speed, but he’s likely to look to press the pace, and Baffert is likely to have him moving forward early on. Titletown Five is another one that likes to press the pace. he has very little hope against this group — he was ninth in the Louisiana Derby and fourth in the Derby trial his last two times out — so trying to be in the action early could be his best shot.
With those three horses up front, we aren’t likely to see a blistering pace, but it shouldn’t be plodding, either. In the Derby Goldencents, the Santa Anita Derby winner, had absolutely no chance to show what he can do. In this race we are likely to have a better chance to see what he is made of. The biggest risk for him is if one of the other two horses — more likely Titletown Five — looks to try to run away with the race and steal it from the front. Goldencents would be forced to chase, and he could again find himself in trouble far too soon.
The second wave
If everything goes according to plans, there is likely to be a small group of two horses trailing the three up front — and they likely aren’t going to be too far behind. Oxbow and Itsmyluckyday fit into this group. Gary Stevens on Oxbow is likely to be more patient and conservative than he was in the Derby, though. He got caught in the early pace and was seriously affected. To his tremendous credit, though, he held on much better than the rest of the early speed and finished sixth.
The late charge
The back of the pack is going to be crowded in this race. Derby winner Orb likes to settle off the pace, and in the Derby he was particularly patient. Departing, Mylute and Will Take Charge also prefer to save themselves for a late run. With so many horses — and a fair bit of quality — waiting at the back there is likely to be a real chess match. Riders are first going to look to settle in somewhere where they can find a nice path when the time comes. Then they have to keep an eye on the early pace. If it is slow, they likely can’t afford to wait too long or Goldencents will be tough to catch. If the pace is fast, though, then they have to judge when the right time to make the move is.
The jockeys will also be watching the other riders very closely. It will be like a game of chicken — no rider wants to move too soon, but they don’t want to get caught flat-footed, either. The back of the race is where the excitement is and quite possibly where the winner will come from.
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