2014 Preakness Stakes Pace Scenarios
by Trevor Whenham - 5/14/2014
The pace can and usually does have a huge impact on the outcome of Triple Crown races, and that certainly should be the case here in this Preakness this year. Painting a picture of what you think the race is going to look like, and what that means for the different horses in the field, is the single most important part of handicapping any race, and that will be especially true in a race like this with high-caliber horses from tracks across the country.
The 10 horses that are being aimed at the Preakness loosely split into three groups based on pace expectations. There are three horses that have shown that they prefer to be on or at the lead in the early fractions - Social Inclusion, Bayern and Pablo Del Monte. There are three horses that will likely look to be at the back of the pack early on - Kid Cruz, Ria Antonia and Ride On Curlin. Sandwiched between those two groups will be the pace stalkers - California Chrome, Dynamic Impact, Ring Weekend and General A Rod. Let's look at each:
Bayern, Pablo Del Monte and Social Inclusion have all looked to set the pace in their races up to this point. Bayern and Social Inclusion have done it fairly quickly as well. Of the three, I expect that Social Inclusion is the most likely to get out of the gate quickly and get aggressive. Pablo Del Monte isn't as talented as the other two, but he also has the least to lose. He hasn't shown that he is good enough - especially on dirt - to contend with the best horses in this group. His connections could gamble that the best chance he has to win this race is to run away with it, so he could really force the pace. Bayern has been looking to lead every race he has run, but he has struggled to hold on in the stretch as the races have gotten longer. Trainer Bob Baffert has indicated that he could be looking to keep the horse further back early this time out. On the other hand, he had a blistering fast work at Churchill the week after the Derby, so the speed is there and could be too tempting to resist.
There are conflicting factors that make it tough to really determine what the speed will do in this race. On one hand, California Chrome was able to cruise to an easy Derby victory largely because the early fractions were so lethargic that he didn't really have to work, and he had plenty in the tank to make his move. The speed horses could really force California Chrome to work early or to race in an uncomfortable position if he doesn't. For a horse as good as California Chrome has been, that could be the best way to beat him, and the connections of the speed horses know that. On the other hand, though, speed horses have done very poorly in this race. They just don't win. Even War Emblem, very much a front-runner, was consciously held off the lead in 20o2 when he won his second Triple Crown race.
Where it gets really interesting is that, in my eyes, Bayern and Social Inclusion are no worse than the second- and third-best horses in this field. Do their connections hope that they are good enough to overcome history? Or do they respect the strong trend and try to run a style that isn't their ideal?
The clear star of this group is obviously California Chrome. He benefited from a near-perfect trip in the Derby. He isn't likely to get that here, but he's good enough that he doesn't need a perfect trip to win. His job will be to stay within himself early on. Unless a suicidal early pace emerges and he tries to run with it, this is his race to lose. Of the other stalkers, I have the most respect for General A Rod, but he is still clearly from a second-tier.
If the early pace does turn out to be rapid, that could set up well for this group. Closers tend to benefit when the early pace blows up because they can
pass tiring horses in the stretch. I don't think Ria Antonia has shown anything that makes us think she is good enough to even come close in this one. Kid
Cruz and Ride On Curlin are both interesting. Both need to be much better than they have ever been before, but both are bred very well for the challenge
and could see the race turn out their way. Unless the frontrunners really get tentative and things go very slow early on, things should set up well for
these two. They need to be a part of your exotics, and they could make the board at a good price.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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