We were witness to the best Kentucky Derby in a long, long time last Saturday. As has become the unfortunate trend, though, we are not in a position to see a rematch of much of the field two weeks later in the Preakness. It used to be that the Triple Crown was like one big challenge. Horses signed on for the whole trip and would run all three legs of the toughest challenge in sports - because that's what you did. Now, though, it seems like a lot of trainers enter the Kentucky Derby with no intention of going on to the Preakness unless they wear the roses. This year we could see as few as three horses from the Derby in the Preakness starting gate. Luckily, they are the three that anyone would want to see most.
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All But Certain
American Pharoah: The Derby champ would need to be injured not to head to Baltimore. He ran a brilliant race. While the stretch drive took more out of him than he usually has to give, and this will be his third race in five weeks, there is no reason to doubt that he will be ready. The field in the Preakness will be much smaller and not nearly as deep as the Derby field was, so that works in his favor. Until the horse takes a misstep we have to assume he is every bit as good as the hype surrounding him suggests. He will obviously be a very strong favorite in this one.
Firing Line: This horse has only one win in his last four races, but that doesn't mean that he doesn't deserve a tremendous amount of respect. The first two losses were to Dortmund, who was undefeated at the time, and were both by just a head. Then in the Derby he beat Dortmund and gave American Pharoah everything he could handle. He is a very talented horse with impressive speed and explosiveness. Distance is a bit of a concern, but he handled the Derby just fine so the shorter Preakness sets up reasonably well for him. He's a real factor in this race. Like both of Bob Baffert's horses, though, he benefited in the Derby from being able to chase a ridiculously slow early pace. There is a good chance that a horse with nothing to lose will force the pace much more aggressively next time. He can handle faster - his first half mile was two seconds faster in the Sunland Derby than in the Kentucky Derby and he won by more than 14 lengths - but he and jockey Gary Stevens will have to manage pace carefully.
Dortmund: It is amazing what a forgotten horse this one is. He was overshadowed heading into the Derby by his stablemate, American Pharoah, who ran his final prep race a week after Dortmund did. Since the Derby I have barely heard anyone mention his name. He was solid in third, though, and held on after setting the pace. It wasn't a perfect performance, but it was far from a poor one, and we have yet to see the best of this horse. Ruling him out would be a mistake - though I hope the public keeps ignoring him so the price is right in the Preakness.
Materiality and Carpe Diem: These two go together because they are both Todd Pletcher horses. He is considering these two along with Stanford, who was scratched from the Derby, and undefeated Competitive Edge. He has been quiet about what he is planning, though, and past history would suggest that we aren't likely to see either horse in the Preakness - he doesn't put nearly as much effort into this race as the Derby. Of the two I would much rather see Carpe Diem again. Materiality closed strong, but his inexperience showed early, and I'd rather he was given some time to mature. Carpe Diem did not have a great Derby, but he is such a talented horse that I would like for him to have a mulligan and get a better shot at the top three - perhaps with a more favorable pace scenario in the works.
Mr. Z: This likely won't happen, but I will mention it anyway. Zayat Stables, who own this horse along with American Pharoah, do not want this horse to race in the Preakness. He was 13th in the Derby, has run 13 times in his career already with just one win, and could find a better spot elsewhere. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas, though, has been arguing aggressively that the horse had no chance in the Derby because of a bad trip and that he deserves another shot. The more the merrier, but it is not going to end well if the Zayat's cave in and ship a second one to Baltimore.
Danzig Moon: The fifth-place finisher in the Preakness is the last of the Derby runners still under consideration. He ran a good race and is a solid horse. His main goal, since he is Canadian-bred, is to run in the Queen's Plate, Canada's answer to the Derby, on July 5. He has time for another race, though, and the Preakness could be as good as any. Trainer Mark Casse hasn't hinted one way or the other yet, but I'd love to see him run - his strong showing in Kentucky was no fluke.
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