Todd Pletcher had a disastrous Kentucky Derby - as he so often does. In response he did what he also so often does - forgot it ever happened and moved on to the next runners in his vast stable for the Preakness. Destin and Outwork are on the sidelines waiting for their next assignment, and in their place is a less-experienced but far-more-intriguing runner than those two.
On the surface Stradivari is a disaster in this spot - he's younger than many of his peers, has only raced three times, including just one start at three, and is making his stakes debut here. He should barely garner more attention than the maiden Trojan Nation did in the Derby - and that was basically none. As we'll see, though, there is enough here that we can't help but think of what could be possible.
This is a horse that is going to draw a lot of public money from people looking desperately for someone to beat Nyquist and his ridiculously low odds.
Last race: This race is the reason that Stradivari is so intriguing to many. It was a non-descript April Sunday allowance at Gulfstream that no one other than the hardcore bettors out there had any reason to pay attention to. He went off at the second choice in the six-horse field. He settled just off the pace set by the favorite, and the two rolled along at a modest pace. Heading into the second turn, Stradivari was asked to move, and he did with authority. When the dust had settled he had won by more than 14 lengths. It was a wildly-impressive effort, and one without a factor that made it easy to dismiss - the weather was fine, the track was fast, there was no obvious bias, the pace scenario wasn't extreme, and so on.
He faced only five other horses, and they weren't exactly Secretariat and American Pharoah, so you have to take the result with a grain of salt. It's common for highly-hyped horses short on experience to fall short - or flop - when they jump into the deep end. Horses don't win allowance races that easily every day, though, so it's easy to dream.
Prior experience: Prior to the impressive allowance performance, Stradivari raced only twice as a two year old. He debuted on Nov. 8 at Aqueduct. He settled further off the pace that time, and it didn't work for him on the day - he had no rally and was never a factor. He moved down to Florida, and the change in scenery did wonders. On Dec. 5 in another maiden race he rode much closer to the early pace, made a very similar move to the one in his allowance race, and pulled away to win by 11. Another impressive performance - and this time on a track only graded good, so he isn't a horse that depends on a lightning-fast surface to shine.
Trainer: Pletcher needs a win here to secure a career Triple Crown - he has won the Kentucky Derby once and the Belmont Stakes twice. His futility in this race is not nearly as striking as it is in the Derby, though - he aims a full arsenal at the earlier race but has not typically sent most of those horses on to the Preakness after their frustrating Derby starts. If he has a horse that is Derby caliber he typically runs it in the Derby, so this race often hasn't seen his best. So, he hasn't dominated this race by any means - and has plenty of struggles on the Triple Crown trail to look to - but he's still the most successful trainer in the country and commands tremendous respect.
Jockey: Like Pletcher, John Velazquez is a truly elite jockey who has a chance to win a career Triple Crown here. He has won the Belmont twice once with Pletcher in 2007 with Rags to Riches and once without him in 2012. He also won the Derby in 2011 when he picked up the ride on Animal Kingdom at the last minute when Pletcher's Uncle Mo was scratched and Animal Kingdom's jockey was injured. Velazquez hasn't won this race, and like most top jockeys he doesn't have a world of experience at Pimlico, which is only a world-class track one day per year. He has consistently been among the best jockeys in the country every year since 2000, though, and he's a clear asset in this spot.
Breeding: Stradivari is a son of Medaglia d'Oro, a regally-bred stud with a stamina-rich pedigree that is best known for siring the great Rachel Alexandra. Medaglia d'Oro ran in all three legs of the 2002 Triple Crown, finishing fourth in the Derby and second in the Belmont but disappointing in the Preakness when he finished eighth. He also finished second in the Breeders' Cup Classic twice and the in Dubai World Cup, so he could run with the best at a Classic distance. His influence is a big positive here. Stradivari's damsire is American Chance, a horse who had a long-but-largely-undistinguished career in stakes races typically longer than this race and who died before he truly came into his own as a sire. Medaglia d'Oro definitely does the heavy lifting in this pedigree.
Odds: 5Dimes has Stradivari at +975 to win the Preakness. That has him set as the third choice, well behind second choice and Derby runner-up Exaggerator (+435) and in a different stratosphere entirely from heavy favorite Nyquist (-160).
Bottom Line: This is a very impressive horse, but this is an even tougher spot for him. He's seen reasonably modest early fractions in his two big wins. That isn't likely to happen here. There are a couple of horses with some speed and nothing to lose that should be aggressive early, and Nyquist will be more than happy to press the pace if no one else will. That will work against Stradivari. He also runs a very similar style to the best horse in the race, so he has to beat the Derby champ at his own game with very limited experience. Tough assignment.
He's a very classy horse and could be ready to pounce if things go exactly his way, but you'll want to be sure that the price is right before you make a bet on him. It would be very easy for the value to bet out of this guy.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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