There is good news and bad news as this colt travels from California to Maryland for the Preakness Stakes. The good news is that he has spent the spring racing against the top horses in California - or at least the top horses not named Nyquist. The bad news is that he hasn't beaten them. He's followed Derby entrant Mor Spirit to the wire three times, Derby runner-up and Preakness entrant Exaggerator twice, and Derby entrant Danzig Candy once. So he's been good enough to consistently compete with the cream of the crop but never good enough to beat them. This field isn't deep but it's top heavy, so it's tough to imagine him suddenly getting better. There are at least a couple of reasons to be somewhat optimistic, though.
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Last race: After not quite measuring up in Triple Crown prep races in the spring he took a step back - or down in class - and headed to the ungraded California Chrome Stakes at Los Alamitos on April 30. He made a heck of an impact. Not only did he beat the field of eight - while leading the whole way for the first time in his career. He also did it in track record time for a mile and a sixteenth, beating the record set by the freakish Dortmund as a two year old. It was an impressive effort and a sign that he is in top form right now. You have to maintain some perspective, though - he beat ungraded company, only narrowly won, and set somewhat slower early fractions than are possible in the Preakness given the number of horses likely to be looking for a piece of the lead early on.
Prior experience: Uncle Lino made his debut in July at Del Mar, finishing second by a neck. He had to wait until the Del Mar fall meet in November to try again and get his first victory. That was it for his two year old campaign, but he began racing again just three days after turning three. He was third by just a neck in an allowance at Santa Anita - his first of four straight outings at that track. Then it was time for the three graded stakes races we alluded to earlier. He was second behind Mor Spirit in the Robert B. Lewis then fourth in the San Felipe, before finishing a well-beaten third in the Santa Anita Derby. He was always a factor in the races but never quite good enough.
Trainer: Gary Sherlock, 70, has been training since 1979. He has never been a high-volume winner, though. His career best for wins in a year is just 26, and he has had more than 13 wins only twice. He has won just four graded stakes over the years - three by Intangaroo in 2008, and one this year. Sherlock says he has never even been in Maryland before, so he obviously doesn't have experience here - or much experience at all on a stage like this. He's learned a trick or three over the years, though, and will have this horse ready.
Jockey: Fernando Perez has the mount, as he has for every start the horse has had. Like Mario Gutierrez, who rides Nyquist, Perez was based in Vancouver at Hastings Park before making the move down to California. He had a lot of success up north, but he has been slow to replicate that in the much tougher California market. He has only won one graded stakes in his career - he won the Santa Monica Stakes this year with Lost Bus, also trained by Sherlock. He has some talent, but he's out of the kiddy pool in this one, and that can be a very tough transition to make. Of course, Gutierrez won his first Derby with less southern experience than Perez has, so anything is possible.
Breeding: There is a simple way to know if the breeding is adequate for the challenge of this distance - Uncle Lino's sire, Uncle Mo, also sired recent Derby winner Nyquist in his first crop of three year olds. There were some reasons to question the stamina capabilities of Uncle Mo given his pedigree, but early returns have been positive. Unfortunately, the dam side of the pedigree doesn't help out much. Damsire Orientate was the champion sprinter of 2002. Lots of speed, but short on stamina.
Odds: BetOnline has Uncle Lino at +2500 to win the Preakness. That puts him as the fifth choice in the field. That seems appropriate - he's ahead of the long shots but behind the best horses in the field, which is his graded stakes history in a nutshell. Given his running style and potential breeding limitations, I don't see any value at all in that price.
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