The Preakness field always winds up looking different by post time than it seems like it will now - I am writing this on the Monday after the Derby. As it stands now, though, we are looking at about 10 or 11 horses in the Preakness. That number could grow as we always seem to find a horse or two from off the radar to enter as the race nears. However big the field is, the task for the horses is clear - to make sure that Always Dreaming isn't gifted the easy race that he had in Kentucky. He was the best horse on the day, but when the track is as sloppy as it was and jockey John Velazquez finishes the race on his first set of goggles and with pants as white as the snow then you know that things went his way.
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The horse is good enough that he will always win if given that trip relatively unchallenged. So, can this group craft a different story this time around?
The Derby runners
Always Dreaming: The Derby winner is not only heading to the Preakness, but notably he headed right to Baltimore from Churchill Downs. In the rare cases that Todd Pletcher heads to the second jewel - he has had just eight Preakness starters compared to 48 in the Derby - he typically goes to his home base in New York in between. This colt took time to settle into Churchill, though, so he wants him to have time to get comfortable in Baltimore as well. He is clearly the horse to beat.
Lookin at Lee: He was a solid and somewhat surprising second in the Derby, so it's no surprise he is heading to Pimlico. His dad, Lookin at Lucky, won the Preakness in 2010, so he is obviously suited to the challenge. He ran about as well as he can in Kentucky. Can he do it again?
Classic Empire: The two-year-old champion has had a rough spring, and the bad luck continued in the Derby. Just out of the gate he was absolutely crushed by McCraken, who had been pushed inside by Irish War Cry. It took him time to recover, and threw him out of his race plan. Given that, he performed very well to get up for fourth. If he gets a clear trip and finally has some racing luck then he is best positioned to challenge the Derby champ.
Gunnevera: On Saturday it seemed like Gunnevera, who was a somewhat irrelevant seventh in the Derby, was heading for a break. But by Monday Mike Smith had been named to replace Javier Castellano in the saddle and he was heading to the Preakness. He has now finished behind Always Dreaming twice in a row - and as the favorite in the Florida Derby - so he needs to improve. He's better than he showed in Kentucky, though, so he deserves another chance.
Hence: This is another surprise. Steve Asmussen originally indicated that this colt would look elsewhere, but I guess he figured that if Lookin at Lee was going anyway he might as well throw another horse in the trailer. Hence struggled with the mud in the Derby. He got hit by a whole lot of kickback and didn't like it. If he gets a dry track at Pimlico then we should see a whole different colt. I'm not sure he's good enough to be a factor regardless, but at least he'll get a better chance to show what he is made of.
Cloud Computing: This colt actually had the points to enter the Derby, but his connections wisely decided he wasn't ready. He has run only three times, he debuted in February, and he has not won a stakes race in two tries. There is real talent and upside here, but the Derby would have been too much for him. We'll need to watch his workouts leading up to this race closely to see if he looks ready for this test. He needs to be far better than he has been to be a factor.
Royal Mo: This was the bubble horse in the Derby. He was at Churchill and ready to run but never got the chance. This is probably a better spot for him anyway. There is a reason for some optimism - he finished second in the Santa Anita Derby, and the third-place finisher, Battle of Midway, was the surprising third-place finisher in the Derby. The colt is in good hands with Gary Stevens aboard. Stevens has won each of the Triple Crown races three times and will have this colt here he needs to be.
Conquest Mo Money: This is another colt that had the points to get into the Derby, but this time the connections chickened out for financial reasons. He was not nominated for the Triple Crown when he was younger, and his connections didn't want to pay the $200,000 it would have cost to enter him. They will have to pay up to enter here, too, but not as much. He was second in the Arkansas Derby to Classic Empire and second in the Sunland Derby to Hence, so he'll see some familiar faces in here. But can he improve enough to turn the tables on one or both?
Multiplier: This colt debuted in January, took three tries to break his maiden, and then made his stakes debut in April by winning the Illinois Derby by a narrow margin over Hedge Fund, who had finished third behind Hence and Conquest Mo Money in the Sunland Derby in his previous start. This is another massive step up in class for this colt. I'm not sure I like his chances. Actually, I'm sure I don't.
Senior Investment: This horse made his stakes debut after six starts in the Louisiana Derby. He flopped, finishing sixth. Two weeks later he came back and won the Lexington over a pretty weak field. That was technically a Derby prep, though the 10 points to the winner weren't enough to have a real impact. No he's looking to prove he belongs here. He doesn't.
Malagacy: This is yet another colt that had enough points to run in the Derby but wasn't entered. Complicating the decision around him is that Todd Pletcher trains him, and he may not be eager to run another good colt against his Derby winner. If I were betting I would guess he holds out for another spot - perhaps the Belmont. If he is entered, though, and he works well leading up to the race, he could be a real factor.
Lancaster Bomber: This European runner trained by the great Aidan O'Brien is rumored to be under consideration. Actually, word is that O'Brien has two horses in mind for the race, but the identity of the other isn't known yet. This colt was a strong second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf last fall but has struggled since. He was fourth in the UAE Derby behind Thunder Snow, who barely got out of the gate before mistaking the Kentucky Derby for a rodeo. Then, on Derby day, he was fourth again in the 2000 Guineas in England. Asking him to bounce back in two weeks with a trip across the ocean mixed in is a lot to ask, but I won't doubt O'Brien. At the very least he'd bring an interesting twist to the race.
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