by Trevor Whenham - 05/10/2007
The 2007 Preakness is less than two weeks away, so that leaves us with a major task to accomplish before then - 2007 Preakness analysis. We are still a week away from knowing exactly who is going to be in the field and what post positions they will break from, but that doesn't mean that we can't look to see what we can learn from history. In the Triple Crown races history has a way of repeating itself again and again - horses that didn't run at two can't win the Derby, Todd Pletcher's Derby horses would struggle to beat me in a foot race and Bob Baffert is almost unbeatable in Baltimore if he has a live horse. There are lessons to be learned from the past that apply to this year's field:
1. You'd better have a good reason to bet against Street Sense. Recent history has treated the Kentucky Derby winner very kindly in the Preakness. Six of the last 10 Derby winners have gone to the Belmont with a shot at the Triple Crown. All six of those horses - Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide and Smarty Jones - have looked solid coming into the Preakness off impressive Derby wins, and all have met the lofty expectations at Pimlico. It's early, but Street Sense so far looks like he is ready to follow in the footsteps of those before him.
You can go one step further on this line of thought, too. In each of the four cases that the Derby winner didn't repeat, there was a simple explanation. Barbaro's tragedy last year is obvious. In the cases of Giacomo in 2005 and Monarchos in 2001, one would be hard pressed to suggest that they were the best horses in the Derby. They both won, and they deserve credit for that, but in both cases they were beaten in the Preakness by a superior horse that had an off day in the Derby. The fourth horse, Fusaichi Pegasus in 2000, didn't even run in the Preakness. In other words, over the last decade a solid and well regarded Derby winner has gone on to win the Preakness, when capable, every time.
If you buy into numerical patterns then this year fits a recent pattern as well. The Derby winner won the Preakness from 1997-99, failed to for two years, won again for three years from 2002-04, then failed again the last two years. The pattern is three wins then two losses, so by that logic we're due.
2. Don't rule out the Derby also-rans. This would seem to contradict the earlier point, but it's not possible to completely rule a horse out of Preakness consideration just because they struggled in the Derby. Most famously in recent times, Louis Quatorze won the Preakness in 1996 after stumbling to a disappointing 16th place finish in the Derby. That has to be fueling the decisions of Teuflesberg's connection to aim for the Preakness after a 17th place finish last Saturday. Point Given won in 2001 after a fifth in the Derby. Sedgefield is also moving on to Baltimore after his Derby fifth, but I suspect that no one would try to compare the talent of the latter favorably to the former. Afleet Alex won the Preakness and, like Point Given, the Belmont, after a flat third in Kentucky. Curlin will similarly be looking to overcome a somewhat flat show.
3. Any trainer can win. If I was writing this a few years ago then the conclusion may have been a little different. Bob Baffert won four of six Preakness runnings starting in 1997, and D. Wayne Lukas won five in less than 20 years. Greats like Charlie Whittingham and Nick Zito claimed theirs during the same time. It would have been easy at that point to conclude that you had to have a big time trainer to win the Preakness. 2007 Preakness analysis, though, leads to a different conclusion. The last two winning trainers, Tom Albertrani and Tim Ritchey, made the Preakness their first Triple Crown victory. Joe Orseno did the same in 2000. Lukas and Zito are likely to have Preakness starters, but that shouldn't rule out supporting less experienced, less successful conditioners. Even Todd Pletcher has to win a Triple Crown race at some point. Doesn't he?
4. Maybe it's all in the name. You might not believe that the name of a horse has anything to say about its success on the track, but there are some interesting, or at least entertaining, conclusions to draw here nonetheless. In the last 30 years, almost a quarter of the Preakness winners have had names that, like Street Sense, are made up of two words and start with S. Spectacular Bid, Snow Chief, Silver Charm and Smarty Jones are all among the seven. More compellingly, Summer Squall, Sunday Silence and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew have not just one but both names starting with S. Street Sense is in very good company in that regard. By contrast, only two horses in that time frame - Charismatic and Codex - share the same alphabetical order as Curlin, and only Hansel would be filed in the same drawer as Hard Spun. It's up to you to decide how much that matters. If nothing else, this is the kind of thing that can be a great excuse if your selection doesn't work out.