Most years the Preakness winner turns out to be a colt that ran in the Kentucky Derby. Whether they won the Derby or not, it seems to be advantageous to have the Derby experience under your belt when you line up for the Preakness. In my lifetime the percentage of new shooters to win the Preakness is quite low. That trend may be changing though. With American horses making less starts per year, and our star horses accustomed to having their races spread out a month or more, it seems to reason that success in the 2011 Preakness, and the Belmont for that matter, might be more ripe for the picking for non-Derby horses than ever before.
Starting with Red Bullet in 2000, three new shooters have won the Preakness since the turn of the century; Bernardini and Rachel Alexandra being the other two. The Belmont is a different animal than the Preakness to be sure, still it is worth noting that three of the last four Belmont winners did not run in the Derby or the Preakness, and none of the last five winners came out of the Preakness. So if the fresh horse angle in the second and third legs of the Triple Crown is an emerging trend, it makes sense to take a very close look at this year’s band of new shooters, in hopes of finding the third horse in the last six years to win the Preakness, after missing the Derby.
From the list of ‘virgin to the Triple Crown’ Preakness entrants (Astrology, Concealed Identity, Dance City, Flashpoint, Isn’t He Perfect, King Congie, Mr.Commons, Norman Asbjornson, and Sway Away,) the three that interest me the most are Dance City, Sway Away, and Mr. Commons. Of those three there is only one who I feel will have no problem getting the 1 3/16 miles distance of the Preakness. His name is Mr. Commons, and I think he may do something extraordinary in four days.
The lightly raced bay colt comes in to the Preakness with only two wins in for lifetime starts. Those stats are coincidently the same numbers of Animal Kingdom before winning the Derby, and if you are worried about his inexperience, remember the thesis of this column … freshness and being lightly raced no longer worry me. This is especially true if the horse is in the capable hands of the right trainer. Mr. Commons is trained by John Shirreffs, best known as the trainer of Zenyatta, Shirreffs is a wonderful horseman who knows how to get his horses ready for big races. He also trained 50 -1 upset winner of the 2005 Kentucky Derby, Giacomo.
One of the big reasons I have landed on Mr. Commons is the way the son of Artie Schiller is working. After another strong workout Friday at Hollywood, seven furlongs in 1:24 2/5, his connections came away pleased. New rider, Victor Espinoza was pleased to know the speed was there when needed, and as for a quote about the fast work from his trainer Shirreffs, this pearl was expressed, “As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horse come out of a work as well as he did.”
For sake of full disclosure, I must admit that Mr. Commons was my Santa Anita Derby selection. While he ran well that day in his stakes debut, it was not good enough, as he finished in 3rd. I am expecting big improvement for the lightly raced colt that impresses in the mornings. This makes Mr. Commons my top long shot for the Preakness. 15-1 or more on Mr. Commons to be draped in black-eyed susans? Count me in … For more full disclosure; I said the same thing about Animal Kingdom for the Derby two weeks ago.