Head of the Class
Orb 1-1 (Malibu Moon-Lady Liberty, by Unbridled) Shug McGaughey/Joel Rosario – Talk about a horse putting it all together at just the right time. I was thoroughly impressed while watching him win an allowance race back in January, and he has only gotten better and stronger with each and every race. His wins in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby proved he was for real, but it was in the Kentucky Derby, and perhaps the week leading up to the Derby, that he demonstrated that he was the best of this crop. He seems to be holding his ideal form since his win under the twin spires, and with plenty of speed coming to Baltimore, all signs point to having a horse with a big shot to win the Triple Crown when we all get to Belmont in June.
Departing 5-1 (War Front-Leave, by Pulpit) Al Stall/Brian Hernandez – Lightly raced, but highly talented, Departing is the most interesting new shooter the Preakness has seen since Rachel Alexandra tested the boys back in 2009. His third against a big field in one of the season's key races, the Louisiana Derby, likely gave him a world of education. Three of the top four finishers in that race came back to run well in Louisville, while he took a different route. The Illinois Derby did not give him the kind of test he will see on Saturday, but his easy win against a deep field should send him to Pimlico with a ton of confidence, and even more seasoning. Both of those attributes will be very much needed if he is to give the top one a real tussle.
Mylute 8-1 (Midnight Lute-Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations) Thomas Amoss/Rosie Napravnik – Rosie is nothing but happy with the decision to wheel back the Derby fifth place finisher right back in the Preakness, and I can see why. The horse she rode to a huge allowance score back in December validated his excellent race in the Louisiana Derby with a very similar performance in Louisville while reuniting with Rosie. With an early pace in the Preakness likely to be similar as to what we saw in Churchill Downs, Mylute will only need to continue his recent form to pass most of the field and get into the money at Pimlico. And if Orb doesn't run his race, Who knows? There would be worse things than to see Rosie in the Preakness winner's circle.
Will Take Charge 12-1 (Unbridled's Song-Take Charge Lady, by Dehere) D. Wayne Lukas/Mike Smith – In analyzing the video replay of the Kentucky Derby, as many of us have done, it's clear to see why so many smart people have hopped onto this one's Baltimore bandwagon. Moving with Orb on the far turn, he was stopped, shut down, and blocked again by the tiring Verrazano. Now I am not saying he would have stayed with Orb all the way to the wire, but he likely would have been in that group running for second. That coupled with his nice late run in the Rebel, the addition of Mike Smith, and you'd have to give this one a fighting chance in the Preakness.
Oxbow 15-1 (Awesome Again-Tizamazing, by Cee's Tizzy) D. Wayne Lukas/Gary Stevens – All in all, his well-beaten sixth place finish in the Derby was not all that bad. He chased and then rushed up into a pace that was just too fast, and although he didn't have a ton of horse left for the stretch run, he didn't exactly pack things in either. With Titletown Five likely out there winging early, a similar trip is probably likely. It is true that speed horses generally fare better in the Preakness than the Derby, but I still don't see that as the trip I want in Saturday's race either. I'll give him the nod as my favorite speed type, but that's about it.
Itsmyluckyday 12-1 (Lawyer Ron-Viva La Slew, by Doneraile Court) Edward Plesa/John Velazquez - Another who just did not run his race in Louisville, Itsmyluckyday gets a nice change of rider in John Velazquez. I would expect him to get his charge in a nice position on the backstretch, and it would not be a surprise to see him right in the thick of things as the field straightens out. The problem will begin there, though, as I have absolutely no reason to believe that the Florida Derby runner-up has much chance to hold off Orb any better in Baltimore than he did in the last two.
Goldencents 8-1 (Into Mischief-Golden Works, by Banker's Gold) Doug O'Neill/Kevin Krigger – I was on record as saying that one of the race favorites would not win the Kentucky Derby, and luckily for my good name, Goldencents obliged with a dull effort. Yes, I know he is a better horse than he showed at Churchill Downs, but I still don't like him against these. I believe the California sophomores to be a notch below this year, and couple that with another contentious pace, and I just cannot see this one beating top horses at 1 3/16 miles. Vyjack 20-1 (Into Mischief-Life Happened, by Stravinsky) Rudy Rodriguez/Garrett Gomez – What happened to Vyjack in Kentucky? He may get the award for looking the worst before the race, and then things did not get better once the gates opened. Rushing up on the far outside and into fast fractions, I knew he had no chance by the time the field hit the first turn. He will need to run a completely different race in the Preakness. If, and only if, he can relax early, and then punch it in with a strong move on the turn, can I see him being around at the finish. And even then, I prefer the horses at the top of this list better.
***Vyjack will not run in the Preakness***
Govenor Charlie 10-1 (Midnight Lute-Silverbulletway, by Storm Cat) Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia – New shooter number two, Govenor Charlie was a horse I was looking forward to betting against in the Derby. He didn't run, so I didn't get the chance, but now it looks like he is back to healthy for the Preakness. I wasn't fooled by the fast time in New Mexico on one of the fastest tracks I've ever seen, and I'm not about to jump on him now. Undoubtedly he has some talent, but much as I thought a few weeks ago, I believe the only noise this inexperienced horse will be making is as another of those who can add to a sharp early pace. Titletown Five 30-1 (Tiznow-D'Wildcat Speed, by Forest Wildcat) D. Wayne Lukas/Julien Leparoux - Lukas takes over for Pletcher, as he'll have 30% of the Preakness field with the addition of this one. It might be a nice story to see Paul Hornung and his football pals winning a real big one, but I can't see it happening in this year's Preakness. Look for him to make some early noise for the first five or six furlongs, but after that, I expect this speedy son of Tiznow to be little more than baked halibut down the Pimlico stretch.