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12th Crown

Preakness 136 Preview - "Pace makes the race"

15 May 10: Lookin At Lucky (7) and jockey Martin Garcia win the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland on Preakness Day.
Now that The Derby has come and gone, it’s time to turn our attention to the often overlooked “middle child” of the Triple Crown series. And no doubt you have already heard much talk about how speed is even more valuable at Pimlico Race Course with the tight turns and shorter distance. Many of these talking heads projected a much faster than average pace in the Derby, such as Randy Moss and Gary Stevens in pre-race comments. We all saw how that played out on a fast Churchill Downs track!  But consider the following performances of such highly regarded colts that showed good early speed in Baltimore only to lead to subpar results.
2010 – Super Saver went off as the slight favorite over Lookin At Lucky and stalked a moderate pace set by newcomer First Dude, yet was totally empty in the stretch to finish a disappointing 8th place. Keep in mind that although his Derby win likely was taxing, he had only raced twice going into the Derby and was still considered a “fresh” horse for the Preakness. Of course, Lucky won the race with a better trip while sitting around mid-pack through the first six furlongs. First Dude ran a huge race to get the place off the shelf since April 10th considering he maintained the lead for much of the race.
2009 – Super woman, Rachel Alexandra, made every call a winning one by setting sensible fractions and being clearly superior to this bunch. But Mine That Bird probably even gave Calvin a scare in deep stretch as he rallied furiously from 13th and last to miss by a length at the wire. Interesting to note that Fresian Fire and Pioneerof the Nile were well backed at the windows and both raced forwardly (3rd and 4th after a half), yet both faded badly and only beat two other horses.
2008 – After cruising in the Derby, Big Brown cruised yet again on the PEDs while sitting third until taking the lead on the turn. But Gayego, the second choice at post-time, showed good speed before tiring badly to finish 11th. On the contrary, the place and show horses, Macho Again and Icabad Crane, came from 8th – 9th after 6 furlongs to complete the trifecta.
2007 – Curlin claimed the Woodlawn Vase in ’07 in a top three repeat of the Kentucky Derby. But many handicappers believed the shorter distance would benefit Hard Spun, who led nearly every step of the Derby while finishing a game second. Yet, on this day he finished four lengths behind Curlin and Street Sense, who rallied from the 6th and 7th positions after the six furlong marker.
2006 – Barbaro’s fatal race likely distorted what would have happened with the pace, but considering Bernardini’s dominant five length score it’s hard to imagine him not winning while staying about 4 lengths off the lead in 4th position until turning for home. The speedy Brother Derek, who was coming off a solid 4th place finish in Kentucky, ran poorly as the second betting choice while stalking the pace in 2nd early, only to finish 15 lengths behind the winner.
Going back to 2000 includes more well backed front-runner types that finished worse in the 1 3/16 mile Preakness than in the 1 ¼ mile Derby, including Lion Heart ’04, Peace Rules ’03 and Congaree ’01. Whereas, closers Afleet Alex ’05 and Point Given ’01 authoritatively redeemed their Derby flops by staying even further off the early pace at Baltimore. Several other Preakness winners had comparable pace trips between the Derby and Preakness, such as speedster War Emblem ’02 and stalkers Funny Cide ’03 and Smarty Jones ’04. 
So if I’ve noticed any track variant over the past decade, it’s that closers actually have a better chance at Pimlico compared to trying to maneuver around a full 20 horse field in the Derby. But as always, “pace makes the race” and will ultimately dictate the outcome. One thing is for sure -- if we see another 48 and change half mile time I’m hoping my picks are all forwardly placed at that point. And you can bet Zito and LaPenta will be kissing that Magna $5.5 million bonus goodbye!


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Older Comments about Preakness 136 Preview - "Pace makes the race"...

Dialed In's your horse here. DI still managed to nip Shack in the Florida Derby despite speed holding up all day and Shack having a great trip. Shack went on to take the lead and beat all but 3 horses in Louisville, so you know his speed is legit and he will be pushing the pace. The half will fall in 46 and change and DI will be roaring up the stretch, only this time DI will not have to navigate through such a huge field. DI's last half mile in the KD was 47 flat, which was considerably faster than Zenyatta at the same treack in the BC classic, only the KD track that day was rated as much faster which is why the Beyer and other speed figures were slower for the KD. Bottom line, DI will benefit from a faster pace and a smaller field and will be coming fast. He may not win, but he will certainly hit the board and won't miss by much if he doesn't win.
IMO Animal Kingdom is so versitile that it may not matter what the pace is like. He has been on the lead, stalking, mid pack and dead closer and has always performed well. DI may be running well at the end if he does not drop too far back. Astrology, IMO will be sitting fourth or fifth and should have a shot to. Based on this I would not play Flash, Shackle or DC.
I think a few have figured out that they better try to make the lead or very close to it. Given that you have the pace setter from the Ark Derby, Shackleford and Flashpoint, the pace should be hotter than the Derby. Baffert has also said that they've figured out Midnight Interlude wants to be right there. I don't think anyone walks around there at 48 by themselves this time. Even if they go fast, why would anyone think that Dialed In can beat Animal Kingdom? He can do it either way and so can MMM. Should be an interesting finish.
Great job chronicling the Preakness pace trend. And yes, 48 and change spells doom for Dialed In, without question. Still, with Flashpoint in the mix, I doubt seriously we get that. I'm thinking it'll be more like 46.

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Meet Eric Kords
Eric is a historian of thoroughbred racing at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas and across the country. He has witnessed in person nearly every significant race that has occurred at Oaklawn Park since the mid-1980’s including such recent Eclipse champions as Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Lookin at Lucky, Summer Bird and Curlin, classic performers including Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Victory Gallop, Lil’ E Tee, Pine Bluff and Grindstone, top handicap champions Cigar, Lawyer Ron and Best Pal, and finally Distaff champions the likes of Azeri, Bayakoa, Paseana, Escena and Ginger Punch.  
Eric has also attended the most historically significant races across the country including the 2010 Breeders' Cup featuring Zenyatta’s epic finale, 2008 Breeders' Cup featuring Curlin’s final race, the Eclipse clinching victory by Rachel Alexandra against the boys in the 2009 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga, 2010 Preakness Stakes won by Eclipse champion Lookin at Lucky, 2004 Belmont Stakes where Smarty Jones was denied the Triple Crown by Birdstone, 1996 Pacific Classic at Del Mar where Cigar’s 16 consecutive win streak ended at the hooves of Dare and Go, Jim Dandy Stakes and Travers Stakes at Saratoga, Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park and Summit of Speed Festival at Calder just to name the most memorable.  Eric now resides in Dallas, TX and counts Oaklawn Park, The Fair Grounds and Lone Star Park as his “home tracks.” He has recently entered the thoroughbred owner ranks with the launch of his Saturday Racing Syndicate.

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