My favorite non-Breeders' Cup race is finally upon us. My favorite for several reasons, which I will get into below, the Preakness will have various "new shooters" – horses who skipped the Kentucky Derby – entered again this season. But make no mistake, it's the horses coming back on two weeks rest after running at Churchill Downs who have the most say at Pimlico.
Before I dive into the Preakness, let’s look at this week’s updated Division Rankings.
Older dirt males
1. Olympiad. A winner in the Alysheba Stakes (G2) on Derby weekend, this guy has quietly put together four wins in a row, three of which are graded. I put him at the top because if the season ended today, he would have to be voted the Eclipse winner. Country Grammer and Hot Rod Charlie haven't even run in the U.S. this year. While some of the others are still sidelined after races overseas, Olympiad figures to pad his resume even more in the coming months, with the Whitney (G1) as his next major goal in early August at Saratoga. Trainer Bill Mott says he likely will get one race before the Whitney.
2. Country Grammer. Sensational in both of his starts overseas, he was a facile winner of the Dubai World Cup (G1). Before that, he was a close runner-up in the Saudi Cup (G1), his first start in nine months. The hope is to bring him back for the Pacific Classic (G1) at Del Mar late this summer. Still, he hasn't run in this country yet this season and that matters. Could drop in the coming weeks.
3. Express Train. Ran one of his best career races a few weeks ago in the Californian (G2), but he was beaten by Stiletto Boy. If anything, he gained more respect from me with that effort. Now 2-for-3 on the season, he is in the best form of his career.
4. Hot Rod Charlie. Struggling midway through the Dubai World Cup, he looked to be in serious trouble but gathered himself and ran a solid second on a day where he might not have been his best. If the Breeders' Cup Classic were held today, he would be the second betting choice. Like Country Grammer, he figures to be sidelined for another couple of months. He too could drop in the coming weeks.
5. Life Is Good. A textbook example of a horse who, while very good at eight to nine furlongs, just wasn't the same when stretching out to 10 furlongs. That was the fear here all along with this guy. He had a clear lead in the stretch of the Dubai World Cup but faded in the last 200 yards to finish fourth. Will get a prep before his next major goal, the Whitney in August at Saratoga.
Next 5: Stiletto Boy, Warrant, Speaker's Corner, Mandaloun, Last Samurai.
Older dirt females
1. Letruska. Repelled challenges from Ce Ce and Clairiere in the Apple Blossom (G1) but had enough in the tank to hold on for a 1 1/4-length win. The winner of both of her starts this season, she will run next in the Phipps (G1) stakes on Belmont Stakes day at Belmont Park.
2. Clairiere. Ran very well when runner-up to Letruska. She looks to have upped her game from last season and is a real player now in this division. She too will point for the Phipps Stakes on Belmont Day.
3. Pauline's Pearl. Won her first Grade 1 last time out in the La Troienne Stakes at Churchill Downs and clearly has raised her game now at age 4. Could face the top two next time out in what is shaping up as another stellar edition of the Phipps Stakes.
4. Ce Ce. Letruska and Clairiere were too much last out in the Apple Blossom, and I suspect she will be back sprinting before long.
5. Malathaat. Made her first start of the season in the Doubledogdare Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. I am still not convinced she can be the fastest in this division.
Next 5: Search Results, Shedaresthedevil, Blue Stripe, Bonny South, Royal Flag.
1. Epicenter. Stays here at No. 1 despite his Kentucky Derby runner-up effort. In fact, that runner-up effort only solidified his position here even more. His only loss prior to the Derby in his last five starts was a neck loss in the Lecomte (G3) earlier this season. Will be the favorite in this weekend's Preakness.
2. Zandon. The Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner ran very well in the Kentucky Derby, where he made a nice run from the back of the pack, but he did hang a bit in the stretch to finish third. Connections may point to the Belmont, but I get the feeling that 12 furlongs may be out of his scope.
3. Rich Strike. Simply put, his win in the Kentucky Derby was the biggest upset I have ever seen at any level in this sport. There are many factors that weigh into that statement, and while many believe this guy is a one-hit wonder, not so fast. Horses mature at different times and some more rapidly than others. The Kentucky Derby was his first start on dirt this season, and his connections made the bold decision to skip the Preakness and wait for the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes.
4. Mo Donegal. The Wood Memorial (G2) winner ran well in the Derby but was 10 wide around the second turn before he made his late run to finish fifth, a neck back of Simplification in fourth. Will now await the Belmont.
5. Taiba. The Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby but he didn't run badly, considering it was only his third start and he was close to the record pace early on. Will skip the Preakness but will make his presence known in the coming months.
Next 5: Simplification, White Abarrio, Jack Christopher, Messier, Early Voting.
1. Secret Oath. Certainly was much the best in the Kentucky Oaks, coming with a powerful run to circle horses on the turn. Before that she was third against the boys in the Arkansas Derby (G1) and now will try the boys again in this weekend's Preakness Stakes. I would be surprised if she placed in this spot. She couldn't compete with Kentucky Derby also-rans Cyberknife and Barber Road but now she will handle Derby runner-up Epicenter and fourth-place finisher Simplification? Pass.
2. Echo Zulu. She gained much respect with her solid run in the Kentucky Oaks, where she conceded the early lead to a long shot while attending solid early fractions only to begrudgingly give way at the end to finish fourth, beaten a length for the runner-up spot. She will be very tough next out in the Acorn (G1) on Belmont Day.
3. Nest. Somewhat of an underlay in the Kentucky Oaks, she had no excuses in her runner-up finish. Connections may try the Belmont next – an ambitious goal, to say the least
4. Kathleen O. Suffered her first loss when fifth in the Kentucky Oaks, but she hardly disgraced herself. She was beaten only fourth lengths for all the marbles.
5. Desert Dawn. The Santa Anita Oaks (G1) winner came to run on Oaks Day and finished well to be third to the winner, Secret Oath.
Next 5: Adare Manor, Eda, Ju Ju's Map, Tarabi, Hidden Connection.
1. Golden Pal. Finally reaches this top spot, and it's deserved. Was dominant in his 2022 debut last out at Keeneland, a win in the Shakertown (G2). The Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner from last season now will head to Royal Ascot.
2. Colonel Liam. He found the waters a bit too deep in the Dubai Turf (G1), where he finished ninth. Previously he ran huge in defending his Pegasus World Cup Turf (G1) and seemed better than ever despite his long layoff. There is a wide gap between grass horses in this country and overseas.
3. Gufo. Started his 2022 season off right with a facile two-length win in the Pan American (G2) at Gulfstream but then finished runner-up in the Man O' War Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park.
4. Smooth Like Strait. Ran a decent third in his first start of 2022 in the Makers Mark Mile (G1), losing by a nose and a neck. I won't lie, I expected him to win the race. Still feel he is top five in this division.
5. Santin. Lightly raced, this 4-year-old won his first Grade 1 in his sixth career start. The Turf Classic win at Churchill Downs comes after a runner-up effort in a Grade 2 at the Fair Grounds.
Next 5: Shirl's Speight, Yibir, Channel Maker, Count Again, Mira Mission.
1. Regal Glory. Has to move to No. 1 based on her season thus far, a win in the Pegasus Filly & Mare Turf (G3) and now her last win in the Jenny Wiley (G1) at Keeneland over a strong field.
2. War Like Goddess. Won her 2022 debut impressively, picking off horses to win by open lengths in last week's Bewitch Stakes (G3). Tough-luck loser of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf last fall, she still is among the best in this division and could be back on top with a win next time out. Could a race against males in the Manhattan (G1) on Belmont Day be in the cards for her next start?
3. Going Global. Won six graded stakes last season as a 3-year-old filly. Hasn't left her home state of California since arriving in this country in late 2020 but will have to if she aims to contend for an Eclipse this season. Returned a few weeks ago with a win in the Royal Heroine (G2) at Santa Anita and will run next in the Gamely (G1) at Santa Anita later this month.
4. Shantisara. Was a strong runner-up to the No. 1-ranked Regal Glory in the Jenny Wiley (G1). Before that she was a winner of three stakes in a row.
5. Bleecker Street. This filly is unbeaten in six starts and already has won three graded stakes this year. Last time out she won the Modesty (G3) at Churchill Downs on Derby weekend.
Next 5: Speak of the Devil, In Italian, Leggs Galore, Going to Vegas, Queen Goddess.
1. Jackie's Warrior. The Eclipse winner from last season was dominant in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1) where he defeated several ranked below. Before that he made short work of the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) at Oaklawn. Now 2-for-2 on the season, there is a wide gap between him and any other sprinting on the dirt.
2. Golden Pal. Could contend for this Eclipse if he keeps things going. Simply dominant as turf sprinter, he heads to Royal Ascot next after his facile win in the Shakertown at Keeneland.
3. Speakers Corner. Has won all three of his starts this season, with the Carter (G1) his latest win last time out. His connections will point to the Met Mile (G1) for his next start on June 11.
4. Reinvestment Risk. Runner-up to Jackie's Warrior three times in his career, the latest being the Churchill Downs Stakes last time out. Before that he was runner-up to Speakers Corner in the Carter (G1) at Aqueduct.
5. Dr. Schivel. Ran a good third in Dubai in the Golden Shaheen (G1) in his first start of 2022. Previously he disappointed in the Malibu (G1), but given what he did in 2021, he deserves this spot for now. Will return in late July at Del Mar.
Next 5: Aloha West, Brickyard Ride, Cezanne, Special Reserve, Baby Yoda.
1. Obligatory. She beat the best in this division except for Ce Ce last out in the Derby City Distaff (G1) at Churchill Downs with a strong closing kick. Now 2-for-2 on the season, she has found home sprinting.
2. Just One Time. The beaten favorite in the Derby City, she finished third with no excuses. Previously this season she won the Madison (G1) at Keeneland and the Inside Information (G2) at Gulfstream.
3. Edgeway. Ran the worst race of her 12 race career last out in the Derby City Distaff, finishing sixth, beaten over seven lengths. Before that she won the Las Flores (G3) at Santa Anita.
4. Ce Ce. Last season's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner was beaten by Merneith in her first start of 2022, the Santa Monica (G2) at Santa Anita. Two starts back she stretched out to win the Azeri (G2) at 1 1/16 miles but failed against Letruska in the Apple Blossom at that same distance.
5. Bell's the One. Ran her race in the Derby City but finished a neck out of third. She was a good runner-up in the Madison (G1) before that and is still among the best in this division.
Next 5: Bella Sofia, Four Graces, Kimari, Glass Ceiling, Frank's Rockette.
Who doesn't love the Preakness? Unlike the Kentucky Derby, we don't have to weather the hyperbole surrounding the Preakness for weeks leading up the race. As soon as the sun sets on Kentucky Derby Day, we are just a fortnight from the Preakness.
In most seasons, the Preakness has just as much excitement as the Kentucky Derby, with a potential Triple Crown on the line. It has been the Preakness – not the Kentucky Derby – that has given us the most thrilling finishes and breathtaking performances. From the 1989 Sunday Silence/Easy Goer dual, the 1997 thriller featuring Silver Charm, Free House and Captain Bodgit, the Funny Cide and Smarty Jones romps in 2003 and 2004, the courage of Afleet Alex in 2005, and of course, the fillies Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and Swiss Skydiver in 2020, the Preakness has it all.
The Preakness is much easier to handicap than the packed Kentucky Derby field, with an average of only a little over 10 horses entering over the last 20 seasons. And with the Preakness, one handicapping angle has been profitable over the last several decades – stick with the horses coming back on two weeks rest exiting Kentucky Derby weekend.
While it is true that we did have a horse win the Preakness last year who skipped the Kentucky Derby, don’t look for that trend to continue.
The last time we had winners of consecutive runnings of the Preakness who didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby was 40 years ago. No, I don’t count the 2020 running, and no one should. It was held in September as the last leg of the Triple Crown and four weeks after a belated Kentucky Derby. Nothing about 2020 should be included in any trends related to wagering angles for this race.
Take out the 2020 running and we have had a grand total of five horses in the last 40 years who won the Preakness but didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby. And really, I would lower that number to four for my wagering angle. Rachel Alexandra, the winner of the Preakness in 2009, did run two weeks prior, in the Kentucky Oaks.
That therein is my favorite wagering angle: I love the horses entering the Preakness with only two week’s rest.
Two weeks of rest used to be the norm, and in my opinion, many horses thrive on more action. “New shooters,” as most like to call the horses entering the Preakness after not running in the Kentucky Derby, were generally considered not good enough to run in the Derby or would have been long shots in the Kentucky Derby had they run.
This year we have 9 horses entered in the Preakness, three of whom exit the Kentucky Derby. Derby runner-up Epicenter will be the favorite, with Simplification 6-1 on the morning line and Happy Jack 30-1. Epicenter looks tough on paper, but Simplification looks like the overlay to me at 6-1. He ran 65 feet farther than Epicenter in the Kentucky Derby and, like Epicenter, has a versatile running style.
Early Voting is clearly the best of the horses entered who didn’t exit the Kentucky Derby, and he should be the pace factor. For me, this Preakness comes down to these four horses. The three exiting the Kentucky Derby, and Early Voting. All of my wagers will focus on these four.
For Epicenter, win or lose on Saturday, he will retain his No. 1 ranking here in these rankings based on the equity he has built.