Preakness 2021: History shows Derby speed horses perform well

Preakness 2021: History shows Derby speed horses perform well
Photo: Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire

Although recent Preakness Stakes history shows speed or tactical speed types as winners, the race is a bit more open to closers as well. If there is enough pace, mid-pack and deep closers get a fair shot to move through without needing to perform horse gymnastics in traffic or attempting to maintain a wide trip since there is not a 20-horse field.

Within the speed category of Preakness Stakes winners, though, the most common thread is speed horses who ran in the Kentucky Derby. It is not a hard rule, but runners on or near the Derby pace tend to excel in the Preakness two weeks later.

[RELATED - By the numbers: Ranking the fastest Preakness contenders]

In the last decade, there are some good examples of this angle.

Two years ago, War of Will was only one or two lengths off of Maximum Security's pace in the early stages of the Kentucky Derby before fading to eighth because of some controversial trouble on the far turn. In the Preakness, he made use of another inside trip to shoot through the rail and capture the second Triple Crown leg by 1 1/4 lengths.

In 2018, Justify pressed the speedy leader Promises Fulfilled through fast Kentucky Derby fractions before continuing to travel well in the later stages and winning the race. Then in the Preakness Stakes, Justify contested the pace with Good Magic and proved best with another win.

Six years ago, American Pharoah stalked his stablemate Dortmund in a wide position one or two lengths off the Kentucky Derby pace. He secured the lead in the stretch and won. In the Preakness two weeks later, American Pharoah took control early and won by seven lengths.

One year before American Pharoah, California Chrome took up the three-wide stalking role in third on his way to winning the Kentucky Derby by a small margin of 1 3/4 lengths. In the Preakness, he went with the wide stalking trip again and won by 1 1/2 lengths after putting away Social Inclusion on the far turn and holding off Ride On Curlin.

In 2013, Oxbow chased an insane pace of 22.57 and 45.33 set by the leader Palace Malice while traveling in a close inside position.

Oxbow moved into second by the far turn before understandably fading.

Two weeks later, Oxbow took control of the Preakness pace and upset the field.

Jockey Gary Stevens outsmarted the other riders by letting Oxbow go.

Because Oxbow already had run a blistering pace in the Kentucky Derby, it was easy for him to set those relatively soft Preakness fractions and go on to win. The Preakness pace likely felt like nothing. 

To give some quick examples in the prior decade before the last one, tactical speed horses such as Funny Cide and Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby by small margins in 2003 and 2004, respectively. Both horses then went lights out in the Preakness Stakes and demolished the field. Funny Cide captured his 2003 Preakness by 9 3/4 lengths, and Smarty Jones romped home by an eye-catching 11 1/2 lengths.

As for why Derby speed horses enjoy success in the Preakness, the fast Derby pace combined with the longer distance must help those horses become super fit heading into Pimlico. Even though the points-era Kentucky Derby has slowed down a touch, the “slower” modern Derby pace is still considered fast relative to normal 1 1/4-mile races.  

Of course, there are exceptions to the angle. Once in a while, a good horse who made use of his speed in the Kentucky Derby ends up failing in the Preakness.

The Todd Pletcher-trained Super Saver and Always Dreaming are two examples.

Super Saver captured the 2010 Kentucky Derby after a beautiful ground-saving trip in sixth early. Two weeks later, he flopped in the Preakness with a puzzling eighth-place finish. Always Dreaming enjoyed a pressing trip in the 2017 Kentucky Derby en route to victory, before finishing eighth as well in the Preakness Stakes. 

Pletcher horses are a special case because they need more than two weeks to recover. He took these shots because of the Triple Crown. 

Another bad example is Nyquist, who finished first in the 2016 Kentucky Derby after a stalking trip behind the run-off leader Danzing Candy. When Nyquist competed in the Preakness two weeks later, he was hooked into a speed duel and faded to third in the stretch, as the mud-loving closer Exaggerator took advantage of the pace scenario late.

In most cases, though, horses who travel in the front half of the Kentucky Derby field go on to perform well in the Preakness, whether or not they won the Derby.

If Medina Spirit is allowed to run in the Preakness, he obviously fits the angle described above as a Derby speed horse. It is not clear whether he can win without the lead, but he is almost certain to perform well.

In the immediate moment, Medina Spirit is the only possible Preakness horse that fits the angle. Because Midnight Bourbon did not break sharply in the Derby, jockey Mike Smith took a hold of him heading into the first turn and he was forced to settle around 12th. Midnight Bourbon did put forth a moderate rally in the stretch but only as a closer.

The point of showing the history of Derby speed horses in the Preakness is that they come into the Preakness more fit and ready than Derby closers or new shooters.

With that said, perhaps the experience of competing in the rough 20-horse Kentucky Derby field gives Midnight Bourbon a slight edge anyway over Baffert's "other" possible Preakness entry, the still-developing Concert Tour. Experiencing those traffic problems possibly made Midnight Bourbon more battle-hardened as well and ready to fire. 

But if Medina Spirit runs, he seems like the one to defeat as the lone Derby horse in the Preakness who endured the pace. Given Medina Spirit's ability to withstand a Kentucky Derby pace and the lack of Preakness speed signed up other than Medina Spirit, Concert Tour and Midnight Bourbon, a finish out of the exacta would come as a surprise. 

Medina Spirit's status for the race is unclear, as seen in the recent news.


Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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