When the entries for the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico first released, the pace appeared mild with three possible pace horses in the opening quarter in National Treasure, Coffeewithchris and First Mission. But with First Mission gone, National Treasure has an even better chance, albeit at lower odds.
First Mission scratched from the Preakness, which means the blinkered-up National Treasure might only need to deal with pressure from Coffeewithchris in the opening quarter or half-mile. He could also let Coffeewithchris run off if the longshot is intent on wanting to lead.
Because Coffeewithchris belongs to a lower class, his presence up front is not a huge deal. National Treasure has hit the board in two Grade 1 races before including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile against the best 2-year-olds. This year, National Treasure ran third in the Sham Stakes (G3) and fourth in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) while never losing by more than two lengths. He is supposed to handle a Laurel Park shipper.
National Treasure and John Velazquez do need to worry about a possible early rush from Mage, the Kentucky Derby champion. Although Mage tends to break slow, he can recover and join the leaders, as seen in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) where he made an early bid to join them.
For most horses though, making an early move to recover from a poor break such as Mage did in the Fountain of Youth comes with consequences late. As Forte swept past the leaders and opened up in the stretch run, Mage felt the outcome of his wide and early bid when he could not outfinish Rocket Can and Cyclone Mischief for second.
As seen in the replay above, Mage breaks last and rushes up wide on the first turn, but he never could get over the hump and stalled.
When Mage ran as a deep closer in the Florida Derby (G1) and spent the first half-mile at the rear, he came with a big move on the far turn and sustained the bid in the stretch run to finish a strong second to Forte.
Thanks to his slow-breaking habit, Mage ran as a deep closer again in the Kentucky Derby and found himself in 16th after a half-mile with 13 lengths to make up. But the fast pace scenario meant many of the horses started to back up on the far turn. A path to the outside opened and Javier Castellano took Mage wide for a clear shot at the front. Mage had clear sailing and came with a nice rally to mow down Two Phil’s.
Castellano has some tough choices to make in this race. If Mage tries to rush up again in order to make sure National Treasure does not get loose, Mage might stall late. Without First Mission present to provide pressure to National Treasure though, National Treasure might slip away.
Given National Treasure might start at 3-1 and Mage will fall to even money or less without First Mission present, National Treasure makes more sense from a betting standpoint. If Mage makes that early move and overpowers National Treasure for the win, then he deserves it and the sport can get behind Mage for a Triple Crown bid at Belmont Park.
In the final trifecta shown below though, Mage is an underneath horse. Due to his low odds, he needs some good prices to use alongside him.
Besides Mage, the plausible options for the underneath positions are Red Route One, Perform and Blazing Sevens. All three horses made use of a closing style in their most recent starts, although Perform might own more speed than that given his past history or pressing or stalking.
Even though Blazing Sevens finished third in the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) at nine furlongs, it feels like he does not want to run in longer routes. In the stretch, his move paused as Tapit Trice and Verifying zipped away. Blazing Sevens ended up third by only half a length over Sun Thunder.
Red Route One won the nine-furlong Bath House Row Stakes at Oaklawn in his most recent start. His main weakness is that he gives up a large amount of lengths early and leaves himself with a ton of work to do late in the game. But he could end up finishing strong for second or third.
Perform took the nine-furlong Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel in his last start. Forget about the speed figure or winning margin for the race. This colt had nowhere to go in midstretch and somehow worked his way forward late to pick up the narrow win over a somewhat weak field.
Earlier in his career, Perform did finish fourth in Mage’s maiden win at Gulfstream. After pressing Mage early, he lost by 5 1/2 lengths, which is not terrible considering he was pressuring a future Derby champion.
National Treasure is the key on top in a trifecta wheel, while Mage, Red Route One and Perform make the final cut for underneath spots.
Win: 1 (at 5/2 or higher)
Trifecta: 1 / 3,5,6 / 3,5,6