2011 Preakness Stakes Analysis
Some recent Kentucky Derby winners, like Barbaro, Street Sense, and Big Brown, left me thinking that maybe this was the year we would see another Triple Crown winner. While other recent Kentucky Derby winners, like Giacomo and Mine That Bird, left me wondering if they would ever win another race. I can’t put 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom in either category – he doesn’t feel like a fluke winner, but I’m also not sure how good he really is. Given the apparent weakness of this crop of three-year-olds, he may not have to be very good to keep winning races.
While Animal Kingdom is a good-looking horse, and looked good winning the Kentucky Derby, questions remain. The slow-early, fast-late pace was highly unusual for a Kentucky Derby and it’s unclear whether he won despite that or because of it. In addition, the uninspiring final time of the race produced a well below average Beyer Speed Figure. While he enters the Preakness as the legitimate favorite, he will have to win again on Saturday to gain any real credibility.
Only four other runners from the Kentucky Derby are heading to Pimlico – Mucho Macho Man (3rd), Shackleford (4th), Dialed In (8th) and Midnight Interlude (16th) – and none of those had any excuses in the Kentucky Derby that would justify moving them up in the Preakness. Of those four, it’s ironically the worst Derby performer that interests me the most in the Preakness. Like last year’s Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky, Midnight Interlude is trained by Bob Baffert and will be ridden by Martin Garcia. Unraced as a two-year-old, Midnight Interlude was a steadily improving three-year-old coming in to the Derby and was sent off as the fifth choice in the betting. Although he showed nothing in the Derby stretch, I’m willing to forgive that and hope he can run a race similar to his Santa Anita Derby win. If he can sit off the early speed here, and finish as well as he did at Santa Anita, he could be a factor.
As for the new shooters, I’ll remind you of what I said last year:
As for the horses that didn’t race in the Derby, keep in mind that they didn’t skip it voluntarily – they weren’t good enough to make the 20 horse Derby field. Read that again – they didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby because there were 20 horses that were more accomplished than them. They haven’t gotten any better over the past two weeks.
That said, there are a couple of horses that skipped the Kentucky Derby that I will give a chance of stepping up in the Preakness Stakes.
Sway Away comes into the Preakness off a fourth place finish in the Arkansas Derby, arguably the top Kentucky Derby prep this season – winner Archarcharch would have been one of the Derby favorites had he not drawn the unfavorable one hole in the starting gate; second place finisher Nehro came back to run second in the Kentucky Derby; third place finisher Dance City joins the field here; and fifth place finisher Alternation won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park last weekend. Sway Away made a strong move around the turn to take the lead at the top of the stretch and held on until the sixteenth pole before tiring to fourth. By 2005 Preakness winner Alfeet Alex, Sway Away has yet to win a route race, but trainer Jeff Bonde has put three six furlong workouts into him since the Arkansas Derby and that conditioning may help him in the stretch on Saturday.
Astrology didn’t win either of his two races this year, and has never run particularly fast, but he has always been competitive and has never finished out of the money in seven career starts. In addition to being trained by Steve Asmussen, who won the 2007 Preakness with Curlin and the 2009 Preakness with Rachel Alexandra, Astrology has similar breeding to 2006 Preakness winner Bernardini (by A.P. Indy out of a Quiet American mare) and therefore should be well suited to the Preakness distance.
The Preakness pace should be much more contentious than we saw in the Kentucky Derby, with Shackleford, Flashpoint, Dance City, Norman Asbjornson and some others having a preference for running at the front of the pack. I expect this to compromise their chances and allow midpack runners, like those mentioned above, to take the advantage in the stretch.
Thoroughbred Report Preakness Stakes Picks: