PREAKNESS STAKES 2016 – PICKS

The overwhelming consensus around the sport is that Nyquist will continue his winning ways on Saturday (May 21) to win the Preakness, one race removed from the Triple Crown.

I tend to agree with this notion… on paper.

Only 2 other horses that ran in the Derby will compete with Nyquist in the Preakness.

The other 8 contenders failed to accumulate enough points in the prep races to run at Churchill Downs.

And, since 1990, only 3 horses that didn’t compete in the Derby went on to win the Preakness.

Nyquist is also fine with the distance at Pimlico. He has won long distances (Kentucky Derby) and shorter ones (San Felipe Stakes).

Plus, Gun Runner, who came in 3rd at the Derby, pulled out of the Preakness this week.

In addition, Nyquist’s biggest competition (Exaggerator) has lost 4 straight times to him in both long races and shorter ones.

But there may be factors that could open up the possibility that Nyquist may not be a total lock for me:

Weather/Exaggerator

It’s going to rain in Baltimore on Saturday. A lot.

The weather forecast indicates it will come down all day and an 80% chance during race time.

This means Pimlico will likely be a slippery sloppy track.

In these conditions, the break at the outset of the race will be crucial for the horses.

Of course, Nyquist has already proven he can win on a wet track (Florida Derby) & (Kentucky Derby).

But, so has Exaggerator

He won at the Santa Anita Derby in absolute slop. And, he did it by coming from last place all the way to 1st to win by 6.5 lengths.  You must see it.  He is the horse with 2 on it and the jockey is in green:

Also, interesting to note: Nyquist’s trainer (Doug O’Neill) joked this week that he “went out and hid in some bushes and watched [Exaggerator]”. He said the horse “looked great… his coat looks great… and his weight looks great” and that the horse’s team is likely thrilled about the possible of a rainy track Saturday.

But, O’Neill remained steadfast in his confidence for Nyquist to handle the rain and seemed encouraged that the track at Pimlico, which has taken a lot of rain recently, “continues to bounce back” and “the crew is doing a great job”.

As for Exaggerator’s trainer (Keith Desormeaux), he indicated this week that in addition to the weather factor, Exaggerator may have an attribute over Nyquist in his fitness and “ability to recover”. (In reference to horses running 2 major races in 2 weeks).

Desormeaux’s brother (Kent) will be riding Exaggerator as well. He has 6 Triple Crown races, including 2 Preaknesses.  He will need every bit of that experience to finally beat Nyquist.

Todd Pletcher

He has 6 Eclipse Awards, a record for any horse racing trainer, ever.

And, he’s won almost every major graded race including the Kentucky Derby with Super Saver (2010) and Belmont with Rags to Riches (2007) & Palace Malice (2013).

But, Todd Pletcher, North America’s all-time leading trainer in stable earnings & only 1 of 2 trainers to have saddled 1,000 stakes winners, has never won at Pimlico.

So, to say the 48 year-old Pletcher wants to win a Preakness, would probably be an understatement.

Does he have a chance this year to do it?

His entry, Stradivari, sure is a fascinating hypothetical.

While this will be Stradivari’s stakes debut & only 4th lifetime start, this late developing horse is considered a “strong newcomer”.

The colt has won his past 2 starts by a combined 25-3/4 lengths.

Word is that he also has the breeding to handle distance (from Bending Strings) and an outstanding maturity and laid-back nature for a horse his age.

As for why he did not race more in the Derby prep races, Pletcher indicated that they had a minor setback with Stradivari and which “we just got a little behind schedule [with him]… We just ran out of time a little bit.”

Stradivari’s owners, Tanya Gunther and her father John Gunther, very experienced breeders, have said of the colt “he impressed people right away”, including themselves.

Nyquist’s trainer (Doug O’Neill) has also said more than once that he “fears” Stradivari would enter the Preakness.

It’s also interesting to note that this will be Pletcher’s first Preakness starter since 2011.

He must see something special in Stradivari, no?…

Cherry Wine

It is a long-held opinion that inside speed is a key for success at Pimlico.

Well, we have it in Cherry Wine, the horse that drew the #1 inside post for the Preakness.

This colt was the 2nd alternate for the Derby (25th in points) and is the son of Paddy O’Prado, who finished 3rd in the Kentucky Derby and 6th at the Preakness in 2010.

He is also trained by Dale Romans, who already has a Preakness win with Shackleford (2011), a horse with a similar record to Cherry Wine’s leading up to the victory.

Most importantly, Romans recently indicated that Cherry Wine “loves the slop”. (He broke his maiden in his 5th start on a sloppy track by 9 lengths in November at Churchill Downs.)

And, word is that the jockey is skilled on the rail.

Bob Baffert

Personally, I can’t dismiss any horse that American Pharoah’s trainer Bob Baffert brings to the Preakness party.

After all, he’s won it 6 times.

For this year’s party, he’s escorting in Collected, at the 7th post.

This colt has a 2 win race streak, is “fast”, “competitive”, and had been impressive after breezing furlongs at Churchill Downs earlier this month.

Also, in 6 starts, he has raced at 5 different tracks with 4 wins and $433,700 in earnings.

That is, he’s won on turf and dirt which Baffert thinks makes him “an exceptional horse”.

Still I worry about how badly Collected faded to 4th place in the Southwest Stakes to Suddenbreakingnews (5th place at the Derby).  His break was slow and he never “engaged”.

And, I realize that the colt will face the cream of the crop Grade 1 competition for the 1st time.

I also got sucked into the hype behind Mor Spirit, Baffert’s Derby horse that finished 10th with 12-1 odds.

Collected, a more unproven inexperienced horse is currently running better odds at 10-1, which makes me uncomfortable.

Baffert even admitted that Nyquist will be tough to beat. “The only way we can beat him is either he doesn’t bring his A Game or there’s some racing luck.”

My overall opinion is slight confusion about this horse, similar to the other unproven horses. Tons of talent, has the speed to compete, the staff to raise him up, and a good jockey will be on his back.

I agree with Baffert on this one: luck will be a factor, but Collected certainly has a chance.

THE PICKS

Ok, so who am I picking?

  1. Exaggerator (3-1)
  2. Nyquist (3-5)
  3. Collected (10-1)
  4. Uncle Lino (20-1)
  5. Stradivari (8-1)

Longshot: Cherry Wine (20-1)

Reasoning: If Nyquist takes the lead and sits, a fast horse with distance needs to overtake him in the rain.  I just don’t think any other horse besides Exaggerator can possibly do it from this field on slop. Fifth time a charm? Probably his best chance with a smaller field and clearer shot to the finish line.

After 1 & 2, it’s a crap shoot. Lots of unproven, good quality horses in the field behind the top 2 favorites.

But, I like the way Collected has raced leading up to the Preakness.  Appears to be a strong, fast horse taking early leads.  I haven’t seen enough to think he’ll chase down the leaders, so I’m leaving him at 3.

Am I really putting a 20-1 in my superfecta? Well, Uncle Lino is an early pace-setter, is posted next to Nyquist, and went wire to wire to win California Chrome Stakes in April on a dry track (1 & 1/6 mile).  In other races where he has taken the lead (Santa Anita, Robert B. Lewis), he either faded down the stretch or was overtaken.  Also, Pimlico is longer than Santa Anita Park, so I can’t consider him to seriously challenge Nyquist.  But, based on the tape, I think he’ll probably run alongside him for awhile, and finish 4th or 5th.  Still, if Pimlico’s handicappers keep him at 20-1 or raise these odds, this prediction could very well bomb out.

Stradivari turns my head for reasons mentioned above.  But, he hasn’t faced competition like this before.  So, it’s possible he can be in the top 3-5, but I don’t have enough tape on him to know if he has an accelerator or can go the distance with the big boys.  If I’m laying down serious money on this race (which I’m not), I would put this horse in the 4th slot over the long-shot Uncle Lino.  Thus, I won’t include Stradivari in my superfecta for now unless things change in 24 hours…

Post time: 6:45pm Saturday, May 21 at Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore MD.  Grade: I.  Distance: 1 3/16 miles.  Surface: Dirt.  TV: NBC; Coverage begins at 5:00pm.

My Handicapping Cheat Sheet for the race:

Post Horse Odds Remarks
1 Cherry Wine 20-1 This Jockey likes the rail; The horse also won big on a sloppy track by 9.5 lengths as a 2 year old; And, he may be able to make a charge late against the tired Derby horses. My pick for a long-shot.
2 Uncle Lino 20-1 Raced exclusively in CA 1st 7 starts; Won CA Chrome Stakes & broke track record; Took early leads at Robert Lewis Stakes & Santa Anita Derby but faded; Likely “distance-challenged”, but could be a contender.
3 Nyquist 3-5 Kentucky Derby winner; Same post as previous Triple Crown winners CA Chrome & Secretariat; Won on a rainy track at FL Derby; Beat Exaggerator at 7/8 mile race San Felipe; Only thing untested for this horse is running 2 races in 13 days (shortest has been 19 days & he recorded a very slow time at 2nd race).
4 Awesome Speed 30-1 Won 3 listed stakes, but got thumped by Mohaymen at Fountain of Youth by 13 lengths.
5 Exaggerator 3-1 Trainer said recently this horse’s best attribute is ability to recover, fitness & racing exp. Will he be “fresher” than Nyquist on Sat?; His shortest break bet races has been 21 days. He dug well into a sloppy wet track at Santa Anita & went from last to 1st w/speed.
6 Lani 30-1 Finished 9th at Kentucky Derby; Japanese trained horse trying to be 1st to win both UAE Derby & Preakness; horse has history of being tempermental & unresponsive. Could he affect performance of those next to him?
7 Collected 10-1 Baffert trained horse; On a 2 race win streak; But faded to 4th place in Southwest Stakes to Suddenbreakingnews; Baffert thinks post is advantageous esp on a muddy track due to the importance of the break; Jockey is experienced Javier Castellano who won Preakness in 2006 & had highest purse winnings in ’13-’15.
8 Laoban 30-1 Still seeking 1st win; Speedy early pace setter; Trainer plans to “stalk” the speedy horses & try to pounce late.   Horse is very fresh.
9 Abinding Star 30-1 Uncle Mo colt; Winless as a 2-year old, but unbeaten since turning 3.
10 Fellowship 30-1 Florida-bred; Has been “kicked around like a football” in his last 5 starts. But, came in 3rd in FL Derby
11 Stradivari 8-1 Pletcher trained horse; This will be his stakes debut & only 4th lifetime start. But, this late developing horse is considered a “strong newcomer” and won 2 races by 10+ lengths.  Outside post is fortuitous. Pletcher has never won a Preakness, so he wants it bad.

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