This weekend, they will run the 147th edition of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. The biggest stories around Saturday's second jewel of the Triple Crown don't have as much to do with who is here as who isn't here. Racing fans can usually rely on the Kentucky Derby winner making an appearance at Pimlico on the third Saturday in May. But Rich Strike -- the 80-1 longshot who stunned the Derby two weeks ago -- is instead pointing toward the Belmont Stakes in three weeks. There has been much written, and quite a bit of consternation, over the connections' decision not to bring Rich Strike to Baltimore. But the simple fact of the matter is this: Pimlico is an extremely speed-favoring dirt race track and Rich Strike's chances of repeating his amazing -- and unlikely -- stretch run from Louisville here in Maryland were slim to none. In other words, they made the right decision whether people like it or not. With that said, here are the contenders, pretenders, and live longshots for Saturday's race:
#8 - Epicenter. Steve Asmussen's brilliant colt looked like he was a winner turning for home in the Derby, with only Zandon close to him as they came down the stretch. But Rich Strike had other plans and Epicenter had to settle for second (there are worse fates than that). Pimlico should be a completely different story. Not only is there no Rich Strike here, but this race is shorter and the Pimlico track is a different animal altogether. The only question for Epicenter is how he will come back in two weeks after such a grueling race at Churchill. Those who don't like betting odds-on favorites will be forced to look elsewhere as Epicenter will likely be even money or 4-5 come post time
#5 - Early Voting. Trainer Chad Brown was obviously disappointed when Zandon made what looked like a winning run in the Derby only to finish third to Rich Strike and Epicenter. He decided not to bring Zandon to Baltimore but has another talented runner in Early Voting. Brown and owners Klavarich Stables are the same connections that won this race in 2017 with Cloud Computing. Early Voting has plenty of early speed and one thing the son of Gun Runner doesn't want to do on Saturday is get into a speed duel, with Epicenter sitting off the pace ready to pounce down the stretch. If Early Voting can harness his speed and Epicenter doesn't bring his "A" game, this race could be his for the taking. The Preakness could be a two-horse race, and for those who don't want to settle for even money, Early Voting offers an attractive alternative.
#1 - Simplification. The talented Antonio Sano-trained colt will likely find the winners circle a few more times in his career. And with a fourth-place finish in the Derby, there will be more than a few people who will find his 5-1 or 6-1 Preakness odds too juicy to ignore. But the fact is that Simplification is a notch below horses like Early Voting, Epicenter, and even the filly Secret Oath. And the Florida prep races he came out of also appear to be sub-standard. It's also interesting to note that regular rider Jose Ortiz jumped off of Simplification to get aboard Chad Brown's Early Voting. Sano is one of the best trainers down in Gulfstream Park but when shipping outside of the Sunshine State, his numbers are not very good. Sano's numbers are even worse when it comes to Graded Stakes races. Yes, this is a very talented race horse. But at likely odds of 6-1 in the win pool, other options should be more attractive.
# 4- Secret Oath. D. Wayne Lukas' daughter of Arrogate is arguably the most talented filly in training in the U.S. She won the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Derby and no one can blame "The Coach" for running her today in the second jewel. After all, six fillies have won this race and there is some recent precedence. The great Rachel Alexandria won the Preakness in 2009 and Swiss Skydiver repeated that feat just two years ago. But Secret Oath has already had a chance against the boys in the Arkansas Derby and she was a well-beaten third to winner Cyberknife (who finished 18th in the Derby). There will be plenty of casual players who will be rooting for the only filly in the race and that will likely drive her odds down to 4-1 or lower. Given that likelihood it is best to root for her from your couch and not your wallet.
#7 - Armagnac. No trainer has won more Preakness Stakes than Bob Baffert (he has seven). And unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Baffert isn't welcome in the Triple Crown Races these days. But that doesn't mean horses he started out training aren't going to make an appearance. Armagnac is a 3YO son of Quality Road who was originally in Baffert's barn but is now being trained by Tim Yakteen. All five of his races have been at Santa Anita and in his only two Stakes races he has fared poorly. But Armagnac has the type of running style that might suit him to Pimlico this Saturday evening. He gets one of the best jockeys in the country in Irad Ortiz and although he's probably not a win candidate, at 12-1 or more, Armagnac makes a compelling case for use in the bottom of an exacta.
#9 - Skippylongstocking. If there is a pace meltdown this Saturday, then it's not out of the question that a total bomb could get up and finish second in this race or even cross the wire first. Just two weeks ago we saw an 80-1 shot come out of nowhere to win the Kentucky Derby. And by almost any measure, this Saffie Joseph-trained colt is more accomplished coming into this race than Rich Strike was going into the Derby. Skippy's sire is Exaggerator, who won this race back in 2016. Skippy last ran in the Wood Memorial and was closing fast at the end of that race. Underrated jockey Junior Alvarado, who's been aboard this colt in his last three races, gets the call again for the Preakness. And at likely odds of 25-1, he offers a compelling alternative to the favorites. One thing is for certain: if a horse like Skippylongstocking can win the Preakness, then the connections of Rich Strike will be kicking themselves for their lack of confidence.
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Good luck, as always,