GI Preakness S. (by post position):
Orb - Nothing particularly interesting to say about him. He was a very deserving winner of the Derby and clearly best that day (though I suppose you could make the argument that Normandy Invasion might have cut it close with a more patient ride). He did get an extremely fast pace to close into, however, and any result that occurs over slop has to be taken with a little bit of skepticism. Derby winners that are closers tend to be more vulnerable in the Preakness, but he should get the right set-up again and may just be better than these. It’s not like you can bet him to win, but you obviously can’t toss him either.
Goldencents - Thought he’d find the Derby pace too hot and the distance too far and he did. Slightly less ground to cover here, but still enough company up front. Not using, and hoping he gets play thanks to his connections.
Titletown Five - Loved him in the Derby Trial because he was cutting back to a mile, but he could only manage a fourth-place finish. More ground doesn’t seem like it will be to the speedball's advantage. One thing puzzles me, though: the presence of Julien Leparoux in the saddle. He’s not exactly a speed rider, so maybe they’re planning on taking back? Still can’t include on top, but he’s a tricky read for that reason.
Departing - Guessing he probably gets bet down to second choice as the fresh face with a lot of upside. Could still be any kind, so I’ll use him defensively in some wagers, but he’s got some knocks. He beat absolutely nothing in the Texas Heritage S. and Illinois Derby (granted, he was pretty wide in the latter), and was clearly third-best in the Louisiana Derby. Plus the 97 Beyer he earned at Sam Houston--the only figure that makes him competitive--feels a bit suspect when you look at what the next three runners in the field earned before that race and after. Underlaid, but definitely not out of the question.
Mylute - Please, please, please let this horse be 5-1 come Saturday. No disrespect to Rosie, who’s a fine rider, but the way she gets bet in these big races is crazy. I’m just not seeing it with this horse and think his fifth in the Derby was a bit of a clunk up.
Oxbow - Ran an extremely brave race to be sixth in the Derby--was the best finisher of the pace horses. But can’t really envision him taking a step in the right direction form-wise here. This will be his 10th race since October with no breaks--could probably use a freshening.
Will Take Charge - Was probably the toughest read for me going into the Derby, and ended up featuring him a bit more in bets than my cheat sheet opinions might have suggested (at the expense of having more stuff with Golden Soul, of course). I wanted more to go on with him before the Derby, and didn’t get it when Verrazano dropped anchor right in front of him. He was moving right with the winner when he was stopped, but who knows if he would have sustained that bid or flattened? In danger of being a wise guy horse off that obvious trouble, but hopefully the public finds others to bet. Will be one of my main uses because I still think he’s somewhat unexposed.
Govenor Charlie - Have never been a fan--thought the Sunland Derby was very weak and don’t like that he missed the big one because of a minor setback. Not interested.
Itsmyluckyday - Ok, I’ll bite one more time. Grew increasingly high on him leading up to the Derby, and clearly wasn’t alone as he was bet down to an underlaid 9-1. While a previous win in the slop made me unconcerned with the track condition, it’s pretty clear that Itsmyluckyday hated the surface two weeks ago--he never looked comfortable and was spinning his wheels for much of the race. Think the way to beat Orb will be to get the jump on him, and this one has best running style to do so. 8-1 or better is good enough for me to take the plunge one more time because I still the think the case for him in the Derby is valid if it was merely a matter of the slop last time.
Race 4 - Rollicking S. - Wow--a 2-year-old stakes race already? While Wesley Ward is exceptionally good with his debuting juveniles, they’re usually very good bet-againsts after they win first out. According to DRF Formulator, Ward’s just 2-for-20 with a $1.25 in 2-year-old stakes races coming off debut wins over the past five seasons. With two Ward runners as the top two morning-line choices here, there should be plenty of value to be had. I really, really like Debt Ceiling (8-1) at a nice price. I thought his winning Laurel debut was very visually impressive and am glad that he earned a low Beyer Speed Figure--early juvenile figures tend to be irrelevant. I also think he has a huge edge considering he’s been off since Mar. 30. Debut winners often regress second out, and in a field full of them, it can’t hurt to have the horse who has had the most time to recuperate. His worktab since that effort jumps off the page, and his dam was a precocious speedball who became a stakes winner at three. My other anti-Ward use is Knit One Purr Too (15-1)--she also looked good to me visually in her debut and will be ignored.
Race 6 - Chick Lang S. - When I first scanned the entries for this card I thought to myself that Zee Bros would probably be extremely tough cutting back to six furlongs, but now I’m not so sure--Bobcat Jim and Brave Dave are both also insanely fast early and I think this race has meltdown written all over it (feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record lately, but the pace figures don’t lie). Turnbacks like Res Judicata (10-1) are my go-to plays in spots like these. I think he moved too soon in the Pennsylvania Nursery S. in December and has been flattered by the subsequent exploits of winner Officer Alex and third-place finisher Siete de Oros. He probably needed the race and didn’t completely embarrass himself anyway in the GIII Swale, and seemed to find the mile trip just a bit too long last time when second in the Fit to Fight (note the late lead change). He did cycle back up to his Beyer top at the Big A, and with a pair of bullet works leading up to this, I think he’s poised to turn in a career best. I’ll be more than happy with 8-1 or better, and will be making a sizeable 4 with 7,8,9 exacta box as well.
Race 7 - James W. Murphy S. - I’ve always thought Notacatbutallama’s form was dressed up, so any race where he’s going to be short will offer value (9-5 on the morning line seems a bit low, though). There are two really interesting pedigree plays here in a wide-open affair. Wry Me (20-1) is by Sharp Humor--not a particularly strong turf influence--but his dam was by all-grass Silver Hawk and she dropped a full-sister to Wry Me who was mostly a grass performer. He only has one race on dirt that fits (his very nice Mar. 16 optional claiming win), but don’t be surprised if he pulls off the shocker on the surface switch. The D. Wayne putting a grass horse back on grass angle worked with Skyring at 8.8-1 in this event last year, and “The Coach” has another son of English Channel in Red Wings (10-1) this time. His dirt form isn’t so bad, but he’s always figured to prefer the sod. English Channels’s turf exploits are well documented, and dam Heavenly Ransom (Red Ransom) was five-for-six in her career--all on turf--including a win in the 2006 GIII Wilshire H. over MGISW Ticker Tape.
Race 9 - GIII Gallorette H. - Won’t be letting many (if any) horses knock me out of the first leg of the pick four here (except for maybe perpetual underlay Pianist). I really thought Hard Not to Like (10-1) was going to have a big year after taking the GIII Marshua’s River in her first start for Michael Matz in January, but she’s been a disappointment in her last two. Still, that last winning performance stacks up well with this group, and she figures to sit a perfect trip right behind a fairly moderate pace. Can she rediscover her best form? We’ll see.
Race 10 - GIII Maryland Sprint H. - That was a pretty big race Sage Valley ran when we last saw him in November, but I’m not sure I buy it completely and now he has a lay-off and outside draw to contend with. This is another spread race for me, with Candyman E (6-1), Poseidon’s Warrior (10-1) and Hardened Wildcat (4-1) interesting me the most.
Race 11 - GII Dixie S. - Yet another excellent and competitive race--I didn’t realize how good of a card this was until really digging into it. You’ve got to be pretty forgiving to get to him, but how about Forte Dei Marmi (15-1)? His performance in the Dixie here a year ago was pretty solid (covered his final furlong in a super-fast :10.74) against what might have been a stronger group, and his subsequent races at Woodbine, though at longer distances, might be better than anything else this field has done. His last three have been absolutely abysmal--he was vanned off in the Elkhorn last time--so why is the 7-year-old being shipped down here? Trainer Roger Attfield isn’t one to simply run a horse for the sake of running, and the Hall of Famer boasts a win and two third-place finishes from the five times he’s shipped runners down from Canada to compete on this card over the past five years. With a couple of quick works over the Woodbine Poly since the Keeneland debacle, maybe the real Forte Dei Marmi shows up?