Pros & Cons of 2015 Preakness field
Here are my Pros & Cons for the Preakness contestants, listed in post position order:
Pros: Outstanding colt heads a deep crop of three-year-olds and exits the first real test of his career, posting a one-length decision in the Kentucky Derby. That race toughens him up for the Preakness, which Bob Baffert has won five times with Derby runners, and American Pharoah could make it look easier this time with expected improvement. He can go straight to the lead with his natural speed and the cutback to 1 3/16 miles favors the extremely talented performer. And the possibility of a wet track only moves him up. Nine of the last 18 Derby winners came back to add the Preakness and American Pharoah fits the profile.
Cons: American Pharoah is extremely formidable but must overcome a tough rail post – only one horse (Tabasco Cat in 1994) has won the Preakness from post 1 since 1961. Received a favorable trip last time, closely tracking main rivals Dortmund and Firing Line on the outside before wearing them down in the stretch, but the tactical advantage could swing their way this time. And while his superiority appears significant at distances of 1 1/8 miles or less, there wasn’t much separating the top three in the Kentucky Derby, theoretically leaving American Pharoah with a small margin for error, especially if one of his main foes shows up with a career-best. There is plenty of speed to his immediate outside and the post draw could prove to be a great equalizer.
Pros: Registered a field-best 106 BRIS Speed rating when romping by 4 ¼ lengths in the Santa Anita Derby two starts back and may have been still feeling the effects of a recent bout of colic when finishing third in the Kentucky Derby. Has bounced back superbly from the race, according to reports, and Dortmund is eligible to run better at Pimlico, especially since he won’t necessarily be a target for his stablemate – the role reversal figures to give Dortmund an advantage as an imposing presence tracking American Pharoah this time. Once-beaten chestnut brings high speed to the equation and Dortmund displayed a terrific will to win when narrowly edging Firing Line in his first two stakes attempts. He remains very dangerous.
Cons: Kentucky Derby brought his affinity for classic distances into question considering he wilted in the stretch after establishing a moderate pace. And even though American Pharoah is to his inside in the starting gate, Dortmund faces the likelihood of pressure to his immediate outside from the speedy Mr. Z in post 3, with Firing Line lying in wait from a favorable post 8. And there’s no guarantee trainer Bob Baffert won’t attempt to manipulate Dortmund’s trip to the advantage of American Pharoah, who may just be the better horse.
Pros: Trainer D. Wayne Lukas got his wish, entering Mr. Z after a sale was completed mid-week, and the well-bred colt exits a troubled Derby effort in which he was checked repeatedly during the opening stages. His best performance this year, a close third in the Southwest Stakes, came over a wet track and the potential for rain could aid his chances. And the hard-trying sophomore has hit the board in nine of 13 starts. Mr. Z finished only a head back of Dortmund and Firing Line in a Grade 1 stakes last December and we probably haven’t seen his best yet this year. He’ll use his speed to establish early positioning and could outperform expectations with a good trip.
Cons: He hasn’t visited the winner’s circle since his debut last June and was a non-factor in his last three outings – the Preakness is a difficult spot to turn things around. Despite his breeding, Mr. Z has performed more like a miler at this stage of his career and his BRIS Speed ratings were better at age two. Probably needs softer competition to be effective and his previous owner, Ahmed Zayat, spoke about wanting to improve the colt’s shaken confidence when he initially ruled him out of the Preakness. But Lukas isn’t afraid to run horses over their head and Mr. Z may continue to be a prime example.
Pros: Bred to excel at Triple Crown distances, Danzig Moon is eligible to show more offer after a rough trip in the Kentucky Derby. He was too gung-ho from the start, rushing forward while under heavy restraint during the opening quarter-mile, and got banged around repeatedly in a traffic jam passing the wire the first time. Liked how he managed to save fifth after wasting so much energy during the early stages and the February 7 maiden winner could be just scratching the surface of his potential. Other than a clunker in the Tampa Bay Derby, Danzig Moon has run well in every start this year for trainer Mark Casse and could factor into the top three with further improvement.
Cons: He’s never earned a triple-digit BRIS Speed rating and Danzig Moon must still prove he’s an elite member of the division. And we may not see his best until the down the road. Well-bred colt is still only a maiden winner and running back off two weeks rest, following a less-than-favorable experience, is asking a lot considering the competition. A minor award isn’t out of the equation but don’t know what to expect from him Saturday.
Tale of Verve
Pros: Exits a two-length maiden win at the 1 3/16-mile Preakness distance, registering a career-best 95 BRIS Speed rating, and has made nice progress in the last two starts for trainer Dallas Stewart. He’ll be running late.
Cons: Defeated a short field of suspect rivals last time and will be facing a severe class hike in first start versus winners. Don’t know if he would win an entry-level allowance on undercard, impossible to envision him being a factor in this spot.
Pros: Maryland-based colt will enter on the upswing for owner/trainer Jose Corrales, finishing second in the Private Terms at Laurel before posting a 1 ½-length decision in the April 18 Federico Tesio at Pimlico, registering a career-best 96 BRIS Speed rating in the latter. Experienced sophomore possesses tactical speed and will have the services of Pimlico’s leading rider, Trevor McCarthy.
Cons: Bodhisattva shows improving form and could fare well in lucrative second-tier stakes races for three-year-olds this summer/fall, but he’s probably overmatched presently against this competition. He’ll face a different pace scenario, performing well while able to track or set glacial fractions in recent starts, and it will be a surprise to see him wind up in the top half of the field.
Pros: Owned by Barbaro’s Lael Stables, Divining Rod brings plenty of sentimental appeal into the Preakness. He exits an encouraging performance, registering his first stakes tally with a three-length score in the Lexington, and the Tapit colt proved he could relax in the early stages before offering a strong finish. Never off the board in five career starts, he was dogged by foot issues this winter/spring and trainer Arnold Delacour figures to have Divining Rod ready for his best following a five-week freshening. One can take a glass half-full approach, anticipating another step forward that results in a top-three finish for the intriguing three-year-old.
Cons: Entered for turf in his first two starts last year (one was switched to the main track), Divining Rod wasn’t an early Triple Crown nominee because connections thought his best surface was grass. And he could switch back to turf racing if he doesn’t fare well Saturday. Easy to admire colt’s hard-knocking nature but Diving Rod is facing a serious class check versus the top three from the Kentucky Derby. And his BRIS Speed numbers don’t offer much optimism, with a career-best 96.
Pros: Trainer Simon Callaghan brought a fresh horse to the Kentucky Derby and Firing Line ran his eyeballs out finishing second. Love the outside draw in the Preakness and Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens can still deliver in the biggest races – he figures to have Firing Line in a prominent spot turning for home. The colt’s tough as nails, laying it all on the line as he’s finished either first or second in every start, and Firing Line rates as a legitimate contender given his excellent form and probability for an ideal trip. The cutback to 1 3/16 miles is another potential advantage for the high-class performer.
Cons: The Kentucky Derby looked like potentially a gutting experience, with Firing Line weaving in and out as he refused to change leads in the final furlongs, and horseplayers can take a contrarian view that he will regress two weeks later. Nine furlongs or less may be a more optimal distance for the speedy colt.