The second leg of the Triple Crown goes Saturday when the Preakness Stakes is held at Pimlico Racetrack in Baltimore. If the Kentucky Derby is like March Madness or the NHL playoffs, in that it has a crapshoot feel, the Preakness is analogous to the NBA playoffs, where the favorites prevail. And standing in the roles of the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs are I’ll Have Another & Bodemeister, who finished 1-2 at Churchill two weeks ago and are slotted as the morning-line favorites in Baltimore. TheSportsNotebook will break down the contenders in the 11-horse field by first looking at the five new runners, and then the six holdovers from the Derby…
Teeth Of The Dog (15-1): He made good progress at Florida’s Gulfstream Park from December through February, running three races and going 3rd-2nd-1st in that order. Then he went to New York and finished third at the Wood Memorial. The improvement is right where you want it to be. And how about the name? Those of us who’ve known the joy of killing a hangover by drinking more have to like him (Yeah, I know that’s hair of the dog, but close enough).
Zetterholm (20-1): The trainer is Richard Dutrow Jr, who’s been involved in some controversy regarding “juicing” his horses. The New York horse has made his mark with two wins and a second place finish and then a stakes win. Zetterholm’s another horse who could be ready for a breakout moment.
Pretension (30-1): A stakes race win here at Pimlico was a nice bounceback after a disappointing 9th at the Illinois Derby (although there were 17 horses in that race), and fifth at the Gotham in New York. Pretension has enjoyed some success in New York, winning the Damon Runyon Stakes, a lower-caliber race named after the man whose writings inspired Guys & Dolls. If you love the Brando/Sinatra classic, you might have to pick this horse out of duty. Another stakes win in New York teased about his potential, as did the recent win in Baltimore, but the disappointment in between has to make you hesitant.
Tiger Walk (30-1): He’s a New York-based horse who’s run in all the big stakes races held at Aqueduct this spring. There hasn’t been a breakthrough, but Tiger Walk has lingered on the edge, finishing fourth in the high-profile Wood Memorial, fourth in the Gotham and finishing in the money with a third-place showing at the Withers. After a couple early wins in his career in Maryland last year, you can make the argument Tiger Walk is ready for a breakthrough as he returns to his original starting point. You can also make the argument that while he’s a good horse, his one finish in the money came in the lowest-caliber stakes race. Finally, the regular jockey John Velazquez surrendered the mount here to instead ride Went The Day Well
Cozzetti (30-1): Trainer Dale Romans has had this horse covering the south, with a third-place finish in the Tampa Derby and a fourth place finish at the Arkansas Derby—and in spite of what you might think the Arkansas race is of higher quality than any of the New York races mentioned except the Wood. So Cozzetti’s run just well enough that you have to respect his chances, but unlike some of the other unproven horses, he doesn’t have the advantage of mystery. We’ve seen him run amongst the best and do well, but not win.
Bodemeister (8-5): His lead through most of the Kentucky Derby and the rapid pace he set was no fluke. Bodemeister had finished second in SoCal’s San Felipe Stakes and then won the Arkansas Derby. The jockey, Mike Smith, is one of the best in the business, as is trainer Bob Baffert. Finally let’s point out that the Preakness is shorter than the Derby, and that if Bodemeister runs the same race, he’ll win.
I’ll Have Another (5-2): The Derby champ had built his record prior by winning two of SoCal’s biggest stakes races, the Santa Anita Derby and the Robert B. Lewis Stakes. This was another horse where I was concerned about how he’d run at Churchill—and given that I’ll Have Another’s one trip outside his home prior to May 5 had resulted in a sixth-place finish at Saratoga, I don’t regret having that hesitation. But the horse has proven his bona fides. The Kentucky Derby win was no fluke. Now the question becomes whether jockey Mario Guitterez can put the whip to him a little earlier, because as mentioned above, this race will be the shortest of the Triple Crown.
Went The Day Well (6-1): Coming into the Derby, Went The Day Well had a very thin resume and was a horse that TheSportsNotebook noted could make an argument that his true potential was still hidden. With top New York rider John Velazqez in the mount, that potential became known, as he finished fourth in the Derby.
Creative Cause (6-1): Jockey Joel Rosario is one of the best in the West, and his horse had a good record on the SoCal circuit, including finishing in the money in three straight stakes races. Prior to the Derby my concern was that we had no idea how it would translate to Churchill Downs, and at 12-1, Creative Cause didn’t have high enough value for the risk. With a solid fifth-place finish, some of that risk is gone. If nothing else, we know this horse can run when he’s off the polytrack of Santa Anita.
Daddy Nose Best (12-1): The crew working him is good, with jockey Julian Leparoux and trainer Steve Asmussen, but is the horse good enough? Stakes races at Santa Anita and the Breeders Cup in 2011 didn’t produce good finishes, but Daddy Nose Best won the Sunland Derby and El Camino Real, two early prep races for the Kentucky Derby. Two weeks ago I wondered if that was a sign that Asmussen had the horse on the rise, or if it was just reflective of the fact that the stakes races of 2012 didn’t attract the same kind of competition as those of ’11. With an 11th place finish in the Run For The Roses, I think we got our answer.
Optimizer (30-1): I’m not sure why trainer D. Wayne Lukas keeps running this horse out there—well, another than the million-dollar purse. But if it’s about slotting a horse where he can win, the record on Optimizer looks clear. Prior to the Kentucky Derby he was in eight stakes races, never won and only finished in the money twice. Then he came in 10th at Churchill Downs. Other than the vague “anything can happen” grasping at straws, there’s no reason to think Optimizer will win on Saturday.
I had the good fortune to attend this race back in 2009 when Rachel Alexandra became the first filly in 76 years to win. It’s a fun day and one that the good people of Maryland take a lot pride in (to the point that I had to endure Preakness coverage literally all day on the local NBC affiliate last year, thus pre-empting the network’s hockey coverage during the Bruins’ Stanley Cup playoff run…never mind, I digress). To those that go, I wish good weather and a good time.
Now to a prediction. I’m sure headline writers are wanting Teeth Of The Dog to follow I’ll Have Another in getting wins on the Triple Crown trail. And if you want a horse at a good price, the former is as good as any. But I really see no reason to pick against Bodemeister here. This is a favorite’s race and the track length means he won’t get caught in the stretch this time around. Because of the odds, it’s a tough race to bet, but if you want to, I’d be inclined to think one needs to go for the trifecta and target the right longshot to put in with the two favorites. In this case, the longshot I’d take would indeed by Teeth of the Dog. So let’s call it Bodemeister first—by a lot– I’ll Have Another second and Teeth of the Dog third.