Black-Eyed Preakness

Before getting into handicapping and analysis let’s first look at the cheery side of this year’s Preakness. You have a chance to win some terrific prizes by entering the “Steve Cannon” Preakness Contest that is now UP AND READY. And it’s free of charge. So make sure you check it out and put in your entry. Even if you don’t hit the Grand Prize, which I have to say is pretty awesome, there are three additional prizes that would be Grand Prizes themselves in most contests, especially if you are a Secretariat fan. I am particularly drawn to the third prize, which I am sure Secretariat fans would fight to the death to obtain. Thirty lashes for all those who don’t enter and miss all the fun. ~ Steve Haskin

Black-Eyed Preakness

By Steve Haskin


Before we get into the trivial part of this column, which is handicapping the Preakness, or what is left of it from a quality and public relations standpoint, I have to begin by sadly saying that his year’s second leg of the Triple Crown is a microcosm of what Thoroughbred racing has become – a total mess. You can also call it a PR nightmare, but the truth is it is a residue of racing’s grand scheme to clean up the sport without having a clear vision of what it is doing. One can only hope that the decisions made by racing’s so-called “leaders” result from carefully thought out plans rather than simply appeasing the mistrusting public led by some of the more radical animal activist groups that want to see racing abolished.

I feel this goes deeper in the long run than what anyone chooses to believe about Bob Baffert or whether or not one feels that Medina Spirit was an undeserving winner of the Kentucky Derby. To believe that you would have to be convinced that the miniscule amount of the anti-inflammatory drug involved helped propel him to victory, which I doubt any reasonable thinking person would believe. The bottom line is that the horse will be allowed to run, which he most certainly deserves to do.

It would take an entire column to discuss racing’s woes and the morass of ongoing questions regarding this case, and this is meant to be a handicapping and analysis column. Because of that we have to first address Medina Spirit and the distinct possibility of him being stripped of his Derby victory, a move that no doubt will be forthcoming with a split sample positive and then the appeals that likely will follow. This would be another mess and unfair to the horse and the small-time breeder and pinhooker who wrote the Cinderella story that warmed the hearts of so many people following the Derby.

“The whole thing is just awful,” said Christy Whitman, who purchased the colt for a meager $1,000 and who was featured in my post-Derby column. “People don’t realize that this affects more than just Baffert. It takes away from the horse, who won because he’s simply a good horse and not for any other reason. It has been established that this is not a performance enhancing drug. Human athletes take the same types of medications all the time to stay healthy, not to cheat. I hate it when people say that the horses are being drugged and abused. This is insanity pointing fingers and calling names when we don’t even understand the terminology or have the facts. Just like everything in America, keep us divided, don’t let people unite in something positive. No, let’s crash it all down and bury racing with it.”

Just a point of interest, Medina Spirit tested positive with a level of 21 picograms per milliliter of blood or plasma (a picogram is one-trillionth of a gram). The U.S. Trotting Association and the Harness Racing Medication Collaborative have done extensive studies on the threshold level of betamethasone. When their panel of eminent veterinarians recommended to the ACRI, as well as 16 state Thoroughbred racing commissions, including Kentucky, that the appropriate threshold should be set at 100 picograms and recommended a withdrawal guideline of 6 ½ days instead if 14 days no action was taken. Curiously, Kentucky last August lowered the betamethasone threshold level from 10 picograms to zero. Their study also found that among the biggest environmental substance offenders are dexamethasone and betamethasone. Dr. Andy Roberts, a director of the USTA and member of the HRMC and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s Equine Drug Research Council, said, “Betamethasone does not mask pain and does not improve performance when administered by a veterinarian at HRMC recommended levels. It acts to prevent cellular destruction.”

In other words, Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby on his own with no help at all from betamethasone. But to show the thinking of some members of the media, Medina Spirit in the weekly NTRA poll was ranked fourth behind the three horses he defeated in the Derby. And what is even more glaring is that he received 18 first-place votes compared to six for No. 1-ranked Mandaloun and eight for No. 2-ranked Essential Quality. That means that a good number of voters likely eliminated Medina Spirit from their Top 10 altogether, as if the horse not only didn’t deserve the victory, but is now a nonentity in the 3-year-old division.

Let’s just look at what we are dealing with regarding this year’s Preakness. You had the delay of the post position draw a full day to determine whether Medina Spirit would be allowed to run in the race. You had the (for now) Derby-winning trainer not showing up for the race, and wisely so, to avoid the media frenzy, which no doubt would detract from the actual race. You had the possible new Derby winner Mandaloun not running back in the Preakness despite having only one race in the past eight weeks and running basically half a race in his start before that. If a horse who had a six-week vacation prior to the Derby is not running back because it is too quick, it would be a sad state of affairs. You also had the Derby third-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie high-tailing back to California immediately after the race and the fourth-place finisher Essential Quality, who had a wide trip and likely would have been favored in the Preakness, joining stablemate Mandaloun in the barn.

Brad Cox, trainer of Mandaloun and Essential Quality, no doubt is doing what he feels is best for his two horses, but it is still sad that neither horse will be participating when history has shown that the Derby is far and away the most successful prep for the Preakness.

In any event we only have three horses from the 19 who started in the Kentucky Derby. I had been hoping to land a nice price on the Derby sixth-place finisher Midnight Bourbon, who I thought would be fifth choice behind Medina Spirit, Mandaloun, Essential quality, and Concert Tour. But he now looks to be a bet-down third choice, maybe even second choice. But even as third choice, Betonline has him at 6-1, which I will take. His morning line odds are 5-1.

Here are the boxes that MIDNIGHT BOURBON checks off:

Bad start (check) – His hind end slipped coming out of the gate causing him to break slowly, and he was bumped pretty hard a few strides later. He wasn’t ridden that aggressively to try to move up into a contending position near the lead. Instead he dropped as far back as 14th, and this is a horse who has never been worse than third at the half or three-quarters in any race, with his only stakes victory being wire-to-wire.

Ground loss (check) – He ran 56 feet farther than Medina Spirit, which pretty much makes up the eight lengths he was beaten.

Jockey (check) – Certainly nothing wrong with Mike Smith, but as mentioned he wasn’t very aggressive with him and he now gets the red-hot Irad Ortiz.

Thoro-Graph pattern (check) – After pairing up “8s” he moved forward and then paired up “5s.” Once again he moved forward pairing up “3s.” With three straight pair-ups he should follow the same pattern and move forward several points once again. That should put him right up there with anyone, including Medina Spirit, who ran a “1 ½” in the Derby following four straight “3s.”

Gameness (check) – We saw what he could do when in front in the LeComte Stakes, turning back the challenges of Mandaloun and Proxy. Even in the Derby he dug in and wouldn’t let Keepmeinmind get by him, and Keepmeinmind was rallying strongly from 19th.

History (check) – If you’re leery about betting horses in the Preakness who finished out of the money in the Derby, just remember these names – Little Current, Snow Chief, Hansel, Point Given, Louis Quatorze, Pine Bluff, Tank’s Prospect, Tabasco Cat, Personality, Shackleford, Oxbow, and War of Will. All won the Preakness after finishing out of the money in the Derby. In fact, Tank’s Prospect, who finished seventh, beaten 11 lengths, and Louis Quatorze, who finished 16th, beaten 24 lengths, both came back to set Preakness records before Secretariat’s time was revised years later.

Because this is such a mixed bag of horses I am going to rely again on the old Derby Rankings and bet a $1 trifecta box with the five horses in the field who have been ranked in the Top 12 – MEDINA SPIRIT, MIDNIGHT BOURBON, RISK TAKING, KEEPMEINMIND, and CONCERT TOUR. If Risk Taking and/or Keepmeinmind can sneak in there we’re looking at a good score, and both should be closing late.

I have always been a fan of RISK TAKING because he reminds me of the horses they used to refer to as hickory – tough, sound, hard-knocking horses. You just have to throw out his Wood Memorial, which I am doing, blaming it on the extremely slow and heavy surface with a nasty kickback. Pimlico should be a welcome change, especially breaking from post 9 where he shouldn’t get any kickback. He looks like an interesting mid-pack threat with Jose Ortiz replacing Irad. And if the Wood Memorial was an anomaly and he returns to his Withers Stakes form then he could wind up as a big overlay with morning line odds of 15-1.

As I did in the Derby I am looking for KEEPMEINMIND to be closing late and hopefully pick up a piece of it. He also is 15-1 on the morning line, but could be higher than that.

As for the Baffert pair, Medina Spirit again will be the inside speed breaking from post 3. Concert Tour will have to bust out of there from the 10 post, so we could have those two vying for the early lead, which is not what you want to see from entrymates. Midnight Bourbon will be ridden more aggressively by Ortiz and he will be in the fray as well. I don’t know if he can outrun the two Baffert colts, but he will pressing them throughout. The unknown factor will be the Japanese invader France Go d Ina. I have no clue where he will be. The Chad Brown pair of Risk Taking and Crowded Trade and the Wayne Lukas-trained Ram should be in mid-pack with Keepmeinmind, Rombauer, and Unbridled Honor launching their runs from the back of the pack.

Two big “ifs” are Crowded Trade, with only three career starts, and Unbridled Honor, who is improving with every race. Both are certainly capable of running big races, but the jury is still out how good they are. I do like the jockey changes, with Javier Castellano replacing Eric Cancel on Crowded Trade and Luis Saez replacing Julien Leparoux on Unbridled Honor. And remember, Mike Smith will replace Joel Rosario on Concert Tour.

So, we’re keeping it simple this time by going with the aforementioned trifecta box of 2,3,5,9,10. A win bet on Risk Taking (9) for an overlay. And exactas of 3,4,5, 6, 8, 9, 10 with the 2 (Keepmeinmind) hoping we don’t need a telescope to find him early this time.

So as Aldonza said to Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, “Remove the clouds from your eyes and see me as I really am.” For a little while at least let’s remove the black clouds from our eyes and see what is still a classic race that we hope will be an entertaining and competitive event.


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