By Gene Kershner
It’s that time of year when hope springs eternal for thoroughbred racing fans. The two weeks between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness is when dreams of a Triple Crown champion start dancing in our heads. It’s been 33 long years since Affirmed crossed the wire ahead of his rival Alydar at Belmont Park to claim the last Triple Crown in 1978.
Only 33 horses have been eligible to win the Triple Crown entering the Belmont Stakes, but just 11 have succeeded. But don’t count your chicken wing until it’s sauced, as there is plenty of work to be done.
Animal Kingdom becomes the next hope for achieving racing immortality by stringing together two more victories. The next hurdle for the Derby champ will be the Preakness Stakes run over 1 3/16 miles at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
He’ll likely face fresh new shooters like Norman Asbjornson, Mr. Commons and Dance City, all colts who failed to achieve the graded stakes necessary to earn a Derby starting gate. He’ll most likely face a different pace scenario than he did in Louisville, where the early fractions were fairly ordinary by modern standards. He will be the one horse that his competitors will be targeting and aware of the entire race; no more running under the radar for Animal Kingdom.
He certainly won’t be at odds approaching 21-1 either. Take a look at the following chart of the past 11 Preakness Stakes and the odds drop that the Derby champ encounters in Baltimore:
Year Derby winner Derby odds Preak odds Finish
2011 Animal Kingdom 20.90 X X
2010 Super Saver 8.00 1.90 8th
2009 Mine That Bird 50.60 6.60 2nd
2008 Big Brown 2.40 0.20 1st
2007 Street Sense 4.90 1.30 2nd
2006 Barbaro 6.10 0.50 DNF
2005 Giacomo 50.30 6.00 3rd
2004 Smarty Jones 4.10 0.70 1st
2003 Funny Cide 12.80 1.90 1st
2002 War Emblem 20.50 2.80 1st
2001 Monarchos 10.50 2.30 6th
2000 Fusaichi Pegasus 2.30 0.30 2nd
There’s a solid chance that we’ll have 14 starters in the race, so we project Animal Kingdom’s odds to be somewhere in the 5-2 to 4-1 range at post time. Interestingly, no starter has won from one of the three inside posts in the last 11 years.
One of his Derby rivals, Dialed In, will be looking to capture the most money ever earned in a horse race should he win. He has qualified for an opportunity at the $5.5 million bonus offered by Magna for any horse that put together victories in the Holy Bull or Fountain of Youth, the Florida Derby and the Preakness. Now there’s some incentive for you. Dialed In, a deep closer, finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby, rallying from last in the final quarter mile, but the slow pace didn’t provide an opportunity to catch the front runners by the time he started his late move.
The Grade 2 Black Eyed Susan Stakes will be run next Friday afternoon and will be televised by Versus, which did a nice job with the Derby undercard and Kentucky Oaks last weekend. An NBC affiliated network, mainly known for hockey and bull-riding, it appears to be a harbinger of sorts for racing fans as they will televise a number of stakes races from Saratoga this summer.
The Preakness day card will have 13 races and will get under way at 10:45 a.m. The graded stakes races, starting with Race 6 and ending with the Preakness, are as follows:
Race 6: Grade 3 Maryland Sprint Handicap (6 furlongs)
Race 7: Grade 3 William Donald Schaefer Stakes (1 1/16 miles)
Race 8: Grade 3 Allaire Dupont Distaff Stakes (1 1/16 miles)
Race 9: Grade 3 Gallorette Handicap (1 1/16 miles – turf)
Race 10: Grade 2 Dixie Stakes (1 1/8 miles – turf)
Race 11: Grade 1 Preakness Stakes (1 3/16 miles)
• Mike Smith will ride in his 13th Preakness aboard Astrology for trainer Steve Asmussen. Smith won the 1993 Preakness and has hit the board four other times.
• Dance City, third in the Arkansas Derby, will run for trainer Todd Pletcher and Ramon Dominguez will get the mount.
• Wesley Ward has taken over the training duties for Flashpoint, the fourth-place finisher in the Florida Derby and the second-place finisher in the Hutcheson. He will have Cornelio Velazquez in the irons and most likely be the horse on the lead early on.
• Robby Albarado, who lost his Derby mount on Animal Kingdom the day before the first Saturday in May, will get an opportunity to derail the Animal’s Triple Crown hopes aboard King Congie for West Point Thoroughbreds.
• Sway Away is sitting on the Preakness bubble and needs a defection of one of the top horses to make it into the starting gate.
Gene Kershner is a Buffalo-based turf writer and handicapper who blogs at equispace.blogspot.com. He posts every Friday at the Sports, Ink blog at www.buffalonews.com and can be found on Twitter (@EquiSpace).