Similar to how I tackled the Kentucky Derby, here I'm listing the runners from 1-13 in order of preference, and based on extensive review of race video going back to each one's 2-year-old debut and trying to anticipate each horse's tendencies and prospects to win.
The morning lines set for each horse suggest that Derby runners Improbable -- the 5-to-2 favorite -- and War of Wills (4-1) are most logical, though I think each is beatable. I'll list each by "A" (can win), "B" (outside win chance, more likely 2nd-3rd), "C" (can it the board) and "Pass."
Feel free to share comments below or on my Twitter -- @njhorseplayer.
- #1, War of Wills (4-1): Stalker who draws an easier rail than the Derby, should easily outbreak the horse in the two hole and looks like he’ll get a nice pace setup. Question for me is if he's got enough left in the tank after a grueling and near-catastrophic trip at Churchill. Wins in the Lecomte and Risen Star proved he can sit off the pacesetters -- and plenty of 'em in the Preakness and who can't win -- and pounce. Clear class edge over most others makes him one of the few "A" prospects in my book, despite questions whether he can get the distance, considering he didn't run well in the Louisiana Derby and faded in Kentucky.
- #11, Laughing Fox (20-1): Complete dark horse that I think has a shot to win, and hence will make my second "A" selection. The more I watched his replays, the more impressed I became, as he's almost exclusively the most consistent runner in the field. He'll likely sit toward the back of the pack and look to time a move at about a half-mile. I was sorta hopeful he'd get an inside draw, which didn't happen, though with the primary speed horses breaking from the middle of the gate I think he can get away clean and get into a groove. He's another working off only two weeks of rest, after winning the $300,000 Oaklawn Invitational on May 5. It was a non-graded stakes race, though there's no shame for this guy in finishing behind Omaha Beach, Improbable and Country House in the wet Arkansas Derby. And this isn't too different a path his trainer took with Tenfold, who almost shocked in the '18 Preakness. A/B type who'll maybe be a win play for me and a must use underneath on all tickets.
- #4, Improbable (5-2): Anticipate he'll sit just off the speed and again stalk, and I think he gets away cleanly from the gate with a speed-ball to his left and a slowpoke to his right. Yet this one's starting to look like a cut below Grade 1. Not like any of the other Preakness runners look like it either, though he looked more convincing as a two-year-old than he did with the optimal trip in the Kentucky Derby, where he didn’t respond in the stretch when prompted. Was fifth across the wire but this close to being three more spots back. Probably a B as a safety net.
- #5, Owendale (10-1): Best as a true closer, and can do so in an anticipated hot pace. A later starter as a two-year-old who won impressively from dead last in his third try and into no pace. This guy didn't do much afterward, as the connections tried him toward the front in a few races before realizing he’s a slower starter with the occasional late kick, as seen in winning the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes last month, where he made a sweeping 5- to 6-wide move before the stretch and got away easily. Wonder if he’ll be better suited to Belmont and is prepping for that. Could be in mix late, and I moved him up a bit anticipating a hotter Preakness pace. Did get trounced by Country House, War of Wills and others in earlier stakes though; a concern, but will include underneath on my tickets.
- #12, Anothertwistafate (6-1): A stalker who was super impressive beating up on lesser foes at Golden Gate Fields in California and showed some ability in his two dirt starts -- second in both the Sunland (NM) Derby and Lexington, though in the latter he saved all the ground in the stretch and still couldn't keep up with winner Owendale. To me he's another that'll take a lot of play and is a borderline B/C, capable of a top-four finish but might have to work too hard from post 12 to get to his preferred place just off the leaders.
- #13, Win Win Win (15-1): I may regret being so fickle about a horse I used as a win prospect in the Kentucky Derby, but I really disliked his effort there. Whether he hated the Churchill oval and/or the muddy surface or not, I can't back him as a win contender in the Preakness the way he made up some ground early in the stretch and completely relented. Win Win Win gets a wide post and may have a tough time clearing the horses in the 10-12 holes, and I could see him belatedly running on for third or fourth but no better. C rating for a horse that I'm starting to think might be better served running at one turn (7-8 furlongs) after Saturday.
- #2, Bourbon War (12-1): A little miffed what to make of this stalker-closer type. Probably most notable was his late-flying second-place finish to Code of Honor in the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, but he was disappointing and all over the stretch in the Florida Derby, far behind Maximum Security and never a threat. I see him as being akin to Owendale and better pedigree than an Alwaysmining, though he's a C at best on my tickets.
- #8, Signalman (30-1): A stalker-closer who's surrounded by speed from the gate. He's 0-2 in stakes tries this year, including a lackluster Fountain of Youth and a wilting third in the Bluegrass, where he was tiring and all over the stretch, passed by Win Win Win, who had an awful trip and still passed late. Will be surprised if he's a factor at all. Pass.
- #6, Market King (30-1): All-or-nothing speed horse who needed 5 tries to win his first race, then couldn't beat allowance foes -- at least 4 classes below the Preakness grading -- before finishing a way-distant third to Omaha Beach and Game Winner in the Rebel. He was in it for three-quarters of the Bluegrass before fading badly. Very hard to see. Pass.
- #9, Bodexpress (20-1): Still a maiden, though strangely he's not the worst here. Sorta got lucky finishing second to Maximum Security in the Florida Derby, then challenged him from post 21 in the Kentucky Derby for about half the race before getting gobbled up and fading. Look cooked there. Figure he'll attend to the pace and may wear Alwaysmining down at most. Pass.
- #3, Warrior’s Charge (12-1): If nothing else, he could get first dibs on the rail. After failing to break his maiden three times in sprints, he appreciated the stretch-out in his fourth lifetime try, but it wasn't anything visually impressive. Horse was stylish in his prep for the Preakness, but that was vs. claimers in a weak Oaklawn Park field. Rider will wing it and see what happens, though at that Warrior's Charge isn't particularly fast. Expect he'll get gobbled up halfway through and pack it in. Pass.
- #10, Everfast (50-1): So, the connections thought to it to spend the money to get this bomber into the field at the last minute. Yikes! Complete pass for me. The horse has been very unimpressive overall, and caught a weak Holy Bull field in February to finish second at 128-1 odds. Completely buried next out in the Fountain of Youth and he has eaten the dust of many of these foes already. Should be triple-digit odds, though there might be too much money in the pools for that to happen. Goes off at 99-1 and connections say they had a Preakness runner.
I'll post my real-money wagers by Friday night or early Saturday morning after reviewing the exceedingly strong and difficult under-card, plus the Black Eyed Susan taking place on Friday.