As bullish as I was about Epicenter two weeks ago, I'm equally skeptical since the majority of Kentucky Derby horses in the starting gate for the 2022 Preakness Stakes could bounce after running fast fractions in the first leg of the Triple Crown. It's the reason I'll target two "new shooters."
We'll have no Triple Crown winner with Rich Strike taking a pass on Leg 2, making Derby runner-up Epicenter an obvious and deserving favorite at 6/5. Two graded stakes wins ties for most in the field with 9/2 Secret Oath, winner of the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks for fillies on Derby weekend. I expect them to be well bet and the top two choices.
For me the betting value lies in #2 Creative Minister (10-1) and #5 Early Voting (7/2). I'll use both extensively in exacta and trifecta wagers, likely with fourth-place Derby finisher Simplification (6-1) getting a share. Full pick 5 sequence plays will be posted on Saturday, so for now here's my assessment of the field. May it help your betting decisions or simple interest in watching the race.
Here's my analysis.
(Notations next to morning-line odds: EE = Early or else; E = Early/pacesetter; E/S = likes to run from the lead but can also stalk/sit behind others and pass; S = stalker that wants to sit midpack, make later run; C = slow starter, inclined to close from the back of the pack; NM = not material).
2. Creative Minister (10-1; S/C): A birdie at Monmouth Park last weekend informed a close friend and respected horseplayer that Ken McPeek, trainer, was unusually praising of this late-blooming three-year-old with only 3 races under his belt and no stakes tries. Grade 1 is top-class and so Creative Minister's entry and midpack morning line signal confidence in this runner's prospects to win. After watching his three race replays, I tend to agree. Beating non-winners and optional claiming horses is nothing stellar, but Creative Minister improved with each race, including an eye-popping finish in his win on the Derby undercard. Look for this horse to break toward the back and pick off tiring horses midway through. I think he could also sit closer and stalk. Serious win candidate and prominent on my tickets, including a live daily double ticket with Friday's winner of the Black Eyed Susan.
5. Early Voting (7/2; E): A near miss in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in early April was as impressive as any Triple Crown prep race, and the freshening for this is a strong advantage. Early Voting was super game before relenting to Mo Donegal in the Wood in the final stretches, but man was he determined. I sense he's the fastest in the field and better quality than most of the front runners. The concern is there are 2-3 horses that will contest the pace since they have no chance to win otherwise. Will mix with Creative Minister in exacta and trifecta bets and use in multirace exotics.
Second Flight (Exacta, Trifecta)
1. Simplification (6/1; S): Ran a sneaky awesome Kentucky Derby, finishing fourth after navigating early trouble from the gate, then flattening in the late stages. Where I'm most hesitant is that this horse has had a rigorous campaign to start his three-year-old season. The Preakness will already be his sixth start of the year, and I almost would rather have seen Simplication's connections sit this one out and attempt the Belmont Stakes in two weeks. Maybe he enters there too; but to me it's a negative sign when the primary jockey (Jose Ortiz) opts for a perceived better horse (Early Voting). That's not a knock on Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez. But it's a significant shift in the 11th hour; enough to turn me off as a win candidate.
8. Epicenter (6/5; E/SE): Will get a great position stalking Early Voting, but I wonder if he'll be a bit gassed after an all-out effort to win the Derby. Even so, I think he's third or fourth best in a field where some don't have a legitimate chance to win.
4. Secret Oath (9/2; S/C): The gal's awesome, winning the Kentucky Oaks in stylish fashion for 86-year-old trainer D. Wayne Lukas. So what's not to like. Well, the two-week turnaround and a third-place Arkansas Derby finish versus the boys on April 2 tells me she could use some rest, akin to Simplification and Epicenter. But I get that connections want to say they won a Triple Crown race. I just think three Grade 1 stakes races in six weeks is a ton to ask. Will use in the third and fourth spots on my tickets.
Leaving Off My Tickets
3. Fenwick (50-1; EE): Who knows? Maybe we get another boxcar-odds winner in the Triple Crown. I just don't see it. Expect he'll dash from the gate, have his name announced 2-3 times early then fade.
6. Happy Jack (30-1; S/C): No change from Derby opinion. Belongs back in California against non-winners of two races lifetime before stepping back into graded stakes competition. Blinkers on for a horse with no gate or mid-race speed is no help. Save your money.
7. Armagnac (12-1; EE): This guy did worse than Happy Jack in the Santa Anita Derby and San Felipe Stakes in April and March, then won two weeks ago against five foes in an optional claiming race in California. I just don't see how that equates to this horse trading at a third of the price of Happy Jack. No matter as both are off my tickets.
9. Skippylongstocking (20-1; S/E): Posted a speed figure exceedingly higher than his prior 8 starts in the Wood, finishing third behind Mo Donegal and Early Voting, but it was a non-threatening effort and he's otherwise 0-for-2 and nowhere close in two non-graded stakes. Early to midpack runner lacking stamina.
$50-cent Pick 5 Wagers Starting, Races 9-13
1, 5-7, 9 with 1 with 1, 2 with 2, 6 with 1, 2, 5 = $30
1 with 5, 10 with 2 with 6, 7 with 1, 2, 4, 5, 8 = $10
5 with 1, 5, 10 with 1, 8 with 6 with 2, 8 with 5 = $9
Preakness Stakes Wagers (Race 13)
$10 Win-Place 2 = $20
$10 Exacta 2-5 = $10
$1 Trifecta Box 1-2-5 = $6
20-cent Superfecta 2 with 4, 5, 8 with 1, 4, 5, 8 with ALL = $10.80