Most horse racing fans are hoping that Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner I'll Have Another can take a second step toward a Triple Crown, a feat that has not been accomplished since 1978. And while the son of Flower Alley has a solid shot to do so, it’s the Derby runner-up that certainly appears to have the upper hand in the $1 million Preakness Stakes (gr. I) May 19 at Pimlico Race Course.
Though I’ll Have Another ran him down in deep stretch in the May 5 Derby at Churchill Downs, all signs point to Bodemeister being the one to beat in Preakness 137. The Empire Maker colt, who set a wicked pace in the Derby before falling 1 1/2 lengths shy, is once again expected to be on the lead—only this time there doesn’t appear to be any speed-burners to force him into the rapid fractions he went through in the Derby. With the 1 3/16-mile Preakness being shorter than the Derby, five-time Preakness-winning trainer Bob Baffert in his corner, and the pace factor potentially being softer, Bodemeister seems like a logical choice on Saturday.
Preakness oddsmaker Frank Carulli certainly thinks so, as he installed Bodemeister as the 8-5 morning-line choice in a field of 11 3-year-olds. I’ll Have Another was pegged as the 5-2 second choice. In all, six of the 11 horses entered in the second leg of the Triple Crown ran in the Derby two weeks ago, including four of the top five finishers. Went the Day Well (fourth) and Creative Cause (fifth) are hoping a better trip in the Preakness will be the difference that pushes them into the winner’s circle this time.
Daddy Nose Best (10th) and Optimizer (11th) also return from the Derby, while the new shooters include locals Tiger Walk, Teeth of the Dog, and Pretension. New York shipper Zetterholm and Dale Romans trainee Cozzetti round out the field. Romans won the 2011 Preakness with Shackleford .
Though Bodemeister is likely to go off as the favorite, as he did in the Derby, it should be noted that no Derby runner-up has won the Preakness since 1993 when Prairie Bayou accomplished the feat. Interestingly, Bodemeister’s jockey, Mike Smith, was aboard that day for his lone Preakness victory.
Bodemeister, owned by Zayat Stables and Mike and Tiffany Moreno, had his breakout race in the April 1 Arkansas Derby (gr. I) when he romped by 9 1/2 lengths in his fifth start, doing so in wire-to-wire fashion. He wasn’t expected to take the early lead in the Kentucky Derby, but did so confidently under Smith and took a three-length lead into the stretch before being collared late.
Bodemeister will break from post 7, just as Lookin At Lucky did in 2010 when he handed Baffert his most recent Preakness score. The Hall of Fame trainer also won this event in 2002 (with War Emblem), 2001 (Point Given), 1998 (Real Quiet), and 1997 (Silver Charm).
Baffert did not commit to running Bodemeister in the Preakness until he was sure he could handle the quick two-week turnaround.
“He never took a step backward (after the Derby),” Baffert said May 17. “He bounced out of it pretty well. He’s a pretty tough horse. He filled out nice and seems to be doing good. I think if he was going to bounce he would have bounced in the Kentucky Derby off the Arkansas Derby. He is a pretty fit horse so he can handle what we have thrown at him.
“The horses that ran in the Derby are going to be the biggest threats. I really don’t know that much about the new shooters. I really haven’t looked at it. But when your horse is one dimensional it is hard to worry about your rivals.”
Reddam Racing’s I’ll Have Another attempts to become the first horse to win the Derby and Preakness since Big Brown did it in 2008. He is undefeated in three starts this year, having scored the Robert B. Lewis (gr. II) at odds of 43-1 and the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) before his 15-1 Kentucky Derby upset. Based in California with trainer Doug O’Neill, I’ll Have Another shipped from Churchill Downs to Pimlico on May 9 and has shown the same kind of energy he did during Derby week.
O’Neill is expecting another winning effort. He has maintained all week that the chestnut colt will not be too far off the pace.
“He looks fantastic; great energy,” said O’Neill, who will saddle his first Preakness starter. “He’s maintained his beautiful, long stride. We’re just very happy with each day that goes by.
“The great thing about I’ll Have Another is that his first step out of the gate is very quick. If Bodemeister is going to get an easy lead, we’ll just push him. Somewhere in mid-race, hopefully we can take a little breather. Somewhere around that three-eighths (pole), we’ll have to go after him and hopefully have a good stretch duel and end up on the winning end again.”
Jockey Mario Gutierrez, who rode the perfect race in his first Derby start, will also have his first mount in the Preakness.
Team Valor International’s Went the Day Well and Heinz Steinmann’s Creative Cause—both 6-1—are the two most logical upsetters if Bodemeister or I’ll Have Another don’t get it done. Went the Day Well, a maiden winner at Gulfstream Park on March 3 and the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) winner three weeks later at Turfway Park, appears to be a rapidly improving horse who might pack the right kind of closing kick to make a winning run. He was 17th after six furlongs in the Derby before beginning his big move, and was forced seven-wide into the stretch under John Velazquez before finishing 2 1/2 lengths back of the winner.
Went the Day Well is trained by Maryland-based Graham Motion, who seeks his first Preakness victory after falling a half-length short with Animal Kingdom a year ago. Velazquez, who was aboard Animal Kingdom that day, is also trying for his first Preakness success.
“I think if he had broken better in the Derby he would have laid a lot closer, like he did in the Spiral,” said Motion. “I don’t think he’s a one-run horse. Certainly, he’s not a horse that needs to drop out of it.”
Trainer Mike Harrington took Creative Cause back to California after the Derby, where he was beaten three lengths after a wide trip. He made the trip to Pimlico on Wednesday, his third cross-country voyage since November. The son of Giant's Causeway , if he breaks cleanly, is expected to be one of the horses that races in a stalking position behind Bodemeister. A three-time graded stakes winner, the colt has still never run a bad race in nine career starts. Joel Rosario will keep the mount.
“He was tired the first few days (after the Derby) but the last couple of days he has been his old self,” Harrington said. “At the hundred yard mark (of the Derby) he was third and I thought he was going to run third. But two horses ran past him in the last 100 yards.
“(Bodemeister) beat my horse less than three lengths. He will be the favorite but that doesn’t mean he’s invincible.”
The other two Derby starters, Daddy Nose Best (12-1) and Optimizer (30-1), will need to raise their games significantly to have any chance of pulling off upsets. The good news is that their trainers have plenty of winning experience in this race.
Bob and Cathy Zollars’ Daddy Nose Best is trained by Steve Asmussen, who won the Preakness in 2007 with Curlin and 2009 with Rachel Alexandra. He has given the mount back to Julien Leparoux, who was aboard the Scat Daddy colt for his two grade III wins this year.
Bluegrass Hall’s Optimizer is trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who has saddle 36 Preakness starters, including winners Codex (1980), Tank’s Prospect (1985), Tabasco Cat (1994), Timber Country (1995), and Charismatic (1999).
Tiger Walk, Teeth of the Dog, and Pretension, who will break from the three inside posts, respectively, are all local horses hoping to pull off major upsets. Two-time Preakness winning rider Kent Desormeaux will have the mount on Tiger Walk, who was fourth in both the Gotham (gr. III) and Wood Memorial (gr. I) in his last two starts. He is trained locally by Ignacio Correas.
Teeth of the Dog was third in the Wood Memorial for Michael Matz and has a string of works at Fair Hill Training Center since that last race, which was his stakes debut.
Pretension could flash some early speed for local trainer Chris Grove. The Bluegrass Cat colt won a local stakes at Pimlico in his last start on May 5.
Zetterholm has won three consecutive races at Aqueduct for trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., but the New York-bred will be getting a stiff class check.
Cozzetti, who likes to do his best running late, was a distant fourth in the Arkansas Derby and third in the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) prior to that. He enters the Preakness off a bullet work at Churchill May 14 for Romans.
$1 million Preakness Stakes (gr. I, Race 12, 6:18 p.m.), 3YO, 1 3/16 Miles (Dirt)