No horse has been training better on a day-in and day-out basis than Mine That Bird.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

No horse has been training better on a day-in and day-out basis than Mine That Bird.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Haskin's Preakness Report: Taking a Shot

Can Rachel Alexandra come back in two weeks and beat the boys after earning outrageous speed figures that suggest a bounce is imminent? Was Mine That Bird’s shocking Kentucky Derby score a fluke or the birth of a superstar?


How do you separate Pioneerof the Nile , Musket Man, and Papa Clem when it was so difficult for the camera to do it at Churchill Downs? Can the talented beaten-off horses in the Derby make a huge rebound in the Preakness? Are the newcomers dangerous or merely late arriving pretenders?


It is difficult making a selection based on gallops and overall physical appearance, because there usually is nothing so definitive that it would make you base your selection on just that one factor. There simply are too many elements to the Preakness, especially this year’s renewal.


All the horses who have been training at Pimlico look good, but there are several observations that could play a small role in trying to determine a winner.


No horse has been training better on a day-in and day-out basis than Mine That Bird, who has held his flesh very well and is generating a great deal of energy in his works. On Friday morning he was in an open gallop as he charged down the stretch not far behind Papa Clem, who was blowing out down the lane for trainer Gary Stute. Papa Clem may lose interest in works, but he is a rocket in his short blowouts and today was no exception. Once he was set down, he was rolling, reaching out with authority.


Getting back to Mine That Bird, he wastes no energy, is smooth as silk gliding over the ground, and is always bright and alert with his ears up and not even the slightest head bob. In short he couldn’t be doing any better. If he is as good as he showed in the Derby, then there is no reason based on his training and overall appearance why he can’t come back and do it again.


Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile looks terrific and is just as dappled, if not more, as he was in Kentucky. He seems to be handling the track well, and should have no excuses breaking from post 9.


The only real work I’ve seen has been Musket Man’s half-mile drill in :46 3/5 at Monmouth Park on Tuesday. Watching him work and looking at his overall physical appearance and demeanor, there is no reason to think he won’t come back with another big effort. Another powerful galloper who has his rider’s (Celia Fawkes, wife of trainer David Fawkes) arms fully extended is Big Drama, who also is doing all the right things. The big question with him is getting the distance with so little seasoning this year. But he’ll take them on a merry ride for as long as he lasts breaking from the rail. You can see what I mean about trying to pick a winner based on how the horses are looking and feeling.


As usual, I will look for a potential overlay based on daily observations. When General Quarters shipped in this week he became the only Preakness horse in memory to be involved in an auto accident. Following a 12-hour van ride, plus the time stuck on the van after the accident, it was no surprise that General Quarters appeared stiff coming off the van and walking the shed. The following morning I was expecting a terrible gallop, but was surprised how well he went and how unfazed he was with his long trip and ordeal. On Thursday he galloped even better. On Friday, he had his head down into the bit and was better still. From here it looks as if he is thriving at Pimlico. He cleans up his feed with gusto and has been relaxing well, sprawling out in his stall and taking a nap. At 20-1 on the morning line he could prove to be better value than the shorter priced horses who range from 8-5 to 8-1.


Point well taken


Let’s go back to the original questions in the opening two paragraphs.  Are you stumped; have no clue who is going to run well coming off the Kentucky Derby, and are a bit leery about betting Rachel Alexandra at 8-5? Well, how about if you disregard the Derby, find a longshot who has a good handicapping angle, and take the points.


Here is why Take the Points is my handicapping selection, at the risk of looking foolish yet again. But for 30-1 it’s a risk worth taking.


While the Pro Ride to dirt angle has done extremely well this year, how about Take the Points’ dirt to Pro Ride and back to dirt angle? He had no chance against a loose-on-the-lead The Pamplemousse in the Sham Stakes, especially when his flight from Florida to California was delayed a day and he didn’t arrive until the day before the race. In the Santa Anita Derby, a race in which he wasn’t supposed to run, he found himself too close to the lead in a paceless race, and despite not firing his best shot was still only beaten 2 3/4 lengths by Pioneerof the Nile. He was originally scheduled to run in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, but remained in the Santa Anita Derby field when The Pamplemousse was scratched the day of the race.


Now back on dirt, over which he had won two in a row before heading west, he gets blinkers added and has turned in three terrific works with them on, including a bullet :47 3/5 breeze over a “good” track at Churchill Downs, the fastest of 43 works at the distance. In his most recent work over the Belmont training track, his 1:00 flat was the second fastest of 39 works. In his three previous works, before the addition of blinkers, he had the 22nd, 16th, and 44th fastest works.


He’s fresh, he’s won in the mud in case the track is wet, and he gets Edgar Prado back, who is two-for-two on him. Prado has been a bit cold lately, but he still is a huge plus at Pimlico, his former home track. What better place to get Prado back in the big-time groove again?


So, taking all these factors into consideration, why not take a shot on Take the Points? My only reservation is Pletcher’s decision to van him down the morning of the race, leaving Belmont at around 1 or 1:30 a.m. I’ve seen many horses ship overnight the day of the race and fail to fire, such as Medaglia d'Oro  in 2003. Of course, Dick Small was successful doing that, so it’s hard to tell for sure. I would have preferred to see him arrive Thursday, gallop over the track on Friday and get acclimated to everything. But that’s something I’m willing to live with, considering all the positive factors. Musket Man also will be vanning down, although he’s closer, stabled at Monmouth Park.


Post 11 at Pimlico is not ideal for a horse that likes to track, but if Prado lets Rachel Alexandra go and doesn’t try to float her wide, he can drop to the inside and try to get a good position in fourth or fifth, or even sixth. From there, he would have a good shot to run a big race.


So, for a potential 20-1 overlay based on observations, I will return to my Kentucky Derby pick General Quarters, and from a pure handicapping angle, I will return to my Starlight scene of the crime (remember Monba?) and try to land a big price with Take the Points.


And if you’re looking for another bomb to hit the board and close out some big trifectas or superfectas, don’t be surprised to see the consistent, late-closing Terrain pick up a good deal of the pieces at the end, as he’s done in three grade I stakes. This is only his third start of the year and he could be ready to run his best race yet. And the mud won’t bother him.


Just for the fun of it you can put him in a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile trifecta box with Mine That Bird and Pioneeerof the Nile.