Haskin's Preakness Analysis: Vroom!

Haskin's Preakness Analysis: Vroom!
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Big Brown at Pimlico May 16.
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Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Brown? Certainly not the connections of the 12 horses who were entered against him in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). They definitely respect him, and many would be happy with a second or a third, but they’re still in it to win. So, the question that now must be asked is: who can beat the baddest horse of them all?

You’re not going to find any in depth analysis or gut feelings here on who will knock off the undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). A hint as to our longshot pick can be found in the above headline. If Big Brown is to beaten Saturday, it will be circumstances that beat him, not a better horse.

Those circumstances may be a regression from the Derby, numerous missed gallops due to wet surfaces, or just plain bad racing luck; no, make that horrible racing luck. He’s good enough to overcome bad luck. Some wonder how he’ll react to having dirt kicked in his face for the first time, but who says that will happen, and even if it does happen, there is no reason to think it will bother him, considering nothing else seems to bother him.

The bottom line is that we’re not foolish enough to pick against him, although we’ve seen many big upsets in past years. When you get past Big Brown, everyone looks pretty evenly matched, and any horse who has a big day will finish in the money, and could even put himself in position to win, in case destiny is against Big Brown this time.  

All we’ll say about Big Brown is that he looks great physically; he’s holding his flesh extremely well since the Derby, and he did have another of his eye-catching gallops on Thursday. Even coming back from his jog in the slop Friday, he strutted along, neck slightly bowed, and ears straight up, as if he knew the whole world was watching. He is as classy looking a horse on the racetrack as you’ll ever see.

OK, so who can finish second or third or even possibly win if the aforementioned circumstances conspire to bring down Big Brown? With Coolmore Lexington (gr. II) winner Behindatthebar a late scratch Friday morning due to a bruised foot it eliminates one of the contenders and a major threat in the stretch. He joins Harlem Rocker and Recapturetheglory as horses who have defected from the Preakness for one reason or another.

The feeling here is that Kentucky Bear will be second choice – no worse than third choice. His trainer, Reade Baker, has been outspoken when it comes to his colt’s chances, which he firmly believes are good. Kentucky Bear is the one horse in the field that has the unknown factor, in that we don’t really know how good he is. He has shown enough in his very brief career to suggest he could be special in his own right. His last three works have been brilliant, he’s put on 75 pounds since the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, and he looks the part. Baker has trained the son of Mr. Greeley the old fashioned way, shipping his colt in early (10 days before the race), schooling him in the gate, and schooling him in the paddock. No one even did two of those, so if Kentucky Bear wins, chalk one up for the old school.

Kentucky Bear has excellent tactical speed, and you can bet jockey Jamie Theriot will be locked in to Big Brown and test him at some point – unless perhaps Big Brown sets the early pace and never looks back, which is a distinct possibility. But it will be interesting to see how much pressure Kentucky Bear can put on Big Brown.

To read Steve Haskin's personal accounts of some of racing's most thrilling moments, check out his new book, Tales from the Triple Crown.

The other horse who should get bet is Arkansas Derby (gr. II) winner Gayego, despite his 17th-place finish in the Derby. The son of Gilded Time had a nightmare trip at Churchill Downs and gets blinkers for the Preakness. But it must be noted that he did return to California after the Derby and flown back east again, and he will be breaking from the disadvantageous  11-post.

Now, we get to the longshots who could make an exacta or trifecta bet worthwhile, even with Big Brown included. The horse has made the biggest impression is Racecar Rhapsody, who looks great from a physical standpoint and who turned in a smooth, strong gallop on Thursday. Galloping in the slop Friday morning, he was put into two-minute look mode after passing the three-eighths pole and was really barreling down the stretch, close to rail, and it almost appeared as if he were blowing out. But trainer Kenny McPeek said, “That’s just him.” Whatever you want to call it, Racecar Rhapsody was striding out beautifully in the slop with great extension. He showed good energy coming back, bouncing along heading to the gap.

The son of Tale of the Cat   is coming off a terrific effort in the Lexington Stakes, closing from far back to finish fourth, beaten two lengths, after getting bumped by Salute the Sarge in the upper stretch. Instead of getting intimidated, Racecar Rhapsody shoved Salute the Sarge out of his way, leveled off, and was flying late. And it was only his second start of the year. He should improve off that effort and you can bet he’ll be closing fast in the final furlong.

Of course, he needs a fast, or at least a contentious pace, which is an uncertainty. McPeek is always dangerous, and he did spring the biggest upset (by price) in the history of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) with Sarava. And Racecar Rhapsody has the services of a top-class rider in Robby Albarado. So, he has a lot going for him, and has enough credentials to suggest a big effort is imminent.

The other two longshots we’re looking at are Macho Again and Stevil. With Macho Again, the question is whether he’s ready to go 1 3/16 miles, never having won beyond 7 1/2 furlongs. Two of his poor efforts have come on Polytrack, which he detests, even in the morning, and in the other (Lecomte Stakes) he came out of the race with a pulled muscle so severe they thought at first he had fractured his tibia. In all his other races he’s run powerful races, and his Derby Trial score was particularly impressive, especially the way he galloped out well clear of his opponents as if he wanted to keep going.

Macho Again looks to be in excellent shape and galloped well on Thursday. If he is ready to compete at his level going 1 3/16 miles, he will make his presence felt.

The other big longshot is Stevil, a horse we’ve thought highly of since last year, and who looks finally to be coming into own, as indicated by his effort in the Blue Grass at odds of 68-1. He always looked to have ability that wasn’t going to be tapped until he matured. The Blue Grass could be his breakout race, setting him up for a big performance. in the Preakness. Not bad for a horse who was no better than sixth stringer in the Nick Zito barn earlier in the year.

Of course, you can make a case for several other longshots to hit the board, but you have to narrow it down. Hey Byrn is a horse who likely is much better than people think. He actually was the big buzz horse in Florida this winter until Big Brown came along. His coat looks super and he’s made a good appearance on the track, but he did draw the outside post, so he’ll have to be lucky to get a trip good enough that he doesn’t lose too much ground on the first turn.

So, if you feel Big Brown is virtually unbeatable, you can always take a shot and wheel him in the exotics with Racecar Rhapsody, Macho Again, and Stevil, or you can take a shot at a bigger price and box those four. If you want to protect yourself, Kentucky Bear can be included as well.

A few bucks to win on each of the three aforementioned price horses – Racecar Rhapsody, Macho Again, and Stevil -- would at least give you some kind of a chance at a big win payoff, as remote as it may seem, with Racecar Rhapsody being the strongest win bet. As we said, he’ll be flying late, as will Stevil.

But, as long as Big Brown breaks well and runs his race without encountering severe traffic problems, the others are running for second.

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