First off, it must be said that Smarty could not be doing any better, although his gallops at Philadelphia Park stood out more than his gallops at Pimlico. There is still value playing the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner on top in the exotics, because there are several live horses that could be played underneath.
The horse I would have picked to knock off Smarty Jones, The Cliff's Edge, is no longer in the picture, so there's no choice but to go to Plan B. Yesterday, I discussed Lion Heart's physical condition and strategy. All signs point to an improved effort from the Derby, especially with three starts under his belt. That is something one must remember. This horse only had two starts going into the Derby. If he could do what he did in the grade I Blue Grass Stakes (off one start) and in the Derby, who knows what he's capable of now that he's got the experience and foundation under him?
You know what you're going to get from him. He'll run as far and as fast as he can, and then fight you when you challenge him. Logically, there is no reason to think the first two finishers of the Preakness will be any different than in the Derby.
Imperialism had a nightmarish trip in the Derby, in which he was bumped from both sides shortly after the start, then was stepped on by Action This Day going past the finish line the first time. He was trapped behind Song of the Sword the entire length of the backstretch while full of run, then had to fan out under a left-handed whip from Kent Desormeaux inside the three-eighths pole, winding up 10-wide turning for home. He ran a remarkable race after that to finish third. He shipped well, has held his flesh, and has been aggressive in his gallops, suggesting he could once again hit the top three.
As for the others, Rock Hard Ten had his best gallop Friday morning, and has really settled nicely since arriving at Pimlico. He is an exceptional athlete and will be one of the leading 3-year-olds at the end of the year, but if you take a chance on him now, you're guessing he'll be able to compensate for having only three career starts, not to mention coming off a six-week layoff. It he's indeed a budding superstar, he could overcome all that, but the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) seems to be his race. If you're thinking exotics, however, then he certainly could be a live horse to toss in there.
Sir Shackleton has won three in a row, but trainer Nick Zito is looking mainly to see where he fits in the division, and would be happy picking up a piece of it. Song of the Sword has some big days ahead of him, and his former jockey, Richard Migliore, has always been very high on him. But there is a question whether he's mature enough mentally at this stage of his career for this kind of task. Water Cannon has won five in a row, and Maryland-based horses have been known to make a big impact on the Preakness, but no one has seen the horse, and you can only go by past performances. Although he's run some gutsy races, this will be a major step up in class.
If there is a monster longshot who could pick up a piece of it, it is Little Matth Man, the other Philly Park-based horse, who had a legitimate excuse in the Wood Memorial (gr. I), having displaced his palate badly. He goes from Pablo Fragoso and Shannon Uske to Richard Migliore, who almost pulled a major upset in the 2002 Preakness with Magic Weisner. Little Matth Man turned in a razor-sharp work at Philly Park last week, and if a predicted thunderstorm Saturday does turn the track off, he's two-for-two in the mud and has a good stretch kick. He's the only 50-1 shot on the morning line, but he does have the credentials to make his presence felt.
Finally, that brings us to a pair of horses who could wind up as overlays, and would be the win bets at a price. Borrego might be worth a shot, fitting the profile of the well-beaten Derby horse who rebounds in the Preakness. He's been a work in progress all year, and has made great strides mentally and physcially in the past four weeks. His :46 breeze showed the Derby didn't take much out of him, and he could be ready to put it all together, especially if the track is fast. He'd never worked like he did after the Derby, and with a horse like this, you're looking for signs that he may be ready to peak.
Last, but not last, comes Eddington, the horse the trainers love to hate. I haven't found a trainer yet who likes him, which gets the contrary juices flowing. They all may be right. He may be too slow and too backward to compete with these horses, but he showed flashes of brilliance at Gulfstream, he is a magnificent specimen, and his efforts in the Gotham (gr. III) and Wood Memorial could be interpreted as merely steppingstones to an inevitable breakout race. There is no way to tell whether that race will be the Preakness. But the way he battled back in the closing strides of the Wood, the light may have been lit right then and there. As a longtime follower of this horse, I'll go against the consensus opinion and take a chance that it was.
So, root for Smarty if you love fairy tales, box the Derby trifecta, which looks very strong again, and/or take a shot with win bets on Borrego and Eddington at a price. If the track is off, throw Little Matth Man into the exotics to try to hit the mother lode.