Steve Haskin's Preakness Report: Late Quay Decision a Smart One

Steve Haskin's Preakness Report: Late Quay Decision a Smart One
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Circular Quay headed for the Preakness.
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Circular Quay is now headed for the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). It wasn't so much a question of why the colt should run in the Preakness, but why shouldn’t he run? He’s obviously sound, fit, and ready, and this is the perfect spot for him.

He actually seems better suited for the Preakness than he would going the Peter Pan (gr. II) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) route. He’s a small, agile colt who drops way out of it, and could very likely be more suited to a tighter-turn track than a sweeping, galloping track like Belmont, which normally is not very kind to horses who come from the clouds. And Pimlico’s reputation of being a speed-favoring track is a fallacy. In the past 15 years, Afleet Alex, Point Given  , Red Bullet, Charismatic, Real Quiet, Timber Country, Prairie Bayou, and Pine Bluff all came from well off the pace to win the Preakness. During that time, only Louis Quatorze won by leading every step of the way.

Also, that big turn at Belmont can be a killer on a horse who has to make up 10 to 15 lengths on it, especially if he’s hung on the outside. Those kinds of horses often make their big run on the turn, look as if they’re going to run by everyone, but become rubber-legged by the three-sixteenths pole, having expended so much energy getting to that point.

There are numerous other reasons why a decision to run Circular Quay in the Preakness is a smart one, starting with the fact that with the eight-week layoff now out of the way, the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) should serve as an excellent prep for the Preakness. It’s not as if he were under pressure the whole way and then had to come back in two weeks. This little guy has his time and place for running, and he doesn’t take a great deal out of himself in his races. He also has a great mind and doesn’t get upset or excited over anything.

As for his race in the Derby, like Curlin, who was discussed earlier, it was much better than it appeared on paper. First off, he had to go nearly five wide into the first turn, while Street Sense was hugging the rail. So, there’s a several-length differential right there. That’s the main reason he earned a faster number on the "sheets" than the three horses who finished immediately in front of him, and was only two points behind Street Sense. With a “2 3/4” in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), he now looks ready to bounce back with a huge number in the Preakness, if, of course, he can get a good trip this time.

Returning to the running of the Derby, after losing ground going into the first turn, he found himself engulfed by horses on the far turn, while racing just outside Street Sense. When the winner came charging up the rail unimpeded, Circular Quay was steered to the outside by John Velazquez looking for clear sailing, but he was sealed in by Dominican and forced to look for an opening in the pack. Velazquez had to keep steering him in and out, waiting for something to open up. Sensing something about to loosen up, he made a left-hand turn to the inside, but as soon as he did, a retreating Teuflesberg backed right up in his face. Velazquez then made a sharp right-hand turn and there was Dominican still sealing off the outside route.

Velazquez just had to wait for the field to fan out after turning for home, and when it did, he finally found some daylight inside Dominican, but he was nearly eight wide, giving him substantial ground loss on both turns.

Circular Quay, with no races in eight weeks, and one race in 12 weeks, still kept coming down the lane, and although he was out-closed by Imawildandcrazyguy, who swung widest of all turning for home, he still managed to finish a respectable sixth, beaten 1 1/4 lengths for third, and he lost more total ground than Imawildandcrazyguy, thus receiving a faster "sheets" figure. And this was with very little actual racing this year and never having been farther than 1 1/16 miles in his career. Remember, he only ran for about a half-mile in the Risen Star (gr. III) before having to take up sharply to avoid a stumbling horse in front of him. Looking at first as if he were going to be eased, he managed to come on strong to finish fifth.

In the Louisiana Derby (gr. II), he came from a dozen lengths out of it with one of the most powerful stretch runs seen all year – by any horse, not just a 3-year-old. It was a wide, sweeping move that carried him to a 2 1/4-length victory over two very good horses – Ketchikan and Zanjero. Finishing six lengths back in fourth was Imawildandcrazyguy.

So, for the first time this year, Circular Quay has racing bottom under him, not to mention several sharp works in company with Rags to Riches. We know he has the talent to run with any 3-year-old, and it would interesting to see him and Street Sense launch their moves at the same time and see who can find the better route home.

Speaking of Street Sense, there has been the usual banter about a potential Triple Crown sweep. Although there will be no discussion or speculation about that here until he wins the Preakness, there are several facts to ponder. A few people, myself included, have maintained over the years that the next Triple Crown winner will be a 2-year-old champion, or a near 2-year-old champion, just the way it used to be. No particular reason, other than it makes sense from a traditionalist’s point of view.

Street Sense, who has already put an end to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) – Kentucky Derby jinx after 23 years, now tries to take another step in becoming racing’s first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. One thing he could have going for him is the fact that five of the last six Triple Crown winners were 2-year-old champions, and he would be the first 2-year-old champ to attempt a Triple Crown sweep since Spectacular Bid in 1979. OK, end of Triple Crown discussion.

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