Steve Haskin's Preakness Report (5/17): War Zone

Steve Haskin's Preakness Report (5/17): War Zone
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Kentucky Derby Winner War Emblem breaks from post position 8 in Saturday's Preakness.
A war zone. That's what posts 8 through 12 are going to be in Saturday's Preakness Stakes, as a five-horse stampede is going to come charging out of the gate and down the Pimlico stretch for the first time. And it's all the result of Bob Baffert and Company choosing post 8, resulting in the connections of the other speed horses to all select outside posts.

This is a bizarre scenario for anyone who knows Pimlico and is fully aware that the inside is the ideal place to be, and how the outside has spelled doom for so many others in the past. But still they chose the outside, wanting to keep a watchful eye on Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem.

The one jockey who is sitting in the driver's seat is Jerry Bailey aboard Medaglia d'Oro, who will be the only horse with speed breaking from one of the inside posts. This allows Bailey to drop to the rail if he wants and either tuck in behind the wave of horses that will be barreling into the first turn or keep his horse in the middle of track and try to park all the speed wide before cutting into the turn.

Whatever happens, there is no doubt that strategy is going to play a major part in the race. This is one time you want a jockey who knows what he's doing.

We really haven't seen enough of the Preakness horses to form a strong opinion on who looks good based on training and physical appearance.

Let's just say, in that department, we can see no reason not to like War Emblem. He came out of the Derby none the worse for wear, has held his flesh, and is really chomping at the bit. This is a horse who is ready to run, and Bob Baffert has been doing everything possible to harness some of that energy. What this colt really has going for him is his stamina and the way he finds another gear in the final furlong. If it comes up wet on Saturday, which is a possibility, an off track shouldn't hurt him in the slightest, based on his pedigree. There's an old expression that goes "If you didn't go to the wedding, don't go to the funeral." But we can't help feel he has developed into a very good horse, and looks to be the one to beat, despite the fact that so many horses will be gunning for him.

Proud Citizen and Medaglia d'Oro, who amazingly was the even-money favorite on Thursday, are the two question marks. Both are lightly raced horses who have a license to keep improving. But keep in mind that these horses have crammed several hard races into a short period of time, and are eligible to regress at any time. It may come in the Preakness or it may come in one of the two following races. But you can only cram so much into a young, inexperienced horse, so keep that in mind, especially considering the low early odds on Medaglia d'Oro. Proud Citizen, as expected, has filled out beautifully since arriving.

Harlan's Holiday has become an intriguing prospect, even though it's possible he has begun a downward trend and needs some time off. But we do like what we see from a physical standpoint. As he was out grazing this morning, his coat had more of shine to it than it did in Kentucky. Trainer Kenny McPeek said he's lost only10 pounds from the highest weight he's ever been, which was back in Florida, and that's insignificant. Considering the hard campaign he's had, he's carrying good flesh. He also fits the pattern of horses such as Point Given, Hansel, Tabasco Cat, Pine Bluff, Louis Quatorze, and Snow Chief, who had strong early campaigns, finished out of the money in the Derby, and came back to win the Preakness. As we said, the signs from a physical standpoint are positive, it's just a question of which way he's heading. Keep an eye on his price and if there is any value there.

Two longshots who have looked good here each morning are Equality and U S S Tinosa, but Equality did draw the 13 post, and no horse has ever won the Preakness from outside the 11 post. He is a top horse in the making, however, and could get lucky. He'll be a big price and might sneak in there for a piece of it. U S S Tinosa drew the rail, and must break well and have an uneventful trip. If he runs to his works, he should be a sharp horse on Saturday.

Nick Zito's pair of Crimson Hero and Straight Gin have been here longer than any of the others, and seem at home on the track. Either one could sneak in there and get a piece of it, but they seem like top prospects for down the line a little.

In short, we have to lean toward the Derby horses, especially War Emblem, who looks to be sitting on another big effort.

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