After the Favorite, Preakness Field a Shame
by Robert Ferringo
That was my initial thought when I first scanned the projected field for the 2008 Preakness Stakes, the second leg of horse racing's Triple Crown, which will be run at 6 p.m., on Saturday at Pimlico Race Course in Pimlico, Md. My first thought was that Big Brown's dominating win at Churchill Downs just two short weeks ago was enough to have these thoroughbreds shaking in their horseshoes.
Recapturetheglory, the fifth-place finisher at this year's Kentucky Derby, is currently the only horse with the cajones to challenge Big Brown, the uber-horse that has everyone dreaming of the Golden Age of Horse Racing and the classic performances of the sport's great gallopers. This was quite a surprise to yours truly, as I thought several of the sprinters and pace setters would be perfect challengers for Big Brown in the 1-and-3/16th race in Maryland. Bob Black Jack, Cowboy Cal, Denis of Cork and, especially, Z Fortune, were horses that I was looking for to compete with the Favorite in this weekend's event. However, for a variety of reasons these mounts are apparently going to sit this one out rather than risk further embarrassment.
Is it fear? Is it fatigue? Or is it scheming? Are horses like Pyro and Colonel John simply regrouping. Are they lying in wait, hoping that Big Brown decimates the field at Pimlico to set up a high-stakes rematch in New York for the Belmont? Could be interesting. But is that the case? Or have these horses caught a glimpse of something. Has the confidence and performance of Big Brown and its handler's infected the stables and pushed the rest of the field to the brink of retreat and surrender?
Many questions abound as we enter the running of the middle-child of the Triple Crown. But one thing is for certain: this field is a farce. It's a mockery. It's mares to the slaughter, as Big Brown should most certainly overwhelm this field of second-rate rides. The Derby winner is currently posted as an absurd 1-to-4 favorite for the Preakness. The next lowest odds are for Behindatthebar at 10-to-1. There is also a pair of 16-to-1 long shots at No. 3 and No. 4 on the board, but beyond that it's all lottery tickets.
This is in stark contrast to last year's field. In 2007 all three of the top horses at the Kentucky Derby ran it back and had a rematch at Pimlico, with Curlin, Street Sense, and Hard Spun all finishing in the money for the second-straight race. There were several small-odds horses running in the tight 10-horse field and the competition was tight from the outset.
Not this time. Nope. No one wants to be humiliated, apparently. Even though there is shame in the absence of any great challenger in this year's Preakness. They are scared. So we should be scared to bet on anyone but the chalk.
Which leaves us in quite the pickle. With a $100 bankroll do we risk it all on the Dominator? Is there value in that, with a payout of 25 cents on the dollar? Or is it worth it to lay a little action on some of the middle-priced long shots and hope that the Racing Gods are ready to smite the hubris of this horse? I suppose that depends on what you see when you look at the "contenders".
Behindatthebar (10-to-1) - This horse has won three of its last four races but has several strikes against it making a serious move at Pimlico. First, he is a closer. And better closers at the Derby couldn't get a whiff of Big Brown. This horse might have a better chance at the Belmont. But that brings us to the second problem: this horse has run only one race on dirt, and that was a very mediocre fifth-place finish against a short field at El Camino. Also, as we saw in Kentucky, the synthetic specialists were not up to the task when making the jump to a dirt track.
And with these two glaring flaws right in your face, here is supposed to be Big Brown's top competition.
Kentucky Bear (16-to-1) - This is one of the more lightly run horses in the Preakness field and Kentucky Bear last saddled up at the Blue Grass Stakes on April 12. Because he only managed three races this horse hadn't earned enough to find its way into the Derby field. But considering how poorly other horses that ran in the Blue Grass performed it was likely for the better. Kentucky Bear took seventh in the Fountain of Youth; it's only real run against any top-flight competition. He has posted a 93 Beyer rating, but that won't be enough.
Yankee Bravo (16-to-1) - This is a potential sleeper, but truly not much of one. Yankee Bravo posted a disappointing fifth at Santa Anita and also came up short on earnings in regards to the Derby field. This horse has just one start on dirt, a respectable third-place run at the Louisiana Derby. Yankee Bravo has won three of five starts in its career and was one of the favorites at Santa Anita. But this is another turf horse trying to compete with the Big Brown on dirt.
Giant Moon (20-to-1) - Giant Moon is a New York-bred colt that won its first four starts before hitting the proverbial wall. Also, all of its wins came against exclusively New York fields. Moon posted a respectable fourth-place finish at the Wood Memorial but New York horses have a checkered past in the Preakness and can't really be taken seriously.
Macho Again (20-to-1) - Here's yet another retread and degenerate that wasn't good enough for the Derby but is now supposed to spring an upset. Not at these odds. And likely not ever. Macho has won three of eight starts, including a win at Churchill Downs on April 26. This horse was in the Preakness, then out, then back in last week. If its trainer isn't even sure if it's going to run then I can be sure that it's not going to win.
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