By Kevin Martin
The top three finishers from the Kentucky Derby are expected to face off again on Saturday in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland. Second and third place finishers Firing Line and Dortmund will attempt to thwart a Triple Crown try by Derby winner American Pharoah. The fifth place runner – Danzig Moon – is also expected to start in the Preakness. Barring any surprise late entries, with just three other colts entered, this year’s Preakness will have one of the smallest fields in over a decade.
American Pharoah is the fourth Kentucky Derby winner for trainer Bob Baffert and he will be the heavy favorite when the gates open Saturday. All of Baffert’s previous three Derby winners went on to win the Preakness. American Pharoah proved he could win a fight in beating a determined Firing Line for his fifth straight graded stakes win. Some have questioned American Pharoah’s ability because of the slow final time in this year’s Derby – among the slowest editions of the race run on a dry track this century. However, it was a half second faster than California Chrome last year and he went on to an easy win in the Preakness. Bob Baffert’s fourth Derby winner appears poised to give him another attempt at the elusive Triple Crown on June 6th in the Belmont Stakes.
In the Derby, Firing Line ran just off the moderate pace set by Dortmund and briefly held the lead in the stretch. He had a better trip than the winner and an advantage with Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who made certain that American Pharoah stayed wide as they turned for home. It’s hard to imagine things going better but he still couldn’t keep pace in the stretch and settled for second. As game as he ran in the Derby, and as competitive as he has been in his six race career, he’s been beaten on the square by the elite of his class three times. His lone stakes win coming against a weak field in the Sunland Derby. He will get plenty of attention from bettors and is the likely second choice behind American Pharoah in the Preakness. Even so, he remains an unlikely win candidate based on his past performances.
Many who picked Dortmund to win this year’s Kentucky Derby felt pretty good about their selection as he ran on the lead down the backstretch. Setting a manageable pace he looked as if he was on his way to becoming the first wire-to-wire Derby winner since War Emblem in 2002. But, as he turned for home, Firing Line and American Pharoah ran by him on his outside. He nearly lost third place to a fast charging Upstart who finished fourth. The pace scenario for the Preakness looks more favorable for him on paper than it did going into the Kentucky Derby. Should he get lucky with a fast track along with any regression from the favorite, he has a chance to revenge his loss at Churchill Downs. With six wins from seven career starts, Dortmund has proven class and would be no surprise should he find the winner’s circle on Saturday.
Danzig Moon is the fourth colt exiting the Kentucky Derby entered in the Preakness. Danzig Moon ran evenly, never worse than sixth, but finished six lengths from American Pharoah in fifth. It was a respectable performance for the 22-1 longshot but he never looked like a winner in spite of his forwardly placed position throughout the race. His best career performance came in the Bluegrass Stakes where he finished second to Carpe Diem. Carpe Diem entered the Kentucky Derby as one of the favorites but finished a lackluster tenth. Danzig Moon’s sire, Malibu Moon, has produced runners that love the mud so a late afternoon rain shower at Pimlico would boost this colt’s chances. With a short field in this year’s Preakness he has a chance to crack the top three should any of the favorites have an off day. However, with just one win from six career starts, it would be a major surprise should he cross the wire first.
The three “new shooters” entering the Preakness are Bodhisattva, Tale of Verve and Divining Rod. They have one graded stakes win between them and will be facing the toughest field of their careers. Divining Rod runs under the ownership colors of Lael Stables who also owned Barbaro. It is their first starter in the race since the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner tragically broke down in the first quarter mile of that year’s Preakness.
This year’s Preakness has a small but talented field of 3-year-old stakes winners. Should American Pharoah manage to win in Baltimore for trainer Bob Baffert it will make for an interesting and entertaining three weeks leading up to the Belmont Stakes in New York.
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