The Preakness Stakes. The Middle Jewel of the Triple Crown.
A big thank you to all the readers and twitter followers that found "Picks and Ponderings" for Kentucky Derby week. The readership numbers were high and you readers made "Picks and Ponderings" a top-read site in the broad ChicagoNow network.
Even if the picks and views were wrong.
So whether this is your first time reading or your hundredth time, we hope you have fun with the picks and enjoy the ponderings. Onward and upward.
Update, May 15: Corrected some minor typos (post time and Social Inclusion's last out).
Pimlico Race Course -- Race 12 -- G1 Preakness Stakes -- 1 3/16 miles on dirt -- post time 6:18 pm ET (on NBC)
This year's Preakness is on May 17th. Typically the Preakness pace is an overcompensation of what happened the Kentucky Derby, making it a complete opposite. There was a mild to slow pace that day. Think back to last year: a pace meltdown in the Derby leads to a slow pace and Oxbow dictating all the terms. If you make the same overcompensation argument this year, you're left with a projected moderate-to-fast pace and CALIFORNIA CHROME forced to rate on the inside against the speed to the outside. It's a challenge, but not insurmountable. Yet he doesn't need the lead, as shown last time in the Derby and that ability to stalk could be quite useful. Then again, the jockeys could all overcompensate, and CALIFORNIA CHROME leads them on a merry chase. But his morning line quote is 3/5 for a reason.
It should also be noted that there was a fair amount of discussion over the speed figure and whether or not wind was a factor. I think people were turned off at the fact the Derby looked visually unappealing. I think people saw the clock time and went into a panic. Yet yours truly earlier in the year, be it in Derby Dozen panels or on social media, was frustrated and apathetic with this group of three-year-olds. Taken together, the Derby was won by a horse that beat the opposition on the square and exposed the questionable qualities of the opposition before him. CALIFORNIA CHROME was best that day, and now the mediocre three-year-olds plan for the Iowa Derby.
The new shooters hold more weight this time around. Those that pique the interest are SOCIAL INCLUSION,
second third in the Wood and projected as the speed of the speed, and BAYERN, who is beautifully bred for the distance and was first across the line in the Derby Trial before a disqualification, as well as takes off blinkers. I like SOCIAL INCLUSION more, as he came into the Wood as the "oh look, I beat Honor Code!" hype horse that turned in a credible second third behind Wicked Strong (himself fourth in the Kentucky Derby). Think his outside draw puts him on the engine, and he's faster than PABLO DEL MONTE from the outset. He could be Oxbow 2.0, but he won't get a free lunch on the front. BAYERN deserves mention off the breeding and for the solid miler speed. Blinkers off could help, but getting Napravnik (who cut her teeth on the Maryland circuit) to ride may depress the price.
In the end, these three-year-olds may still be an odious lot. And CALIFORNIA CHROME may still be the most talented, even if the pedigree says he needs a respirator at this distance. But he won the Derby fair and square, and he's the Preakness pick. There will be some speed on the inside with GENERAL a ROD, plenty of it on the outside, and he doesn't need the lead. He showed he can stalk on the outside, now the question is if he can do it on the inside. That's not hard to answer, and that's why he's the play. It's a horrible bet, but sometimes the best horse is best.
#3 CALIFORNIA CHROME (3/5)
#8 SOCIAL INCLUSION (5/1)
#5 BAYERN (10/1)
Longshot: It's 2002 all over again. You can get your music on Napster (shhhh, don't tell the man!). Hollywood Park is still racing. Synthetics are a fancy kind of motor oil. And Victor Espinoza is riding in the Preakness aboard a Kentucky Derby winner. In that year's Preakness, a Maryland-based runner named Magic Weisner jumped into the exacta at long odds. Espinoza won that Preakness, too. Ten years later, in these eyes, Espinoza wins another Preakness and a Maryland-based runner busts the exotics. #7 KID CRUZ (20/1) got on my radar as a potential Illinois Derby horse. Scoff at the slow times in Private Terms and the Tesio. But those aren't reflective, as the Maryland circuit tends to play slow to the clock (Laurel, especially). He's got some long-distance breeding. And if they go too fast on the front end, he can certainly light some lights on the Pimlico toteboard. He could project the lone closer in a speed-rich field.
Whether you're heading to the track or the not, you can take "Picks and Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @heylaserbeam for on-the-scene reports on major racedays at Arlington International Racecourse. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.