I once wrote that the Preakness Stakes is like a second marriage, where half the original participants show up and those that do are wary.
That is more than true Saturday, as only Ride on Curlin (7th) and General a Rod (11th) will join winner California Chrome from the Kentucky Derby field. Seven newcomers will attempt to foil the Triple Crown prospects of California Chrome, the 3-5 morning-line favorite, though that may be a daunting task over the mile-and-three-sixteenths distance of the Pimlico racetrack (6:20 p.m., Ch. 7).
The horse with the big white blaze seems to be on an adrenaline high and has kept his flesh intact. Derby winners often repeat in the Preakness and falter in the Belmont. Keep Wicked Strong in mind for that race on June 7th in Elmont, Long Island.
Only two times in the last 34 years have as few as three Derby horses come back two weeks later in the Preakness, those races having been won by the ill-fated Barbaro in 2006 and Big Brown in 2008. That shows the measure of respect California Chrome has earned already. He has thrived since the Derby.
Ride on Curlin, a deep closer, will have a rider change, from Calvin Borel to Joel Rosario. Borel will be aboard the filly Ria Antonia, as he was for the 2009 Preakness win on filly Rachel Alexandra.
However, unlike Rachel Alexandra, this filly has a checkered past. She finished sixth in the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Derby and then was transferred from trainer Bob Baffert's barn to that of Tom Amoss, who said the decision to run in the Preakness was "an owner's decision". Now that's a real vote of confidence.
With Bayern, trained by Baffert, in the field, do you really think jockey Rosie Napravnik will allow the filly to pass Bayern?
By the way, Napravnick made her bones on the Maryland circuit, when given a chance by trainer Richard Small, who died this week. A Bayern win Saturday would be quite a story. The colt won the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 26th on a very deep racing surface but was disqualified to second. He has been training gangbusters since then.
Getting back to California Chrome, he has fine tactical speed and has a nice distance pedigree, though from obscure breeding, to win again Saturday. You'll know at the top of the stretch whether we'll be looking at another horse aiming for the Triple Crown. That's where he and jockey Victor Espinosa always make their move. Mark that down.
Social Inclusion and Pablo Del Monte should be the early speed in the race, followed by Bayern. Dynamic Impact and Ring Weekend also have tactical speed. California Chrome should be somewhere between fourth and sixth early, biding his time. The closers, should the speed falter and the race fall apart, will be Kid Cruz and Ride on Curlin.
The sleeper of the bunch could be Ring Weekend, owned by St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds. The gelding by the sire Tapit was purchased in 2012 for $310,000 and was slated to run in the Kentucky Derby. However, he spiked a temperature of 102 degrees on Tuesday of Derby week and had to be withdrawn. Ironically, the other West Point colt, Commanding Curve, was able to draw into the Derby from the also-eligible list and finished second. Some believe Ring Weekend is the better of the two horses. It could get interesting.
Best of luck to all.
Win -- California Chrome (3)
Place -- Bayern (5)
Show -- Social Inclusion (8)
Longshot Special -- Ring Weekend (4)
$5 exacta part wheel -- 3 with 4,5,8.
$1 trifecta part wheel -- 3 with 4,5,8.
$2 to win on 4,5,8.
Paul Daley's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.