2016 Preakness Stakes Observations & Looking Ahead

May 25, 2016

The 2016 Preakness Stakes is over, and The Belmont Stakes, along with one of the strongest supporting cards in racing, awaits us in three weeks. Unfortunately, we will not be seeing Nyquist in The Belmont. It’s been reported the colt spiked a fever following the Preakness, noticed after he did not finish his feed the day after the race. Disappointing, for sure, but Nyquist deserves a little rest after the fast paces he was right up on and setting in both The Derby and Preakness. Besides, O’Neill and Reddam played it “Cool Hand Luke” by going to The Florida Derby and picking up an extra million-dollar bonus along with the winners’ share of the generous purse. Nyquist looks well suited to The Jim Dandy, Haskell, and Travers, so there are options ahead. Skipping the grueling test of champions can only help down the road.

Racing, and life in general, has always been “what have you done for me lately.” That’s not likely to ever change, but has social media ever escalated it. Between all the blogs, Facebook accounts and pages, Twitter accounts, many anonymous and under “horse’ names, it’s hard to keep up with all the experts and their criticism and opinions.Mario Gutierrez has sure taken his share for his ride on Nyquist in The Preakness. Most who critiqued him have probably never tried to control a pony let alone a race horse. They also likely forgot, or perhaps never even saw, as apparently you can become an expert on anything in just a few short minutes in the internet age, the flawless big money rides he gave I’ll Have Another in the 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. What have you done for me lately? Well his ride in the 2016 Derby was actually pretty good, excellent really. True in the 2016 Preakness Stakes he was on a suicide pace, and wide around the Pimlico strip, where saving ground is pretty much key. We don’t however, know his instructions. We don’t know how the horse responded after being bumped from both sides shortly after being hustled from the gate, and we surely don’t know what it is like to ride Nyquist. It’s fine to question, dissect, and discuss rides, it is part of our great game. Try it tactfully and with some knowledge and class. Being a jockey is no day at the beach. I just don’t get the pile on blanket criticism and insult mentality. Never did, never will.

Exaggerator game face
Exaggerator game face

“It almost always looks easy after the race.” When you look closely at the 2016 Preakness Stakes, it really does make sense though. The race was packed with speed, and a fast contested pace was all but guaranteed. There were two strong closers in the race, both of which showed an affinity for an off track. Exaggerator and Cherry Wine, and they ran one-two. Furthermore, Exaggerator was both faster and more accomplished than Cherry Wine going into The Preakness, so a strong argument can be made the race ran exactly like it figured to. I loved and bet Exaggerator in The Derby, I backed off and made him my second choice in The Preakness to Bob Baffert’s runner Collected who I thought would get the catbird seat, get the jump on the closers, and run big. Too much thinking outsmarted myself but wise wagering strategies saved the day.

Kent Desormeaux rode a masterful race for his brother Keith. Kent knows his way around Pimlico and it showed Saturday. While riders were avoiding the inside, where it was said the water was deeper and the going not as good, Kent managed to save ground and avoid the bad part of the track at the same time. Everyone went so wide down the backstretch; Kent was able to move Exaggerator up the inside into contention early, so as not to leave himself with too much to do. Although he was inside, he was still about in the 4 path where the going wasn’t bad as everyone else was so far outside. It was a really sharp ride. I don’t know how much of a rivalry 1 out of 5 is, but these are two nice horses, both clearly at the head of the crop at this point.

IMG_2952While I was still wondering about who made the one-million-dollar win bet on Candy Boy in The 2014 Kentucky Derby, a person who to this day has never come forward, or been reported on, as far as I’ve seen, someone went and bet $80,000.00 to win on Todd Pletcher’s Stradaveri. The wager knocked Stradaveri’s odds down to 3-5 for a while. On big days like this, a wager of that size does not affect the odds nearly as much as it does on a regular day of racing. The reason it moved the board here for a while was the commingled outside money, was not all sent in yet, and the odds were primarily showing Maryland and on track money. Once the big money came in the odds evened out. It was reported by The Maryland Jockey Club the bet was made at a Laurel OTB, it was not cancelled, but the bettor remained a mystery. I didn’t like the horse all that much, especially as the day progressed, but no knock on the wager. Those are the days you can take a shot. I’ve done it myself.

Even without Nyquist, The Belmont will be a great race. A win by Exaggerator moves him right up to the top of the class with Nyquist, as opposed to second best where he sits now. There are rumors swirling Cathryn Sophia may take a shot at the test of champions. Interesting, as she was going to be pointed towards shorter races until Songbird skipped The Kentucky Oaks and Cathryn Sophia won with an impressive performance. Speed’s always dangerous, especially in long races. If she goes she makes an interesting race more so. Javier Castellano may wind up with a decision to make between her and Destin. I know which way I’d go, and it is probably not the way you think, but you’ll have to ask if you want to know.

Where is BETFAIR nationwide when we need it. I hear all this talk about how Lani was coming in The Derby, coming in The Preakness, and will have his day in The Belmont. I need BETFAIR for this one. Why bother talking. I’m laying, and laying big, so big you’ll bet with me and with nobody else. Of course I’ll study the race first but so many times people attach themselves to horses who were closing either in The Derby, Preakness, or both. They rarely, if ever win. The theory got me once, and once only, but hard. Strodes Creek. I liked him in The Belmont off his Derby closing run. I loved when he skipped The Preakness. He’s still coming, along with most of the rest of them. Lani joins that group come Belmont Day.

I doubt we see Unified in The Belmont, but I won’t be surprised if we do see him that day. He could wind up in The Woody Stephens, or The Met Mile, and make plenty of noise in either spot. Ultimately I suspect The Travers is his goal, but there are plenty of ways for him to get there.

There is plenty of Governor Malibu talk for The Belmont. He’s no Tonalist, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t fit. I’m not calling him the winner now, however and I did call Tonalist the winner in May. You can read that column and sweet memory here.


Belmont Day will be loaded with opportunities. There will be something for everyone, and not having a Triple Crown prospect won’t hurt the card for serious bettors or racing fans. These are the ones we go after. I’m ready to get into it. Speaking of The Belmont, the future of NYRA is murky. There were rumors of The Stronach Group buying it or taking it over. The casino money and how much goes where was supposedly the sticking point. Now there is a rumor the Governor wants to keep control and appoint 5 of the 15 board members. I’d bet the casino money is still part of all the conversations. It will be interesting to see what happens.

High Five

A big shout out and High Five to Jockey Agent Ronnie Ebanks. Ronnie or Ebee or @daloveman, whatever you chose to call him, has just taken the book of Southern California rider Santiago Gonzalez. Ronnie has handled some of the best riders in the business, and is one of the best agents in the game. I got to watch him close when he had Shane Sellers in Shane’s prime, and they rode a lot for my close friend and ace trainer Peter Walder. We won a lot of races, and had a lot of fun. But a big part of this Past the Wire High Five is for how Ebee handles himself and adversity. He’s a positive person, light, not dark, and leads by example. He’s one of us, not them. He’s always got a positive outlook and word of encouragement if you are down. After being instrumental in taking Joel Rosario to the next level and top of the sport, he unexpectedly lost him to another agent, and was advised in an unexpected phone call. Ronnie handled it with class, and grace, and simply soldiered on knowing bigger and brighter things lay ahead. He wished them well, and kept doing what he does. All class. All the best to this new team. Ebee knows riders, and a thing or two about riding himself. He’ll improve Santiago who definitely has talent. Here’s hoping they move right up the standings and to the next level.

Low Five

Okay, I’m sorry, and let me say one of my dearest friends in this world is a steward, Donald L. Smith, another man I respect a great deal, and who taught me a lot about this great game. And no, Donald never could get a Low Five from Past the Wire, that just couldn’t happen. But as much as I want to, I can’t give the NYRA stewards a pass for the call in the last race on Sunday. Again it’s not the call, we can argue whether they were right or wrong all day. It’s the lack of consistency and credible explanations for the calls. In this case 2-5 odds on favorite Cloontia under Junior Alvarado stalked two horses for much of the race. Turning for home he drew alongside and passed them both. Once in front and “borderline” clear, he definitely crossed in front of Cloud Control under Angel Arroyo. He then continued to draw off and win easy by open lengths. Cloud Control never checked and was a clear second. Had they gone another furlong or two, the results would have been the same. I have little doubt of that. The problem is, for the hundredth time, right here at Belmont, these same NYRA stewards have left horses up, who have done worse, citing it didn’t cost a placing or affect the outcome. The cries and comments on social media were blasting. We need consistency, less subjectivity, and clearly defined rules everybody has to play by each and every race. If you had the 2-5 favored Cloontia, you were not treated fairly and should demand better.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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