The prospects for the 147th Preakness

May 19, 2022

Not many people follow the Sport of Kings with the vigor and enthusiasm of Geo Sette. In this column Geo shares his expertise with a breakdown of all the runners in this year’s Preakness.

Geo Sette Preakness Game Face

 After an extremely eventful Kentucky Derby, the scene shifts to Pimlico Racecourse for the 147th running of the Preakness Stakes.  Pimlico, which opened in 1870 and is affectionally known as “Old Hilltop”, is the 2nd oldest track in our great nation (Saratoga being the oldest). As always, there’s a significant buzz of anticipation for this, the middle Jewel of Thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown.

Inaugurated way back in 1873, the Preakness continues to have a similar storied history as the Kentucky Derby.

On the first Saturday in May, we all witnessed a shocker. Opening at odds of 99-1 (probably greater) with a post time showing at 80-1, Rich Strike emerged victorious in front of nearly 150,000 people in attendance at Churchill Downs and millions viewing from their homes.

It was bizarre for handicappers and columnists because there was not an opportunity to consider him. All week long he had less than a 1% chance to start in the race. Just before the deadline on Kentucky Oaks Friday, the Wayne Lucas trained #20 Ethereal Road scratched, which gave the #21 slot to Rich Strike.

All over the country, handicappers like yours truly had released their columns/videos and seminars without any consideration for the eventual winner. Now sure, there will always be upsets in sports, but this colt (a $30,000 Maiden tag) had numerous circumstances stacked against him (Lackluster connections, poor speed ratings,  he was beaten soundly by various colts in the race, and his only victory was his maiden win) amongst so much more.  

The 2022 Kentucky Derby took in the highest betting handle in the history of the Triple Crown race. According to ESPN, a record $179 million was wagered in the pari-mutuel pool on Saturday’s Kentucky Derby — a big 17 percent increase over the track’s 2021 returns.

The payouts were simply insane and only worthy to the ‘numbers’ players (those who love # 21) and of course all those named Rich throughout the country and overseas.

It was a perfect storm, a ridiculous trip and the “unknowns” to the Triple Crown became household names. Rich Strike paid $163.60, $74.20 and $29.40 to show. The exacta with race favorite Epicenter paid $4,101.20 for a deuce. The trifecta paid $29,741.40 for the same $2 wager, and the Superfecta paid a staggering $321,500.10 Let’s just call it a Derby to remember.  I consider this result a bigger upset than Mike Tyson getting knocked out by Buster Douglas (circa February 1990) or the New York Jets winning the Super Bowl over the Colts as a 17-point underdog (circa 1969).

Anyway, congratulations to the connections and to Rich Strike in proving that on any given Saturday, all things are possible.  One last thought, the first quarter fraction of 21.3 was the fastest in Kentucky Derby history and after the 45.1 half, it opened the floodgates for something crazy to happen.

So, moving on to the Preakness, we have a field of 9 horses, 8 colts and one marvelous filly facing the boys.  The temperature is expected to be a balmy 90 degrees, so the heat will be on the field to add to the excitement of the day.  Only three starters are back from the first leg of the Triple Crown, so we are all introduced to 6 new shooters.

As always, I dug down deep to offer my very best analysis for each of the starters. The following is my complete order of finish. In my opinion only 5 of the 9 in the field are legitimate contenders, so perhaps you’ll use my very stringent order as a guide for you to make an informed window decision.  I would consider using my top 2 in a solid exacta, with my top 4 to make up most of your wagering gimmicks. If you need to go a little deeper, consider my 5th choice for a piece of the purse.

# 5 Early Voting 

This beautiful and lightly raced son of Gun Runner is my top choice. Purchased for $200,000.00, he won his debut as a juvenile, winning going a mile while earning a solid first race Beyer of 76. 6 weeks later he was ambitiously entered in the Grade 3 Withers over the same Aqueduct track and drew a muddy surface. He showed sharp speed breaking from his outside post and dominated the field, drawing clear by 8 lengths and eventually winning by 4+, totally in hand. That race was a 9-furlong sparkler which gained him an 87 Beyer in his 2nd career start.  In his last start, the Grade 2 Wood Memorial, he again demonstrated high speed, led throughout only to lose by a neck at the wire to Mo Donegal who raced in the Kentucky Derby and who will likely be one of the favorites at the Belmont Stakes this year. Early Voting ran big that day and further seasoned him for this big Preakness start.  He is trained by Eclipse winning trainer Chad Brown who passed on the Kentucky Derby even though his colt was eligible with the required points, just as he did back in 2017 with Cloud Computing who won the Preakness at double digit odds. His horse had run 2nd in the Wood Memorial, disappointing his backers as the 2-1 co-favorite.  The very talented, and aggressive Jose Ortiz comes off his mount Simplification to ride this colt.  This is his 2nd race off a layoff and based on his series of breezes over at Big Sandy Belmont Park, I feel he’s coming into this race, fit, fast and dangerous.  Since his debut race, this colt has shown continuous improvement and he possesses high speed. With an alert break from the gate with moderate fractions, I feel he’s got the ability to wire the field. Yes, there will likely be some pace pressure ( mainly from race favorite Epicenter, and West Coast invader # 7 Armagnac). I trust Jose Ortiz to be smart enough to feel the pace, and make instant decisions on whether to have him coast on the lead, or allow another to assume the pace. The likely scenario is that this guy will lead past the finish line in the first quarter. Then I’m having some sweet recollections of Oxbow in 2013 ( ridden by Gary Stevens), who went wire to wire in the Preakness, coasting to a comfortable victory in 23.4, 48.3 and 113.1 after 6 panels. If that should happen with this colt, he may very well position himself to wire the field. Jose Ortiz has won many big races, but he’s seeking his first Preakness win.  I’m expecting him to be greatly respected at the windows, probably going off at 7:2 odds. I will be surprised if he doesn’t run a very promising race.

#9 Skippy Longstocking    

This colt had me fascinated in my film study and as I went through his pedigree history. A strapping son of Exaggerator, with Curlin as his grandsire, he has been showing continuous improvement.  Trained by the product of Barbados, Saffie Josph Jr., who is the crew chief of his winning barn in Florida, I carefully reviewed all 9 of his career starts ( 5 as a juvenile and 4 this year as a three-year-old). He’s the most experienced in the race which I feel may contribute to his success. On February 4th of this year, he ran in a $75,000 optional claimer and was bumped at the start, but proceeded willingly in 23.1 and 45.3 and he was steadied during his run. He later weakened but I blame it more on his trip. He then raced a month later, drew the rail in a similar contest but stretched out to a longer distance of 9 furlongs. He showed great composure while allowing the race to materialize in front of him, then he made a strong bid (kind of effortlessly) and pulled away to win by 3+ down the lane. He ran an 88 Beyer that day, but it appeared even faster. His connections then waited 5 weeks and ran him in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial going the same 9 panels. He steadied some early on and recovered but went a bit wide and in the end he was defeated by Mo Donegal and my top choice Early Voting.  It wasn’t his best race, but he still demonstrated improvement on the Beyer scale. He’s been working swiftly at the beautiful Palm Meadows Training facility in Florida, his last on May 13th in a sparkling 59.3 bullet breeze.  I see this guy as fresh, fit and dangerous, especially if he gets a solid trip. Junior Alvarado is back up (he’s been his regular rider this year) for the 4th time.   As I mentioned beforehand, his sire won the Preakness, after he was 2nd in the Kentucky Derby. Winning the Santa Anita Derby, he later crushed the field in the Haskell at Monmouth. Curlin his grandsire was Horse of the Year twice, winning 11 of his 16 starts, also winning the Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup ( 2x) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2007.  They have smartly changed his running style, and now with the added distance, he’s getting another 110 yards to work with an additional ½ furlong.  I can easily see him breaking alertly from his 9 post, getting in position passing the stands the first time, and having the ability to close powerfully down the lane.  He’ll for sure be a generous price, perhaps in the area of 17-1 to 23-1, so you will be getting lots of betting value with a horse who is likely sitting on a big race. I initially had him placed as my 3rd choice but moved him up to 2nd because he just seems so fresh. Considering my 3rd choice is likely to be even money (Epicenter) I would use this guy in all of your betting gimmicks.

#8 Epicenter   

As all of you know from my Kentucky Derby column published last week, I have great respect for this extremely talented colt.  There’s no doubt that with all of his career starts and everything he has demonstrated regarding his heart and versatility in running style, he is overwhelmingly deserving of being the post time favorite. I’m expecting him to go off at even money or perhaps even less at 4:5.  He’s the only starter in the race with a triple digit Beyer ( twice) and he’s one of two starters to have multiple Stakes wins.  His connections are top shelf with Joel Rosario back up for Steven Asmussen.   He drew the # 8 post which will not be an issue for him. I’m expecting him to be in prime position at the top of the stretch to mount his best coming down the lane.  On paper, he’s got the ability to win this race by 3+ lengths. Because he is versatile, he can be on the lead or sit tactically and be in a great spot to close well.  So why do I have him listed as my 3rd choice? Well, originally he was my 2nd choice, but as I mentioned I was very impressed by the fresh condition of Skippy Longstocking. I am somewhat concerned that Epicenter worked pretty hard in the Kentucky Derby and this will be his 3rd straight race going 9.5 furlongs or more.  Before he left Churchill, he breezed 4 furlongs in 50.2 which I consider slow compared to how he’s been working prior to the race. It’s somewhat concerning and although he’s got a fabulous resume early on in his career (winning 4 of his 7 starts, and running 2nd in two others),  his big wins have been at the Fairgrounds, so I feel he still needs to win big somewhere else.  There’s no doubt this guy deserves your respect with most if not all of your muti-race wagers and betting gimmicks because he’s got Rosario and his numbers do not lie.  I’m taking a stand against him thinking that he could be a little tired. A major contender if he fires his best, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he ran 3rd or 4th.  Asmussen has won the Preakness twice and of course he just came up short in winning his first Kentucky Derby

#4 Secret Oath    

She’s perhaps the biggest or most intriguing storyline in the race. The filly is facing the Boys.  Saddled by the ‘Coach’, 6-time Preakness winner, 86-year-old D Wayne Lucas.  This beautiful filly, the daughter of the late/great Arrogate, has done just about everything expected of her.  The ever confident and exceptionally talented Luiz Saez is back up after being a very effective rider change in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks where she ran beautifully with a perfect ride to win by 2+ lengths.  That of course was against the girls.  I have been extremely impressed with this gals “push button” type of acceleration, she is really fast and seems to glide effortlessly too. In the Arkansas Derby she faced the boys and raced well, but she was used up and it appeared she was asked to give her run at the wrong time ( her jockey was Luis Contreras). This filly has raced her entire carrier at 2 tracks ( Churchill Downs and Oaklawn Park) so now,  along with every horse in the field, she must adapt to the Pimlico surface.  In the 147 year history of the Preakness, 6 fillies have won the run for the Black-eyed Susans. They are as follows:

•          2020 – Swiss Skydiver

•          2009 – Rachel Alexandra

•          1924 – Nellie Morse

•          1915 – Rhine Maiden

•          1906 – Whimsical

•          1903 – Flocarline

So clearly it can happen, but it doesn’t happen too often. When Rachel Alexandra won in 2009, it was the first time in 85 years.   There’s no doubt this filly has the talent, and yeah, very special explosiveness, so she’s a contender for sure. I would use her in many betting interests. If she moved forward from her Kentucky Oaks victory and my top 3 all falter, she could win this race. She’s my 4th choice, a contender for sure, but I need to be decisive as much as I respect her connections. If you want to know what I expect, I’m expecting her to be about 6-8 lengths off early on and then mount one big run, perhaps just before the top of the stretch. It will be fun to watch. Can she become the 7th filly all-time to beat the boys in this middle Jewel of the Triple Crown?  One more thought, Saez won last year’s Belmont Stakes with Essential Quality, so the stage is never too big for him

#1 Simplification     

This guy has been through all the battles, racing in 4 consecutive graded Stakes races. Only two others in the race can make that claim, and he’s gotten 4th money or better in each of those races. So just because he’s been a colt who mirrors consistency and reliability, he’s listed as my 5th choice and the 5th and last contender to win this race.  His rider Jose Ortiz sided with my top Choice Early Voting, so now HOF Rider and very reliable Johnny Velazquez takes the mount, and it’s very odd that he too has never won a Preakness ( he’s won three Kentucky Derbies).   I am expecting him to be forwardly placed early on showing some tactical ability. Then depending on the pace, he will look to gain favorable position to perhaps mount a strong close.  He’s a fighter, and I’m not worried about the distance, but on paper, he appears to be a cut below my top 4 . Is he capable of running a big race and taking a step forward? Absolutely, but I cannot be exceptionally confident about it. I will use him on many of my bottom tickets. A threat if those I have listed above fail to fire, but that itself is not very likely.  He’s better than the rest and Johnny V  is as professional a rider as you will ever meet.

#7 Armagnac  

This colt was purchased for $210,000. This son of Quality ships in from the West Coast after racing his entire career ( 5 races) at Santa Anita. He comes into the race off of his very best, a wire-to-wire finish winning rather easily by 4+ lengths while posting an impressive Beyer of 93; however, that was an Optional claiming race for $100k, and now he’s running in the Grade One $1,500,000 Preakness Stakes. An obvious jump in class.  Trained by Tim Yakteen with a compelling rider change to Irad Ortiz which will definitely add to his chances.  There are just too many question marks,  He hasn’t worked since April 30th. In the Kentucky Derby prep, Santa Anita Derby, he was 72-1 and was no threat. Did he take the trip well traveling from California to Maryland?  He also tired very badly in his only other Stakes try, the San Felipe, finishing almost 30 lengths off the eventual winner.  Yes, he has the great Irad in the saddle, but to me he’s reduced to the bottom Superfecta bets you make if any. He’s better than my bottom 3 listed below, but that’s it.

#2 Creative Minister   

This is a lightly raced colt, a son of Creative Cause, purchased for $180,000 as a yearling. He’s only had 3 career races, all this year, so he never raced as a juvenile. He’s interesting because he hit the board each time, winning twice and he’s shown to adapt as his races came over 3 different tracks. I like and appreciate his rider, Brian Hernandez,  and his trainer Ken McPeek is a respected trainer and a winning barn who won the Preakness in 2020 with Swiss Skydiver.  He’s a promising colt with a nice future, but this race is too much to ask of him. The others listed above simply look more appealing.  I’m tossing him.

#6 Happy Jack   

This colt improves with the multi-talented rider Tyler Gaffalione. He’s a son of Oxbow who won this race back in 2013,  but his performances over the track have been sub-par at best. He won his debut at 24-1 in a MSW event at Santa Anita but he has failed badly over his last 4 races ( all Stakes tries).  His overall Beyer speed ratings are well below many in this field.  He’s a toss for me and quite honestly he would shock me if he won.  Tossing him for sure.

#3 Fenwick    

This colt is by Curlin,  so I’m not worried about the distance, but his lone win was a MSW victory at Tampa vs a non-competitive field.  Florent Geroux is a rider change and he’s capable in the saddle, but this guy deserves to be 75-1 maybe even as high as 100-1. He would be even a bigger upset than Rich Strike was in the Kentucky Derby.  Go ahead and digest that,  No Shot. Tossing him too.

Well there you have it, let’s make it a fabulous Saturday and again I want to thank you in advance for your continued readership. Please do not hesitate to post some comments or questions.

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Contributing Authors

Geo Sette

Geo serves multiple roles at Past the Wire. He is a columnist, handicapper, and analyst. Geo has been fascinated with the Sport of Kings since...

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@jonathanstettin in the @PastTheWire seminar you told us a horse "Obviously" needed a cutback, and would be an "obvious" winner. Great Call!

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