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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Post-Derby Fatigue and Wide-Open Preakness

Am I the only one feeling post-Derby fatigue? Even with Monmouth opening this weekend, I couldn’t muster the desire to handicap for the Survival at the Shore contest, or even so much as glance at Belmont’s G2 Peter Pan card. The intensity of Kentucky Oaks/Derby preps now seems a bit anti-climatic—another reason why year-around racing is just too much. Saturation leads to apathy. And yet I feel obliged to talk Preakness…

A week out from the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes betting picture isn’t yet fully formulated, as entries don’t close until Wednesday, but I’m inclined to agree with Gary West in thinking Animal Kingdom’s chances of winning the Triple Crown are good based on the mediocre quality of competition he’s facing and his obvious stamina breeding. Honestly, if he can get past the Preakness with a win, the Belmont field may indeed be at his mercy, with the only possible stumbling block being a wet track.

Still, new shooters are lining up for the Preakness, none of which inspires absolute confidence—only the prospect of a fluke win. Having never attempted a graded stakes in his previous eight starts, Federio Tesio winner Concealed Identity looks a longshot chance at best, even with his hometrack advantage. Ditto for Norman Asbjornson and King Congie despite the latter being G1-placed (in that joke of a Grade 1 race, the Blue Grass), and even with his speed Flashpoint seems distance-challenged here.

On the more positive side, Astrology has yet to finish out of the money in seven starts, and this will be his third effort this year, one in which he could pull off with Mike Smith aboard. Interestingly, Smith jumps off his regular ride on Mr. Commons who he rode to a third-place finish in the G1 Santa Anita Derby, so I’m not sure what that says about the Artie Schiller colt’s chances; Victor Espinoza picks up the ride on Mr. Commons. I’m also interested in Dance City now that Ramon Dominguez is aboard; as the Derby proved, the G1 Arkansas Derby was by far the best Derby prep race, which also makes Sway Away an intriguing entry.

Of those returning from the Derby, I’m still on board with Mucho Macho Man and Shackleford, and the fact that Zayat is rethinking whether to send Nehro in the Preakness or skip it in favor of the Belmont is a huge positive.

For a serious longshot, I really like Ruler On Ice. A half-brother to Champagne d’Oro, he closed well to finish third in the G3 Sunland Derby, and then ran second in the Federico Tesio. Since the Halls and trainer Kelly Breen don’t have Pants on Fire available for the Preakness, it might be a nice alternative. Jeez, the more I think about, this Preakness could be as wide open as the Derby.