Saturday’s Preakness Stakes will see the Kentucky Derby’s second-place finisher, Epicenter, likely go off as the overwhelming favorite of a very underwhelming second jewel in this year’s Triple Crown.
The Steve Asmussen-trained colt, ridden by Joel Rosario, looked destined to win the Kentucky Derby on May 7 at the Churchill Downs sixteenth pole – only to be spoiled in the final 110 yards by the 81-1 longshot Rich Strike, whose connections opted to skip the Preakness for the Belmont Stakes.
Without the Derby winner in the Preakness – and Triple Crown hopes on hold for another year – Epicenter was made the 6-5 favorite, and drew post 8 in a field of nine horses in which only one runner had won a stakes race last time out.
That horse is the filly Secret Oath, winner of the Kentucky Oaks on May 6. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by Luis Saez, Secret Oath – set as the third morning line choice at 9-2 – will try to become the third filly in 13 years to win the Preakness – and the first to complete the Kentucky Oaks-Preakness double since Rachel Alexandra in 2009.
Early Voting comes into the Preakness after trainer Chad Brown opted to keep him out of the Kentucky Derby. The 7-2 second choice on the morning line, Early Voting finished second in the Wood Memorial last out behind Mo Donegal, who finished fifth in the run for the roses.
Aside from Epicenter, just two other Kentucky Derby runners are making the two-week turnaround trip to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes: Simplification, the fourth-place finisher and fourth morning line choice at 6-1; and longshot Happy Jack, who finished 14th in the Derby and has 30-1 odds.
Two entrants drew into the Preakness off allowance race victories during the Kentucky Derby weekend.
Creative Minister (10-1), trained by Ken McPeek, looked good in winning an undercard 1 1/16 miles race at Churchill Downs on Derby Day, May 7. Armagnac (12-1) also impressed in winning a two-turn allowance at Santa Anita Park the following day.
If you’re hoping for more longshot magic in the Preakness Stakes, your best bet at a big payoff are either the aforementioned Happy Jack; Skippylongstocking (20-1), 3rd in the Wood Memorial last out; and Fenwick (50-1), who was last seen running a distant 11th in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
The 147th Preakness Stakes
Saturday, May 21
Pimlico Race Course, Baltimore, MD
Purse: $1.5 million
Distance: 1 3/16 Miles
Post time: 7:01 p.m.
Television: NBC (coverage begins at 4 p.m.)
Were it not for a late-closing longshot who got a dream trip, Epicenter would have been a deserving Kentucky Derby champion.
Rosario rode Epicenter near flawlessly in the Derby, using his tactical speed to stalk a wildly hot opening half-mile before making a big move on the turn and edging clear of fast-closing Zandon in the stretch. Epicenter’s trip and late kick, however, just wasn’t as good as that of Rich Strike.
Don’t expect a fast pace this time around. The front runners in this race, Early Voting and Armagnac, are not speed demons, and the deep Pimlico racing surface usually isn’t as fast as Churchill Downs on Derby Day.
All of this sets up extremely well for Epicenter; it’s difficult to see him losing.
Secret Oath could be his biggest threat; throw out her performance in the Arkansas Derby, where she got a disastrous trip in finishing third. She then turned around and won the Kentucky Oaks facing a similar pace set up as Epicenter. The only question is whether her late kick can best Epicenter.
Early Voting, who faded in the final furlong of the Wood Memorial, could surprise them both, but he doesn’t look like a horse who wants to go beyond a mile.
As for the others, use them in the exotics. Simplification has consistently run well on the Triple Crown trail, and while he may not be speedy enough to get the top money here, he wouldn’t surprise anyone by hitting the board second or third. Keep him in mind for exactas, trifectas and superfectas. The newcomers Creative Minister and Armagnac might also be in the mix.
Fenwick, Happy Jack or Skippylongstocking seem in over their heads, based on our thorough analysis of the past performances.
But if either of them pull a Rich Strike on Saturday and win the Preakness at extraordinary odds, well, we might as well pick the Belmont Stakes winner with the help of a Magic 8 Ball.
$40 to win on Epicenter, $10 to win on Secret Oath
$10 exacta box of Epicenter and Secret Oath
$5 exacta of Epicenter and Secret Oath on top of Early Voting, Simplification, Armagnac and Creative Minister on the bottom.