Horse racing is an event-driven sport without quite enough major events. But its marquee event just keeps getting bigger. The Preakness will never be the Derby, but it offers the world the first glimpse of the Derby winner.
And, unlike the Derby, the best horse almost always wins. The 20-horse field has been pared down to 11. Just six of the horses that ran in the Derby will be at Pimlico Saturday.
The five new horses were not good enough for the Derby. No reason to think they will be good enough to beat the Derby winner (I'll Have Another), runner-up (Bodemeister) or even the horses that finished fourth (Went the Day Well) or fifth (Creative Cause).
Much of the betting action will be focused on I'll Have Another and Bodemeister.
"One of the great things about I'll Have Another is he's got such a beautiful, long stride," the colt's trainer Doug O'Neill said.
He does indeed, but . . .
I can't take I'll Have Another at, say, 5-2, after missing at 15-1. The colt did get a dream trip in the Derby while others behind were unlucky. It is also true that the horse has the great tactical speed that often lends itself to great trips. So, I'll Have Another can definitely win again. But he might have to do the chasing, never an easy way to go.
"We'll be involved [early]," O'Neill promised.
I'll Have Another will bring one more edge to the post with him, the great Lava Man, now a stable pony. The gelding, 11, made his debut on June 19, 2003. He was 35-1 in a maiden claimer at the Stockton (Calif.) Fair. He finished fourth. A year later, O'Neill claimed Lava Man for $50,000. The horse went on to win 14 races and more than $5 million for O'Neill. He is the only horse to win Grade I stakes on dirt, grass and synthetic surfaces. Now, he gets to hang with a Derby winner.
Lava Man got a bit worked up in the Derby post parade, accompanying I'll Have Another to the starting gate.
"I'm sure he thought hey, is this the senior tour here, what are we doing here?" O'Neill said.
Bodemeister is the most logical winner. He was pushed through crazy-hot fractions in the Derby before wilting late. This pace will not be nearly as fast, nor will it be as contested. Whenever you get a talented horse that can control the pace, that horse is always dangerous.
Bodemeister, at 4-1, was a lot more appealing than, say, 8-5. To me, price is the only issue. Bodemeister should win, but it just depends on what you are willing to accept.
"He was a couple of jumps from being fifth,'' notes always-honest trainer Bob Baffert.
Bode was, indeed, fading fast in the Derby, but these fractions should be more moderate, meaning he may be able to hang longer in the stretch. I have watched the Derby tape dozens of times from every angle. Union Rags had every bit as much trouble as everybody thought. Well, the horse that got knocked back next to Union Rags at the start was Went the Day Well. They were abreast when they hit the wire the first time, 17th and 18th. Went the Day Went was a length or two ahead of Union Rags in the run down the backstretch.
When Union Rags had to veer away from a stopping Daddy Long Legs as he headed into the far turn, an unimpeded Went the Day Well got a few lengths head start in his run at the leaders.
The two horses that were running fastest in the stretch were Went the Day Well and Union Rags. Went the Day Well was 14th at the quarter pole, a gaining fourth at the wire. He finished 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner, 5 lengths in front of Union Rags, about the same distance they were apart after Union Rags cleared his trouble on the turn.
Trainer Graham Motion won the 2011 Derby with Animal Kingdom. With some more luck early, he could have won it again this year with Went the Day Well. If this improving colt does not get so far back, he has to be dangerous Saturday.
Motion has watched the Derby replay more than a few times.
"I'm not sure seeing it that you get a true appreciation for the trouble that he had," said Motion. "Every time I've watched it, it amazes me how in a jump or two more, I think, he hits the board or finishes second."
The Derby field size makes bad luck inevitable. In 2011, Motion's horse got the trip. In 2012, somebody else's horse got it.
Jockey John Velazquez said he was 8 or 10 lengths farther back than he had planned to be with Went the Day Well.
Creative Cause made a big, eight-wide move on the far turn that he could not sustain after getting up to third at the eighth pole. This horse has never run a poor race and certainly has a chance.
I thought I had the right exacta with Bodemeister and Union Rags in the Derby. One ran great. The other never really got a chance to run. I used I'll Have Another on my superfecta tickets, but did not really think he was good enough to win. He was either good enough or lucky enough, depending on your perspective.
I thought in the Derby's race within the race, Went the Day Well ran brilliantly. So, given his likely price, he will be my official Preakness pick. But, if Bodemeister hits the front and never looks back, I won't be shocked.
Contact Dick Jerardi at email@example.com.