Animal Kingdom vulnerable favorite

Animal Kingdom will need broad shoulders because the Kentucky Derby winner will carry the weight of the horse racing world into the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on Saturday. The sport is crying out for its first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

Is Animal Kingdom special enough to break through? That depends on how one judges his Derby win moving forward.

Animal Kingdom ran the best race of his life in winning the Derby. Horsemen and handicappers alike are asking the same question: Will the Graham Motion-trained colt improve, run the same or regress off his Derby exertion?

If Animal Kingdom improves, he'll win easily. If he runs the same, he might win. If he regresses, he will lose the Preakness.

The way I see it, the Kentucky Derby field was evenly matched. John Velazquez gave Animal Kingdom a perfect trip thanks to a flawless ride. I think, with only two weeks of rest between the Derby and the Preakness, Animal Kingdom will react and be a vulnerable 2-1 favorite.

The 14-horse Preakness field is just as evenly matched as the Derby was. Thus, with Animal Kingdom and Dialed In (9-2) being two strong favorites, other runners offer enormous value.

My top choice is Sway Away (15-1), a horse I've liked all spring. He was excluded from running in the Derby, but in the long run that might benefit the Jeff Bonde colt. He ran an underrated race in the highly rated Arkansas Derby. Sway Away had a clear lead in midstretch but tired as Pat Valenzuela might have rushed into a fast pace. Expect Garrett Gomez to ride with more patience and complete confidence.

Astrology (15-1) figures to be overlooked in the betting, especially after drawing the dreaded No. 1 post. This Steve Asmussen trainee has good tactical speed, so I suspect Mike Smith will be content to sit an inside, pocket trip. After a ground-saving ride, Astrology will be among those fighting hard in the lane.

I envision Animal Kingdom having a similar trip as in the Derby.

Expect Velazquez to sit midpack, maybe three wide as to stay out of trouble. However, when the real running starts at the head of the stretch, I suspect Animal Kingdom will have company in the charge to the wire.

My final horse is Dialed In, the beaten Derby favorite. He had no chance sitting dead last behind a slow pace in the Derby. The pace of the Preakness will be much quicker, it has to be, which will allow closers such as Dialed In to make a late impact.

My picks: Sway Away, Astrology, Animal Kingdom, Dialed In.

■ GOLD COAST QUALIFIER -- The Gold Coast is hosting a one-day, last-chance qualifier today in which the top five finishers will earn a berth into the Gold Coast Summer Classic, which runs July 28 to 30. Entry fee is $40.

■ LUCKY'S TWIN Q -- Lucky's special Triple Crown twin quinella bet was not won on Kentucky Derby day. A carry-over of $7,432 is available Saturday on the Preakness and one other race.

■ FIESTA HENDERSON -- Jerry Jacovitz and Ralph Siraco will appear in a free Preakness handicapping seminar at Fiesta Henderson at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Richard Eng's horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at