“I need a raincoat. I really need a raincoat. I really, really need a raincoat,” Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows sang in the band’s moody 1993 ballad “Raining In Baltimore.”
That sums up the weather forecast for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes better than the National Weather Service possibly could. It also helps explain why the Bob Baffert-trained Justify, who romped to victory in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago over a sloppy Churchill Downs track, is the prohibitive 1-2 morning line favorite.
We’ll find out shortly whether the #RJhorseracing handicappers believe the favorite will again cut through the expected sea of mud in Baltimore, and how they size up this week’s featured races at Santa Anita, but first let’s see how the middle jewel of the Triple Crown is shaping up.
The Preakness, run at 1 3/16ths mile, generally attracts fewer horses than the Run for the Roses. But the drop-off is particularly noticeable this year, with just seven foes lining up to try to derail Justify’s Triple Crown bid before it reaches New York.
Most of the horses who competed in Louisville are sitting out, the exceptions being Derby runner-up Good Magic, the Pimlico oddsmaker’s 3-1 second choice, sixth-place finisher Bravazo (20-1) and Lone Sailor (15-1), who checked in eighth.
But there are fresh faces with some intrigue, including Quip (12-1), winner of the Tampa Bay Derby and runner-up behind Magnum Moon in the Arkansas Derby, Diamond King (30-1), winner of the Federico Tesio Stakes at Laurel Park almost a month ago, and the lightly raced Steve Asmussen trainee Tenfold (20-1).
With the Derby still fresh in our minds, there’s always a temptation to just concede the Preakness to the winner. But given how heavily favored that horse usually is in Baltimore, that’s not a wise move.
For one thing, you don’t have to look too far back to find evidence of a fancied Derby winner imploding at Old Hilltop. Remember 3-5 chalk Nyquist in 2016?
And despite his impressive victory in the Derby, Justify still has a few potential vulnerabilities.
First, he has yet to face a serious challenge in his four races, meaning we have no idea how he will react if someone manages to get him into a dogfight. Nor do we know how he would take to getting mud kicked in his face if he were to break a step slowly.
Finally, the two-week turnaround is a new experience for the son of Scat Daddy, whose previous races were nicely spaced about a month apart.
#RJhorseracing featured races
Despite those caveats, the #RJhorseracing handicappers showed no hesitancy in predicting that Justify will roll in the Preakness. They see Good Magic as the clear second choice, with Lone Sailor a distant third in the balloting.
“No doubt about it, #7 Justify will win,” wrote contributor Ray Lanfear, adding that the colt is “class of the pack, has good Beyers, won in slop and carried the weight.”
I yield to the wisdom of the crowd, but would recommend also using Bravazo in the exotics.
The ’capping crew also took on two tough puzzles on Santa Anita’s Saturday card: the $100,000 Fran’s Valentine Stakes, a turf mile for fillies and mares, and the 11th race, an allowance/optional claiming race for males at 1 1/16th miles on the main track.
In the former, the gang likes Moonless Sky, the 7-2 morning line favorite, over How About Zero (4-1) and Cordiality (6-1).
I’ll go with Shy Carmelita (6-1), who comes off a bang-up race down the hill at the Big Race Place.
In the 11th, the crew will stay chalky and go with 5-2 morning line favorite Ike Walker, over Downtowner (3-1) and Two Thirty Five (8-1).
I’ll tie my fate to Swayze (5-1), making his second start off a layoff for trainer Phil D’Amato.
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Ellis Starr’s Preakness analysis
Bravazo will be my top choice to win the Preakness Stakes. In the Risen Star Stakes in February, Bravazo won gamely by a neck to earn a career best 110 Equibase speed figure when improving nicely in his second race off a layoff. In the Louisiana Derby, I cannot say what went wrong when as the second betting choice (5 to 2) Bravazo faded badly to eighth after being up close in third in the early stages. However, his effort two weeks ago in the Kentucky Derby was pretty good as he rallied four to five paths wide while moving up from eleventh to fourth over the course of three furlongs until he flattened out in midstretch to end up sixth. In the Preakness Bravazo will have to deal with a lot less traffic and if jockey Luis Saez is able to get him into second or third with about a half-mile to go, as was the case in the Risen Star, this colt can post the upset because the 110 figure earned in that race is as good as the figure Justify earned winning the Kentucky Derby.
Justify is unbeaten in four starts and has improved his speed figure in each, going from 106 in his career debut to 110 winning the Kentucky Derby. In the Derby, Justify was able to beat 18 other horses out of the gate to secure second position early, avoiding the mud and water flying everywhere over the very sloppy track. With many less horses to be in front of at the start of the Preakness, Justify is as likely, or even more so, to be in front in the opening strides, but in the event Quip or Diamond King get the lead that should not be an issue as he has raced in second or third in the early stages in two of his four victories. As such, it would come as no surprise that the Derby winner takes the Preakness.
Good Magic ran his heart out in the Derby, chasing Justify for the final half-mile but making up no ground. After a poor effort in his 2018 return to the races when third in the Fountain of Youth Stakes in March, Good Magic redeemed himself nicely with victory in the Blue Grass Stakes, earning a 104 figure in the process. In spite of being no match for the Derby winner, Good Magic improved to a 106 figure in the race and is set to improve again back to the form shown when winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last fall with a 109 figure. Considering how close that effort would be to the one Justify put forth two weeks ago and considering Good Magic is making his fourth start of 2018 compared to Justify making his fifth start of the year, it is conceivable Good Magic may have enough improvement forthcoming to turn the tables on his nemesis in the Preakness.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.