Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Oh Maryland, My Maryland—The 2007 Preakness Stakes

[Editor’s Note: Intrepid L.A.-based handicapper Steve Brady gives Sports Media America readers the lowdown on the 132d running of the $1 million Preakness Stakes, Saturday, May 19, at Baltimore’s Pimlico Racetrack. NBC television carries the action beginning at 5 p.m. ET; post time is 6:05 p.m ET.]

Man, those two weeks went fast. It seems it was just yesterday I was wiping my tears away with my collection of exacta, trifecta and superfecta tickets that all centered on my certitude that Any Given Saturday would finish in the top two in the Kentucky Derby. AGS finished a scrambling eighth and never threatened the leader, and all that exotics money went out the window.

At Churchill Downs, Street Sense—above, kicking Derby ass—ran a perfect race under the guidance of Calvin (“Bo-rail!”) Borel. Still, the horse was inexplicably unimpeded on what everyone acknowledged was a track with an obvious rail bias. I mean, it’s one thing to get beaten by the favorite; it’s another to roll out the red carpet for him. Still, that’s what happened, and it earned the rail-riding Cajun Borel a trip to the White House and dinner with the Queen. (I wonder if he said to her, paraphrasing Redskins great John Riggins, “Hey, loosen up, Lizzie Baby!!”)

I didn’t think Hard Spun and Curlin would have the seasoning or the staying power to finish in the top three of the Derby. I thought the closers would get the best of them at the end. Wrong!! Hard Spun was a tough customer. He set a nice pace and did not relent until the final furlong, when he was finally passed by Street Sense. And Curlin really hung in there despite a tough trip.

Now it’s time to get back on the, er… handicapping horse, and look toward the middle jewel in the Triple Crown. (Preakness post positions are in parentheses.)

The question is, Can Street Sense (#8) make it two in a row? I don’t think so. That come-from-behind business doesn’t fly at 1-3/16 at Pimlico. I’m looking for Hard Spun (#7)—pictured, left, winning the Lane's End Stakes—to carry his speed and get the better of SS. For one thing (with a field less than half the size of the Derby), HS won’t get pushed quite as hard this time, so the race won’t set up as nicely for SS. For another, the Preakness is a half-furlong shorter than the Derby, and Pimlico is known as a “speed favoring course” (advantage: Hard Spun). Finally, Mario Pino’s been a leading rider in Maryland for several years now, and this is his house. He’ll know how to handle the tighter turns and know just when to push the buttons on his mount.

I also think Curlin (#4)—left, prepping at Pimlico—has a shot in the Preakness. He was forced to run a contest outside his comfort zone in Kentucky. It was his first race with more than nine starters, and the first time he was among G-1 level company. Considering all that, he did quite well to finish third. I have him marked as a horse that likes to run just off the pace, but in the Derby he was bumped and shuffled further back in the pack than he usually likes. He had to make a wide trip, but he still got up for third. Now he’s in a softer field of nine, and there’s no way he’ll encounter such traffic problems in Baltimore. With Spun and Xchanger the early speed in the race, Curlin may be allowed to sit off a decent pace and make his move in the final 300 yards.

Circular Quay (#3) decided to take another stab at the top three after a disappointing Derby. He was the wise guys’ choice as a closer two weeks ago, but he got bumped around a little and had to make a late effort just to grab sixth.

Flying First Class (#6) seems to be more of a sprinter than a classic distance runner. Sometimes that sprint-to-route angle can be interesting, but it’s tough to test it in a Triple Crown race.

Mint Slewlep (#1) has a relatively unimpressive record. He finished fourth in his last race—the one-mile G-3 Withers at Aqueduct—and was never in contention in his only race at over one mile.

C P West (#9) is a Nick Zito trainee. He won his first race and then finished second in three of his next four, including the G-2 Futurity at Belmont. He got stomped by Street Sense and Circular Quay in the BC Juvenile. He’d really have to turn it around to make this distance.

King of the Roxy (#5) has a chance to land in the Superfecta. He ran close to the pace in the Santa Anita Derby and was beaten in the last 100 yards by Tiago (who disappointed in the Derby).

Xchanger (#2) is an interesting runner. He’s the only one of this entire group who has ever won a race at Pimlico. He wired the field in the Federico Tesio Stakes here a month ago, and he’ll be battling with Hard Spun for the early lead. I think HS will be able to get the jump on him, but he’ll have to do it from the seven hole, and the X man might grab the advantage from the inside.

The Picks:

1. Hard Spun
2. Curlin
3. Street Sense
4. Circular Quay

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