Saturday’s 147th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course lost a bit of luster with the defection of upset Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike. But the middle jewel of the Triple Crown series offers plenty of other compelling storylines and a solid mix of intriguing newcomers to face off against a couple proven in the Derby cauldron.
Secret Oath is bidding to become just the seventh filly to wear the Black-Eyed Susans. And speaking of sevens, she gives her trainer, 86-year-old Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, a chance to win his record-tying seventh Preakness.
Then there’s Creative Minister. His owners, Fern Circle Stables, Back Racing LLC and Magdalena Racing, had to pay $150,000 to make the colt eligible to the Triple Crown series as a late nomination.
“The bad news is, knucklehead here didn’t nominate him,” trainer Kenny McPeek joked Thursday morning, pointing the finger of blame squarely at himself.
If you’re the sort of person who believes that if lightning strikes once, then it’s sure to strike a second time, Fenwick is the horse for you. Two weeks after Rich Strike won the Derby at 80-1 odds, Fenwick is 50-1 on the morning line.
And with just one win from six starts, his trainer, Kevin McKathan, opined that “he needs to be 80-1″ before adding that “we’re not up here joking.”
The Preakness figures to run directly through 6-5 morning line favorite Epicenter. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Epicenter compiled a stellar resume through the winter and early spring, winning three key Derby prep races.
Sent off as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, Epicenter ran a brave race and looked like a winner until Rich Strike struck. Epicenter was the only horse anywhere near the hotly contested early part of the Derby who stayed on until the very end, and many believe he was best that day.
Epicenter has shown admirable versatility, winning races both while setting the pace throughout and after stalking the pace from a couple of lengths back. That could serve him well in Baltimore.
Jockey Joel Rosario, one of the best in the business, has been on Epicenter his last four starts, and if the horse fires, Rosario will likely put him in the best spot to make a serious bid.
Kentucky Derby horses generally do extraordinarily well in the Preakness. Twenty of the last 26 Preakness winners had made their previous start in the Derby, with 11 winning both and nine others winning in Baltimore after falling short in Louisville.
If that statistic compels you, but you find the short odds on Epicenter a bit tough to take, consider Simplification. The Antonio Sano trainee has run three straight terrific races and, like Epicenter, is quite versatile in his running style.
In the Kentucky Derby, Simplification had an uncomfortable trip and was farther back than expected chasing the hot fractions. He’s a consistent sort whose best might be good enough here, especially if Epicenter falters at all. He’s 6-1 on the morning line.
Notably, Simplification’s jockey for the Derby, top national pilot Jose Ortiz, has jumped ship. His replacement, John Velazquez, is a Hall of Famer, so it’s not as if you’d expect a drop-off in performance. But Ortiz’s move suggests he likes his horse even better.
That’s new shooter Early Voting for the powerful barn of trainer Chad Brown. Early Voting has won two of his three career starts, and last time out, he was a very good second in New York’s top Derby prep, the Wood Memorial Stakes, behind Mo Donegal, who then was a good fifth in the Derby.
That short resume is virtually identical to the horse who gave Brown his only Triple Crown win to date: Cloud Computing, who took the 2017 Preakness at 13-1, in just his fourth career start.
Early Voting is 7-2 on the morning line.
Secret Oath is 9-2 and will, for the second straight race, have Luis Saez in the irons. Saez gave the filly a perfect trip in her Kentucky Oaks victory, and a reprise of that would give her a big shot in Baltimore. The most recent filly to take the Preakness was Swiss Skydiver, who won the pandemic-delayed 2020 edition.
The flow of the race could work to Secret Oath’s advantage. Some of these runners — especially Fenwick, Early Voting and Armagnac (12-1 morning line) — look likely to be in the early vanguard. If they heat up the pace, then late runners like Secret Oath should be in a good position to pick up the pieces.
Of course, there, too, you might end up thinking, “advantage, Epicenter.”
Three of the last eight Preakness winners went off at less than even-money, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to make a buck. In that same period, the average $2 exacta (in which you pick the top two finishers) has returned $184.75.
Epicenter is the most likely winner here, and if you’re willing to accept short odds that might end up even shorter, there’s a good chance you’ll cash a ticket.
One way to spice that up might be to play him in exactas, keying him with long shots. The two playable outsiders in this group look to be Creative Minister (10-1) and Skippylongstocking (20-1), and exactas with Epicenter keyed over and under those two give you a chance to cash a big ticket while using the favorite in the top spots.
But what’s fun about the favorite? Let’s try to beat him on top. Call it:
1. Simplification (6-1): Keeps churning out good races and might offer the best value of the contenders.
2. Early Voting (7-2): Lightly raced sort is likely to be one-two early, and if the pace isn’t too intense, he’s shown the quality to stay around a long time.
3. Epicenter (6-5): Derby runner-up too versatile and too consistent to ignore.
4. Secret Oath (9-2): Kentucky Oaks-winning filly might find the right pace scenario.
Good luck, and happy Preakness!
Frank Vespe, the founder and publisher of TheRacingBiz.com, has owned, bought, sold, claimed, written and talked about horses, in varying combinations, for 15 years.