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Handicapping the 139th Preakness Stakes

Art Sherman (r.), 77, became the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby when Victor Espinoza rode California Chrome to victory.  They both hope to complete the second leg of the Triple Crown at Pimlico on Saturday. (Getty Images)
Art Sherman (r.), 77, became the oldest trainer to win the Kentucky Derby when Victor Espinoza (l.) rode California Chrome to victory. They both hope to complete the second leg of the Triple Crown at Pimlico on Saturday. (Getty Images)

–by Michael A. Riley

With his impressive victory in the Kentucky Derby, California Chrome earned his status as the leading three-year-old horse in the nation. He will start Saturday as the shortest-priced favorite in many years, possibly going off at odds of 1-5. Despite that, his final time at Churchill Downs (2:03.66) was the slowest on a track labeled fast at the Derby since 1974, and I think he might be regressing. I’ll pass on him, thanks. So who do I think can beat him? None of the other runners who ran well in the Derby are bothering to show up; they are either waiting for the Belmont Stakes or are simply pulling off the Triple Crown trail. And a few new shooters have arrived on the scene at historic Pimlico Race Course to try to win the legendary Woodlawn Vase, one of the oldest trophies in North American sports. (The winner of the Preakness was first awarded the vase back in 1861.)

Let’s take a look at some of the horses with a chance to beat California Chrome, and see if we can earn back some of the money we lost in Louisville. (Note: I selected California Chrome to run fourth in the Derby.) Of the two horses that lost to California Chrome and wheel back to face him again, neither made a strong impression, although Ride On Curlin finished seventh after encountering traffic and was steadied several times during the race. There’s a change in jockeys with the horse, as Calvin Borel, who rode him in Churchill Downs, is replaced by Joel Rosario, who finished fourth aboard Kentucky Derby winner Orb in last year’s Preakness. Rosario may have better luck on him, but I don’t expect him to finish any better than fourth this time around as well. One new arrival on the Triple Crown scene stands out: Social Inclusion. In only the second start of his career, the three-year-old trained by Venezuelan Manny Azpurua, 85 years young, set a track record at Gulfstream Park for a 1 1/16-mile race. He challenged up until the deep stretch in his last start, the Wood Memorial, but faded late to third and was eliminated from starting in the Derby. This lightly-raced colt has had plenty of time to recover from that and is coming to Baltimore primed to upset the Derby winner.

Manny Azpurua (far right) is the 85-year-old owner of Social Inclusion (far left), the second-favorite in tomorrow's Preakness. Owner Ron Sanchez is in the middle. (Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club)
Manny Azpurua (far right) is the 85-year-old trainer of Social Inclusion (far left), the second-favorite in tomorrow’s Preakness. Owner Ron Sanchez is in the middle. (Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club)

Ria Antonia is attempting to become the first filly to win the race since Rachel Alexandra in 2009, but about the only thing she has in common with that champion is the jockey, Calvin Borel. I don’t see her threatening any of the colts on Saturday. Pablo Del Monte is interesting in that he was withdrawn from consideration in the Derby even after the scratch of Hoppertunity opened up a spot for him in Louisville. He has never won on the dirt, but seems to be rounding into form and is worthy of including in exotic wagers (e.g. exacta, trifecta, superfecta). Dynamic Impact won the Illinois Derby back in April and appears to be on the upswing as well. I like that he breaks from the rail, where many handicappers feel is the best place to be at Pimlico.

Selections:

1st: Social Inclusion– Should be around 5-1, has huge potential.

2nd: California Chrome– Not sure if he was slowing down in the Derby, but has maintained his top form for some time now. Believe he’s due to regress, or “bounce.”

3rd: Pablo Del Monte– Has been working well, and should be around 20-1.

4th: Dynamic Impact– Lightly raced and posted a very high Beyer Speed Figure in his last start.

So this the year at “Old Hilltop” – the nickname Pimlico earned as it actually sits on a hill where the peak used to be in the middle of the infield where people gathered to view the horses close up – all eyes will be gathered on California Chrome as he attempts to win the elusive crown. The hill was removed years ago to accommodate cameras, and now the infield will have 100,000 fans attending one of the biggest parties on the East Coast each year. Where the Derby infield has more of a family event feel, the Preakness infield is a rowdy gathering of mainly college students from throughout the region. (Watch out for mud sliding and the occasional topless woman.) If you make it to the track, have a traditional Black-Eyed Susan, the drink named after the flowers on the blanket draped over the winner, and root for your horse. If you don’t like favorites, go out and make some money. If you are rooting for a chance at witnessing history in the making, watch the race and hope California Chrome gets it down this week and in the Belmont three weeks later.


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