BALTIMORE — The Preakness winner almost always comes from the Kentucky Derby. So the first thing I do every year on the Monday after the Derby is watch what happened to every potential Preakness starter during the running of the race. I spent less time this year because only four Derby horses are running in the Preakness.
There are no Kentucky Derby “winners“ in the Preakness. In fact, none of the first four across the line are running back at Pimlico on Saturday — three due to the quick two-week turnaround between races and official Derby winner Country House because trainer Bill Mott suspected the horse was about to get sick.
It’s been almost two weeks but there is still more talk about what happened on the far turn of the Derby that resulted in the disqualification of Maximum Security from first to 17th than there is about the Preakness. So I will get to the Preakness later.
I have read a lot of opinions and listened to even more about the DQ. My initial opinion stands and for the same reasons. There should not have been a DQ. Was there a foul caused by Maximum Security? Yes, but it’s at least possible Maximum Security was hit from behind right before he veered out into the path of several horses. For the sake of this argument, however, let’s just say Maximum Security caused the foul.
The stewards decided Maximum Security interfered with War of Will, Bodexpress and Long Range Toddy, which finished eighth, 14th and 17th respectively. What I did that the stewards apparently did not was keep watching after the foul.
Stewards have discretion to decide even if there was a foul that if the “fouled“ horse’s chance to finish in the money was not really impacted, the result stands. In the rest of the world, the standard is even more precise. The stewards must decide the fouled horse would have beaten the horse that committed the foul if the foul had not happened.
War of Will had the entire stretch to pass Maximum Security, could not do it and tired badly in the final 100 yards. I feel confident the other two horses were starting to fade when the foul happened. One can make the case the stewards went by the letter of the rules, but they missed on common sense and justice.
The silliest argument in favor of a DQ is that the Derby should be just like the third race at Parx on a Tuesday. That makes a wrong assumption that the third race is judged like the fourth race or a race the next week or at another track. Anybody who has spent any significant time at a race track knows how arbitrary steward decisions have always been. There is zero consistency. I have seen so many bizarre decisions that I concluded years ago a quite radical, but better way would be no objections, first horse to the wire wins.
That isn’t going to happen, of course. But common sense should.
On to the Preakness.
I like War of Will, but not because of what happened on the far turn. The colt was trapped on the rail the entire run down the backstretch, his mouth wide open, using energy while trying to run with no room to do it. Then, when War of Will finally got off the rail (if only jockey Tyler Gaffalione had stayed there a few seconds longer a giant hole was about to open and there is no incident), he came with a strong nearly quarter mile run chasing a flying Maximum Security.
With a better, more comfortable position in the Preakness and five early speed horses potentially spreading the field out, I expect War of Will’s run to be much more effective. In fact, he reminds me of Classic Empire, second, due to a poorly judged ride, in the 2017 Preakness after a difficult trip in the Derby. Mark Casse, one of the very best not to win a Triple Crown race, trains War of Will just as he did Classic Empire.
Improbable, fifth in the Derby before being moved to fourth, is the likely favorite with the deadly Bob Baffert-Mike Smith combination. He was also kind of locked in during much of the race. If he can see sky instead of horses in front of him, I expect him to finish much better. And there is the matter of Baffert going for a record eighth Preakness.
Win Win Win had some traffic troubles in the Derby just before the quarter pole. He is not impossible at a price. Bodexpress ran really hard to the far turn, but the colt has never won and they are asking a lot after such a difficult race.
A few in the non Derby group of nine are much stronger than usual. Alwaysmining is the best Maryland-based Preakness horse in years, with his dominating six-race win streak and early speed. Lexington Stakes winner Owendale and sharp Oaklawn Park allowance winner Warrior’s Charge come from the powerful Brad Cox barn. Anothertwistafate is super consistent. Bourbon War was solid this winter and his South Florida form held up very well in Kentucky.
My biggest issue is I am having trouble seeing how this race will be run with nearly half the field having enough early speed to lead or at least harass the leader, the opposite of the way I saw the Derby.