Saturday’s Preakness at Pimlico is the last of the Triple Crown races in this bizarre year. It is also the most competitive with the best field, very different from a normal Triple Crown season when it is the weakest and often least competitive of the three races.
Instead of two weeks between Kentucky Derby and Preakness, it will be four weeks since Authentic won the Derby. Typically, most of the Derby horses don’t show up for the Preakness. This year, in addition to Authentic and three other Derby horses (Mr. Big News, Ny Traffic and Max Player), the Preakness also has Art Collector, who would have been the second choice in the Derby (not entered after a minor injury), Thousand Words (scratched from the Derby in the final minutes after flipping in the paddock) and the terrific filly Swiss Skydiver, second in the Kentucky Oaks, the day before the Derby.
Those seven horses have earned more than $7 million and won 15 stakes. Every top 3-year-old in the country is in the race except for Belmont Stakes winner and Derby favorite Tiz the Law. Trainer Barclay Tagg was pretty clear after the colt ran second to Authentic in the Derby that he thought Tiz the Law needed more time between races than the four weeks he got between the Travers and Derby. So the colt will not race until next month in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland, where Horse of the Year will be on the line.
Authentic is probably a bad start in the Santa Anita Derby from being 6-for-6. There was nothing fluky about his Kentucky Derby win. He pretty much dominated the race with his speed and when Tiz the Law ran up next to him in the stretch, Authentic re-broke and was pulling away at the finish.
On paper, the Preakness has a little more early speed than the Derby, but Authentic still looks like the fastest horse in the race and figures to end up on the lead again.
Authentic was Bob Baffert’s sixth Derby winner. The other five all won the Preakness. Those Derby winners were so fit and sharp that coming back in two weeks for the Preakness played to their advantage. Now, it’s four weeks, so that could change the dynamic.
Authentic’s work pattern before the Derby told his story. Four works in 17 days: 6 furlongs, 6 furlongs, 1 mile, 6 furlongs. The horse was fit and sharp.
Authentic will be favored to give Baffert his record eighth Preakness win. Silver Charm, Real Quiet, War Emblem, American Pharoah and Justify were his Derby-Preakness winners. Point Given and Lookin at Lucky were unlucky not to win the Derby for Baffert. Each won the Preakness.
This race goes through Authentic and Baffert.
If he had been able to race, I think Art Collector would have given Authentic a serious run in the Derby. A perfect 4-for-4 in 2020, Art Collector is a two-way horse who wins on the lead or from off the pace. His Sept. 19 workout at Churchill Downs was a tour de force. That he missed the Derby might be a good thing for the Preakness as the horse will now have eight weeks between races, instead of four.
In relation to their chances to win, Art Collector is going to be a better price than Authentic. But the Baffert factor makes it hard to go against the favorite.
Swiss Skydiver is not as fast as the Big Two, but she’s plenty talented, really consistent and incredibly durable. This will be her ninth race of the year and her last six have been brilliant.
Mr. Big News was 46-1 when he made that giant turn move in the Derby before finishing third. If that wasn’t a one-off, he is a contender.
Ny Traffic, the horse with the Philly connections, had great position in the Derby, but just did not finish. He is better than that and may show it in the Preakness.
My live longshot for exactas, trifectas and superfectas is Pneumatic. A decent fourth in the Belmont Stakes, Pneumatic ran the race of his life when he won the Aug. 15 Pegasus at Monmouth Park. This is a major move up in competition, but fast is fast and this colt was fast in New Jersey. Pneumatic is one of three in the race trained by Steve Asmussen, perhaps a year away from becoming the all-time leading trainer in wins.
He is No 2 with 9,020, trailing only the late Dale Baird, with 9,445. Asmussen averaged 416 wins in 2018 and 2019 so 2021 looks like the year for a new record holder.
Asmussen is the only really big-name trainer who is equally adept at winning $5,000 claimers and classic races. He trained the Horse of the Year four times since 2009 (Rachel Alexandra, Curlin twice and Gun Runner). Pneumatic does not have that kind of talent and is no threat to become a Horse of the Year. But, for our purposes in the 2020 Preakness, third would be just fine.