The Brock Talk

Friday, May 20, 2011

Look For A Macho Preakness

If we have learned one thing from the 3-year-old Thoroughbred class of 2011, is that they are full of surprises. They might not be that talented compared to other classes of years past either. That's two things.

Therefore, it is difficult to interpret the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) victory by Animal Kingdom two weeks ago. Is Animal Kingdom a horse that has suddenly blossomed into a world-class race horse and is to dominate this mediocre class? Or is he the beneficiary of this year's trend - a horse peaking in a given grade 1 race only to regress and disappoint in their next start.

Certainly Animal Kingdom can be the former. He can win the Preakness, the Belmont and become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. I’m just going to have to bet against it.

The Kentucky Derby was by far his best career race and that obviously sets up for a negative bounce in the Preakness. Even if he drops off only slightly in his Preakness performance, odds are that somebody else in the 14-horse field will step up and perhaps have their career best day. That, after all, does seem to be the pattern for this group.

So where does that leave us in terms of finding a winner? The connections behind Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro have passed on the Preakness in favor of a rest and relaxation for their well-traveled star in place of firing their best shot at the 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes (gr. I) in three weeks. But third-place finisher Mucho Macho Man and fourth-place speedster Shackleford will be a Pimlico Saturday to make another run at the Derby champion. Dialed In, eighth in the Derby as the favorite; and Santa Anita Derby winner Midnight Interlude (the 16th-place finisher in Kentucky are also making another run Animal Kingdom.

There weren’t many excuses for those who chased Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby. It was one of the cleanest run Kentucky Derbies in quite some time. But my top choice in the Preakness may have had a more subtle reason for not being at his best on the first Saturday in May.

Mucho Macho Man found himself in perfect stalking position in the early part of the Kentucky Derby as jockey Rajiv Maraj had him placed four to five lengths behind frontrunner Shackleford down the backside. The son of Macho Uno made what looked like a potentially winning move around the far turn, but was five wide and may have covered too much extra ground by the time he had a clear shot at the finish line. Instead of accelerating and passing Shackleford at the top of the stretch, he seemed to not have quite enough to close the victory. The six weeks between his previous start in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) and Kentucky may have had something to do with that as well.

My second pick in the Preakness did not run in the Kentucky Derby, but that was not because of any decision by his owner or trainer. The connections behind Sway Away had every intention of running in the Run for the Roses but fell just short on eligibility. The top 20 Derby entrants in terms of earnings in graded stakes races get a slot in the Churchill Downs starting gate. Sway Away was ranked 21st among those wanting to run in Kentucky. But he qualified for the Preakness and may be a good bet with his 15-1 morning line odds.

Sway Away first caught my attention in February when he was a fast closing second behind the speedy The Factor in the seven furlong San Vincente Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita. The Factor, a speedster, had many advantages that day, not the least of which was the short distance. It seemed that Sway Away would benefit from the extra distance of races ahead on the Triple Crown trail.

The Jeff Bonde trained Sway Away would have that chance in his next start, 1-1/16th mile Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park. But Sway Away looked to have no interest in racing that day as he was fractious at the gate and just as uneasy in the early part of the race. He he finished sixth, nearly 10 lengths behind The Factor.

In his next race, new jockey Pat Valenzuela kept him much closer to the leaders in the Arkansas Derby (gr. 1) and it momentarily looked like the correct strategy. Sway Away took the lead at the top of the stretch would eventually finish fourth behind Archarcharch, Nehro and Dance City.

Two important things have happened since Arkansas Derby that makes Sway Away attractive in the Preakness. First, the Arkansas Derby has developed into perhaps the most significant race leading up to the Kentucky Derby making it a "key race" in handicapping parlance. Second-place finisher Nehro was also second in the Derby and fifth-place finisher Alternation just won the grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park, the major local prep for the grade 1 Belmont Stakes.

A rider change from the aggressive Pat Valenzuela in the Arkansas Derby to the more patient Garret Gomez in the Preakness should also benefit Sway Away in the Preakness. Laying further back in Baltimore should allow Sway Away to use his energy much more efficiently and perhaps have much more in the tank down the stretch and improve to an in-the-money performance if not better.

Animal Kingdom should be credited with a few accomplishments in the Kentucky Derby that make him a legitimate Triple Crown threat. He came from off the pace and reeled in the front runners in a race run at tepid pace and advantageous to those who lead early in the classic contest. But Animal Kingdom still had enough acceleration to overcome the leaders and that is a valuable commodity to any race horse at this level. A duplication of that effort will probably not be defeated at Pimlico. He seems to be improving with every race – regardless of the surface having won on artificial and dirt and finishing second on turf in his last three races – and don’t underestimate his little win over 18 rivals on the first Saturday in May. Right now Animal Kingdom looks the best. But that has been the case for many this year that have disappointed in their next race.

Dialed In has taken the role of Preakness favorite away from Animal Kingdom in the early wagering despite his eighth-place finish in Kentucky. Trainer Nick Zito suffered the frustration of watching the slowest Kentucky Derby pace since 1947 as his come-from-behind Dialed In languished even further back than normal during the first six furlongs in the Derby. The Florida Derby winning Dialed In still managed to pass eleven horses before the finish line, but was unable to overcome the adversity of trying to catch the front runners who had managed to slow the early running to nearly a crawl. Dialed In should benefit from a faster pace in the Preakness but will again have plenty of horses to pass from his customary last place early running style.

The other long shot that may have some potential to make an impact is Mr. Commons. After finishing third in the Santa Anita Derby behind Midnight Interlude, the son of Artie Schiller was not considered for the Kentucky Derby because of a lack of earnings in graded stake races. Mr. Commons has plenty of tactical speed to allow jockey Victor Espinoza to lay close if necessary or just off the pace. Mr. Commons breaks from the far outside 14 post position, but will have plenty of time and room before the first turn forces him into an uncomfortable running position. Ultra-conservative trainer John Shirreffs of Zenyatta fame does not send horses across the country from his base at Hollywood Park unless he thinks he has a horse that can fire a major bullet.

The Brock Talk’s Preakness Picks
1- #9 Mucho Macho Man
2- #7 Sway Away
3- #11 Animal Kingdom
Longshot: #14 Mr. Commons.

1 comment:

What a Mess said...

What An Enigma Mucho is.See Its Easy For ME Sunday AM coffee Read a bunch- Re-read Brock-I Like To see Your post angle--NOT TO INSULT it To Learn!! The Numbers I use Also Have-Had Mucho Looking Fine.

Now Will Aiden Bring His Hounds Back Across the Pond-I sure Hope So-Win? I Don't know. He is a class Guy. I do Know.