05/20/2011 10:44PM

HandiGambling The Preakness

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Saturday's HandiGambling 234 exercise is the twelfth race at Pimlico, the 136th Running of the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 3/16 Miles.

Remember that you have a mythical $100 with which to wager on the race, and the entrant with the highest money total will receive a "Monthly Enhanced 60-Card Past Performance Plan." Anyone going over the $100 limit will be disqualified. Please post your plays and analysis to the blog.  Past performances are available at the previous blog post.  In the event of a tie, the earliest post gets first preference. One entry per person please. I reserve the right to approve or deny any entries.

I know that there is a time issue for some of you, but let's remember why we began the HandiGambling races in the first place. The goal was to share ideas on why we like these horses, and why we're betting them the way we are. I'm not asking for a novel, but if you could spare a sentence or two outlining your handicapping angles, and thought processes about wagering, it would be appreciated.

I'm posting this pre-scratches and changes. 

I've broken down this Preakness to three tiers of runners:

First Tier (Silver Charm Group):

The Silver Charm group lists viable win contenders.  I had a great amount of difficulty narrowing the Preakness down to a handful of contenders so this will be the biggest of the three tiers.

#11 ANIMAL KINGDOM may have taken slight advantage of a closer-friendly surface at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May and I didn't like how he drifted out through the stretch, but he simply was better than his 18 opponents under the Twin Spires that afternoon.  He had to answer the "dirt" question at Churchill, did so positively, and now must work out another late-running trip under John Velazquez.  The pace will be faster than it was in the Derby and Animal Kingdom, given a trouble-free journey, should be tough as nails once again for trainer Graham Motion.  Considering the post position setup, Velazquez may have his sights on Mucho Macho Man.  When that one fires for home, expect Animal Kingdom to be right on his tail.

#9 MUCHO MACHO MAN seems to bang out one solid race after another and may benefit from the slight turnback in distance.  He didn't have a bad trip at Churchill, but failed to finish with the winner and was also drifting throughout the final furlong.  He matched his career-best Beyer Speed Figure in the Derby, his first start since suffering a minor hoof injury in the Louisiana Derby, and can conceivably move forward off that race.  I expect jockey Rajiv Maragh to try and get the jump on Animal Kingdom this time around.  It's hard to knock this horse as he's never been worse than fourth in his life.

#5 SHACKLEFORD got away with easy fractions in the Derby, but may have been compromised slightly by the closer-friendly nature of the track.  He continued his Beyer progression with his solid fourth-place finish and may have a target this time around (Flashpoint looms the pacesetter).  With Flashpoint not expected to stay the entire journey, Shackleford may inherit the lead at some point and he has enough pedigree to last this distance.  Perhaps he'll improve by sitting just off the early leader.

#7 MIDNIGHT INTERLUDE is perhaps a stretch as his Kentucky Derby non-effort was extremely disappointing, but I'm not going to write him off completely off one bad race.  I liked his Santa Anita Derby from a visual standpoint as he was wide every step of the way and was non-plussed when Comma to the Top drifted in front of him in late stretch.  Considering that was his first start against winners, and the first time he successfully rated and won, it was a good performance from Midnight Interlude.  If you can somehow draw a line through the Derby, and it won't be easy, he looms a longshot chance for Bob Baffert.

#8 DANCE CITY is an intriguing new shooter for Todd Pletcher.  Antsy behind the gate before the running of the Arkansas Derby, Dance City ran a corker once he settled down, pressing hot fractions before understandably giving way to a pair of closers in the stretch.  The distance is a question as his sire, City Zip, usually gets sprinter and middle-distance runners, but Dance City may work out a good outside stalking trip while just off Flashpoint and Shackleford.  I wouldn't be surprised if he makes a three wide bid entering the final turn. 

#1 ASTROLOGY has been a bit of an underachiever throughout his career as the beautifully-bred son of A.P. Indy failed to cash in at Sunland Park and Aqueduct in his last two races.  He may work out a ground-saving, pace-tracking trip from his inside post position, and he does seem to be slowly improving.  I must admit that I've never been his biggest fan, but he could offer a hint of value in his third start of the form cycle with improving Beyers on display.

Second Tier (Magic Weisner group):

The Magic Weisner group features horses that may not be strong win contenders, but could possibly crack the board. 

#14 MR COMMONS raced evenly in the Santa Anita Derby and reportedly displaced his palate during the running.  A lightly-raced son of Artie Schiller, Mr Commons proved that he could handle dirt with a workman-like performance two back at Santa Anita.  I think this one has some ability, but he drew poorly on the far outside, and his future may ultimately lie on the grass. 

#3 KING CONGIE reportedly missed some time leading up to the Blue Grass with a hind muscle strain.  All things considering, he ran pretty well for third despite racing in traffic and he may be slowly figuring things out (mentally immature when drifting out on grass earlier this year).  The main question here is dirt.  While he ran poorly in both dirt tries at two, those races were sprinting against good competition (Uncle Mo, Fort Hughes).  The multiple stakes-winner should get some pace to run at here, but he may be slightly better on alternative surfaces.

#6 SWAY AWAY isn't the prettiest horse in the race.  With his sway back, knee issues (resolved prior to the San Vicente), and lost tooth (gate problem in the Rebel), he looks like he just went ten rounds with Vitali Klitschko.  He has some talent and may have moved prematurely when pulling hard in the Arkansas Derby.  The colt figures to be racing in midpack under new rider Garrett
Gomez and should be legged up for this with three six-furlong workouts at Churchill Downs.  Sway Away has lost ground from the stretch call to the wire in both of his routes.  While it may be too early to label him as a late-running sprinter, it will be interesting to see how he finishes up on Saturday. 

You knew what you were going to get with #10 DIALED IN at Churchill Downs.  You knew that the one-run closer needed race and pace luck and he got neither.  While he should get faster fractions to attack at Pimlico, I'm still looking for his fast two-turn race, and he will need things to fall his way from a trip perspective.  He's going to get bet again, and I don't want him as the first or second choice.

Third Tier (Northern Giant group):

The Northern Giant features horses that need to run their absolutely best race to get a piece of the pie.

#2 NORMAN ASBJORNSON ran a surprising second in the Grade 3 Gotham two back, but wasn't flattered by the subsequent efforts of Stay Thirsty.  His fourth in the Wood Memorial was good, but not great, and his 87 Beyer top pales in comparison to those of the main contenders.  He is at his best when he is close to the pace and he could be outrun going into the first turn.

The local hope is always a nice story and the one-eyed former claimer, CONCEALED IDENTITY, certainly has an affinity for the surface.  His sire won the Preakness, but Concealed Identity must improve his 86 Beyer top.

#4 FLASHPOINT is a very fast runner, but he may have been aided by a speed-favoring track when winning the Grade 2 Hutcheson at Gulfstream on February 26.  He failed to make the lead, as expected, in the Florida Derby, and faltered badly in his first try around two turns.  He figures to be on the lead, but Shackleford and Dance City probably won't let him get too far away.  By Pomeroy out of a Two Punch mare, he may find this distance too far for him.

#12 ISN'T HE PERFECT finished behind Norman Asbjornson in both the Gotham and the Wood Memorial and behind Astrology in the Jerome.  He's hard to recommend off his previous stakes efforts.

Here's how I'll play HandiGambling:

$25 Exacta:  Animal Kingdom - Mucho Macho Man (11-9)
$25 Exacta:  Animal Kingdom - Shackleford (11-5)
$25 Exacta:  Animal Kingdom - Midnight Interlude (11-7)
$13 Exacta:  Animal Kingdom - Dance City (11-8)
$12 Exacta:  Animal Kingdom - Astrology (11-1)

Best of luck to all.

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Some quick-and-dirty stakes picks:

Dupont:  Life At Ten, Decelerator, Check Point
Maryland Sprint:  China, Immortal Eyes, Nathan's H. Q.
Gallorette:  Desert Sage, Shared Account, No Explaining

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For a more-detailed video analysis of the Pimlico graded stakes, click on the below link and scroll down:

http://www.drf.com/news/weekend-stakes-preview-videos

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More importantly, who do you like this weekend?  I want to know.