05/19/2011 5:20PM

Preakness picks: Dialed In can turn tables on Animal Kingdom

Barbara D. Livingston
Dialed In, eighth in the Derby as the favorite, trains at Pimlico for Saturday's Preakness.

There’s more to like about Animal Kingdom’s chances in the Preakness on Saturday than there has been about a lot of other Kentucky Derby winners bidding for the second leg of the Triple Crown. He was a decisive winner of an unusually cleanly-run and traffic-free Derby; he has plenty of room for improvement with just five career starts, only one of them on a dirt track; and he hasn’t missed an oat since a race that featured no prolonged drive or struggle that might have taken something out of him.

He will be on all my tickets, but so will the lone horse who I think had a legitimate excuse in defeat behind him at Churchill Downs: Dialed In, who ran eighth as the favorite but had no chance at all after falling back to last place behind one of the slowest paces in Derby history. I will pick him to register a mild upset as the 9-2 second choice on the morning line.

If the timer can be believed, Shackleford led the Derby field through an opening six furlongs in 1:13.40, the slowest such split in the Derby since 1947, when the track was officially rated slow and Jet Pilot’s winning time was 2:06 4/5 – nearly five full seconds off Animal Kingdom’s 2:02.04. Dialed In was 19th and last after that slow fraction, 18 1/2 lengths behind the leader. Half a mile later, he had passed 11 of his 18 rivals to be beaten 7 1/2 lengths, running a sizzling final half-mile in slightly less than 47 seconds. The only faster final Derby half-mile anyone can find was Secretariat’s 46 3/5 in 1973.

Of course, Dialed In has a lot to prove before he really should even be mentioned in the same breath as Secretariat, but anyone who can shade 47 seconds for his last four Derby furlongs is a genuinely talented racehorse. It also seems likely that the Preakness pace will be quicker and more contested than the one in Louisville two weeks ago, with two new speed horses joining the field: The sprinter Flashpoint will probably challenge Shackleford for the lead, and Dance City, who chased a hot pace in the Arkansas Derby, won’t be far behind them.

One of the few things not to like about a Dialed In victory in Baltimore is that it would award his owner and trainer with an ill-conceived $5.5 million bonus for completing a less than historic three-race sweep of the Holy Bull, Florida Derby, and Preakness despite his off-the-board Derby finish.

No one begrudges the connections the money they will receive for playing by the rules of this bonus scheme in a game where owning racehorses is a difficult and usually losing proposition. It is, however, a preposterously large reward for a minor accomplishment, and has the unseemly effect that the Kentucky Derby winner will be running for just $600,000 Saturday while the eighth-place Derby finisher is running for $6.1 million. The payday would move Dialed In into 10th place on the all-time earnings list of horses who have made at least one start in North America, just behind Zenyatta.

Those wishing to cast a wider net than the two favorites in the Preakness have several appealing candidates in the full field of 14. Sway Away, 15-1 on the morning line, got an impatient ride in the Arkansas Derby, was excluded from the Kentucky Derby field for insufficient earnings, and now switches to Garrett Gomez. Mucho Macho Man will have to improve off his solid third-place Derby finish, and might: He is a big colt and a late foal who seems on the verge of taking a step forward. Midnight Interlude looks better than his 15-1 morning line if you draw a line through his Kentucky Derby, where he ran so poorly that throwing it out may be the best way to proceed.

If you want to be really creative, you could make some sort of a case for King Congie at 20-1. He hasn’t raced on dirt since his first two career starts in sprints that clearly didn’t suit him, and he has been a vastly improved horse since going longer on turf and synthetic tracks. If you think the added distance rather than the different surfaces led to the turnaround, he could at least be passing the tired ones late to snare a minor award. He’s also got a little karma going for him in the form of jockey Robby Albarado, who was bumped off Animal Kingdom the day before the Derby.

So call it Dialed In, Animal Kingdom, Sway Away, and King Congie – the Derby favorite, the Derby winner, and a couple of new shooters at big prices.

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