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Preakness Stakes 131 analysis
Barbaro will try to be the sixth consecutive favorite to win the Preakness. If he runs as well as in the Kentucky Derby, when he chased a fast pace and drew off by more than six, Barbaro should remain undefeated.
Because of his light campaign (he won the Derby off a five-week break), Barbaro enters the Triple Crown fresh, with a high chance of maintaining form through the three-race series. His tactical speed and versatile running style allow him to adapt to any race scenario; his 6-for-6 career record was compiled on six types of different surfaces.
Barbaro has emerged as the top 3-year-old in the country, racing Saturday under historically formful conditions. Eight of the last nine Preakness Stakes were won by the favorite, or the Derby winner.
But is Barbaro really six lengths better than the rest of the crop? Probably not. Both Sweetnorthernsaint and Brother Derek were badly compromised by racing luck in Kentucky.
Sweetnorthernsaint was shuffled and buried behind runners early, made an extended run to reach contention into the far turn, then tired. He ran super; the trip was too much to overcome for a horse accustomed to pressing the pace. Sweetnorthernsaint entered the Derby with higher figures than Barbaro. With a clean trip, Sweetnorthernsaint should give the favorite a battle.
Brother Derek also had a tough trip in Kentucky, racing wide throughout from post 18. He uncorked a sweeping move on the far turn, and still finished a game fourth. Previously 5 for 5 around two turns, Brother Derek will not lose as much ground Saturday, breaking from post 5.
Longshot closer Greeley's Legacy can hit the board in a race expected to unfold at a solid pace. Compromised by a four-wide trip in the Lexington Stakes, he ran much better than it looks. Greeley's Legacy will be finishing, and can make the trifecta worthwhile even if Barbaro wins.
Bernardini is fast, but untested against top competition. He faces a formidable pace foe in Like Now, who defeated Sweetnorthernsaint in the Gotham and will gun to the front from the inside post. The last wire-to-wire Preakness winner was Louis Quatorze in 1996; six of the last nine Preakness winners rallied from no closer than fourth position.
- Brad Free
Kentucky Derby winners are 6 for 9 in the Preakness since 1997. Barbaro figures to extend that record to 7 for 10 with a victory Saturday. He was brilliant in the Derby, winning by 6 1/2 lengths, the largest margin since Assault's eight-length triumph in 1946. Throw in a 6-for-6 record, and this colt has the look of a potential Triple Crown winner.
He returns on two weeks' rest - a less-than-ideal recovery period - but so do his chief rivals, Sweetnorthernsaint and Brother Derek. Look for improvement out of that pair - they should get much better trips than they did in the Derby.
Sweetnorthernsaint made a premature backstretch move to reach contention after a disastrous start and first quarter-mile of the race, and Brother Derek was hung at least six paths off the fence throughout while falling farther off the pace than accustomed.
Sweetnorthernsaint, seventh in the Derby, looms the greatest threat to Barbaro. He was made the favorite in the Derby for a reason - he was dominant in winning the Illinois Derby, rating comfortably for jockey Kent Desormeaux and exploding once turned loose. That was one of four consecutive triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures he recorded leading into the Derby. At Churchill, he simply never had a chance, blowing the break after being one of the first to load, and then getting checked badly between horses when in the rear of the pack the first time past the wire. He looms a price alternative to Barbaro if that one is overplayed.
As for the front-running Brother Derek, drawing the 18 post at Churchill placed him in position from which he couldn't possibly win. Concerned about getting caught in a fast pace, jockey Alex Solis kept taking him back, looking for a place to tuck in and save a little ground, but he never found a suitable spot. So after three-quarters of a mile, Brother Derek raced wide in 14th place - behind such deep closers as Steppenwolfer and Seaside Retreat. Amazingly, Brother Derek rallied to finish in a dead heat with Jazil for fourth.
Of the non-Derby starters, Like Now appears best of the rest. He was forced into a taxing pace in last month's Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, and ran a game second behind Showing Up, the eventual sixth-place finisher in the Derby.
- Byron King
The only favorites I bet on are the ones who have no significant questions to answer on race day. Any favorite who is burdened with unnecessary risk factors is worth betting against at low odds.
That is how I view Barbaro. He has a few potential areas of vulnerability. First, trainer Michael Matz believes that Barbaro runs his best races with gaps of at least five weeks between them. But in the Preakness, Barbaro will be forced to race just two weeks after running the best race of his life. What better time for him to regress than in this race? And what better time is there to bet against him? If he beats me at a low price, I will happily salute him. But if he disappoints, I hope to win some money on this race.
Whenever trouble early in a race forces a horse to change his running style drastically, a subpar effort is likely. That is what happened to Brother Derek and Sweetnorth-ernsaint in the Kentucky Derby. Both found themselves uncharacteristically far back during the early stages of the race. Brother Derek overcame adversity when he rallied extremely wide, and ran a strong race to finish in a dead heat for fourth. Sweetnorthernsaint ran a good race considering the circumstances, making a determined move to reach contention in the middle of the Derby, then fading and finishing seventh.
I look for much better efforts from both of them in the Preakness, but I will give Brother Derek the edge over Sweetnorthernsaint as my top pick based on the amount of ground he lost while racing wide and on his superior finish position.
If you are searching for longer odds, you will have to look past the Kentucky Derby field for possible upsetters. Like Now dueled through a faster-than-par pace in the Lexington and held on well to finish second behind Showing Up. The rapidly improving Bernardini took big steps forward in both of his victories and will be dangerous if he continues on the upswing as he makes his fourth career start. An attractive price should be available.
I will bet on Brother Derek to win, and I will use him with Sweetnorthernsaint, Like Now, and Bernardini in the exacta. I will also use these horses in the trifecta on the chance that Barbaro might regress significantly.
- Steve Klein
Aside from the fact that his move on the far turn wasn't as explosive as it looked, Barbaro gets an A+ for his Derby performance. The pacesetters slammed on the brakes, and he inherited the lead through a second half-mile in 50.95 seconds, the slowest second half in the Derby since fractional times started being recorded in hundredths in 1991. Notably, that slow second half allowed Brother Derek to stay within range of the first flight despite racing wide, and meant Sweetnorthernsaint's middle move was not the herculean effort it first appeared.
Had anyone else in the field besides Barbaro followed a fourth quarter in 26.14 seconds with a final quarter of 24.34 (a move that truly was explosive), it would have been hard to believe, because late acceleration is a rarity in dirt routes - especially at classic distances for 3-year-olds - and much more a trait of turf races. Perhaps the explanation is that Barbaro was a grass horse first, and recorded exceptionally fast final fractions without fail on that surface. In the Derby, he was just doing what came naturally. A horse who puts himself into good early position and also possesses a powerful finishing kick is always tough to beat.
Barbaro has had short rest, but Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint are in the same boat, and those two will probably be the darlings of armchair trip handicappers nationwide. The likelihood Barbaro will bounce off his new Beyer Speed Figure top seems remote considering he appeared to have something left, and six of the last nine Derby winners won the Preakness with a figure as good or better than their Derby effort.
The value may be to concede the race to the potential superstar and try to get new faces somewhere underneath in exotic wagers.
Bernardini's Withers was the fastest mile at Aqueduct's spring meet, and just as impressive visually. He is inexperienced, but bred to relish the stretchout, and he may keep improving.
Like Now's front-running Gotham win was one of the more underappreciated preps, considering it was his first race past six furlongs and Sweetnorthernsaint couldn't catch him. The fever that knocked him out of the Wood may have been a blessing in disguise, for he was re-routed to this race by Kiaran McLaughlin, whose work with Closing Argument and Jazil in Louisville the past two years signifies compelling expertise at this level.
- Dave Litfin
Brother Derek turned in a commendable effort in the Kentucky Derby, and can turn the tables on Barbaro in the Preakness.
For a colt who previously was extremely effective either on the early lead or right with it, Brother Derek was in alien territory running 14th at the halfway point in the Derby. Despite that, and even though he was also compromised by a very wide trip, Brother Derek managed to significantly improve his position during the second half of the Derby to finish in a dead heat for fourth. Brother Derek is likely to get a more favorable trip this time, and in fact will be able to return to the style that was instrumental in his dominance in Southern California during the Triple Crown prep season. I project Brother Derek to closely stalk an early pace battle between Like Now and Diabolical, take command late on the backstretch, and make Barbaro come get him. And catching Brother Derek under that scenario might be tougher than many think.
Barbaro was brilliant in his Kentucky Derby romp, making the notion that he was underprepared (no start in five weeks, only one in 13 weeks) seem laughable in retrospect. I don't believe the two-week break between the Derby and Preakness will bother Barbaro. Being ready for this quick turnaround is a chief reason why he was lightly raced going into the Derby. The issue here is whether there is really as much of a disparity in ability between Barbaro and Brother Derek, and between Barbaro and the other Preakness starter coming out of the Derby, Sweetnorthernsaint, as the margins between them at the finish of the Derby suggest. These three are actually quite close off their best races. But that won't be the case in the betting. Barbaro will be an odds-on favorite, and that's why I'm picking against him.
Sweetnorthernsaint was taken out of his stalking game in the Derby by a rough start, although he did catch the eye with a sustained midrace run to reach contention. And while it is understandable that he tired after that long move, I just wish he didn't give way quite as abruptly as he did in the final furlong.
Bernardini is a regally bred colt with a bright future coming off a nice win in the Withers, and looks best of the rest.
- Mike Watchmaker
After watching Barbaro train for 11 days leading up to the Kentucky Derby it was obvious the horse was sitting on the race of his life. He became an easy selection to make in the Derby and sure enough delivered as advertised at a relatively generous price of 6-1. Based on that performance it seems like nearly half the country has all but conceded Barbaro the Triple Crown, with the post-Derby media frenzy certain to drive his odds under even money when he returns in the Preakness. Not having seen Barbaro train since the Derby it's hard to say whether he will remain as sharp going into the second leg of the Triple Crown, although logic dictates he cannot possibly duplicate his Derby performance, especially returning on only two weeks' rest. Even at slightly less than his best, Barbaro remains the most likely winner on Saturday. But value is always a prime consideration when wagering on any race, and because of all the publicity generated by his Kentucky Derby victory, the only value to be found betting on Barbaro this time around might be sentimental value for those who cashed on him in Kentucky. With that in mind the two most likely alternatives become Brother Derek and Sweetnorthernsaint, both of whom had their chances compromised by unlucky trips in the Derby. Brother Derek, a horse who had always done his best on or with the pace, was extremely impressive in defeat considering he was shuffled back to 14th place in the run down the backstretch, then passed half the field despite losing an enormous amount of ground after being floated nine or 10 paths wide due to traffic around the final turn. He figures to get a much better trip in his rematch with Barbaro. Sweetnorthernsaint was also taken out of his best game by early trouble in the Derby then made an eye-catching middle move before tiring from the effort down the long Churchill Downs stretch. Hard to forget his awesome effort four weeks earlier in Illinois. He's capable of much better than his seventh-place finish in the Derby. Of the others, Greeley's Legacy might have the right running style to take advantage of a pace scenario likely to include Bernardini, Like Now, and Diabolical. He can run late to grab a piece of the gimmicks.
- Mike Welsch